One thing I believe more vehemently as I get older is that everything matters. We are all complicit and responsible for one another’s behaviour. No word, action or gesture, no matter how minor does not have consequences. Everything we do ricochets and impacts how we spin our webs in this world. Even the choice to look down at our phone and ignore the people around us getting on the tube, ignoring the small children in prams who are desperate to have interactions and eye contact with the adults around them in order to learn can have lasting echoes on human development.
Yesterday I was on the overground to Dalston Junction from Crystal Palace to perform The Misandrist matinee performance. Halfway en route, four teenage boys got on. Approx 13years in age. Excitable and chatty. Typical ‘teenagers’. All on their iPhone, bags of crisps, fizzy drinks and shouting over one another, unaware of others on the train, as teenagers are want to do.
Around them, were me, two other women, a couple (man and woman) and another man. All of us in our thirties and forties.
At one point the teenagers threw a plastic bottle and it hit the leg of the bloke. He ignored it and continued staring at his phone. I have noticed that Phones to adults are the ground to Ostriches. If an adult is looking a phone they seem to think that makes them invisible to everything around them.
The other adults looked to see if the teenagers would apologies or pick up the bottle. They didn’t. Queue tuts and eye rolls by the adults and smug smiles. No one said anything, so the kids preceded to shout and throw their other bottles around the carriage.
Believe it or not, as a 31 year old woman who looks like an asparagus, I don’t think I should need to feel frightened by children. In many ways they are like spiders, they all look odd, they have limbs everywhere, and they move very quickly if you try to put a glass over them and throw them out the window.
So, I simply leaned over to the boys and said “Maybe you should pick up the bottle?”
It was a simple, concise, polite request which should not have been shocking. It was met with utter contempt and rude replies from the group. The boys laughed, muttered under their breath that I was ugly, and all the other adults around me said nothing, just watched the interaction and then stared at their phones, like useless Ostriches in Oliver Bonas.
Eventually, the bottle rolled towards the four teenage boys and they picked it up.
And then, as I anticipated, as they got off the train a few stops later, they threw the bottle at me, banged on the glass as they walked past, filmed me on their phone and called me a ‘slag’.
The reaction from the other adults? They rolled their eyes, tutted and a man said “Kids eh?”
No. Not Kids. Kids do not behave like that. I have taught kids, I work with kids, I once was a kid. Kids are not like that. Most kids do not throw bottles, shout and call people 'slags'. Bullies are like that, and bullies are made, not born. And what happened in that scenario was those bullies just got bigger because they saw that adults will not challenge them.
Statements like ‘Kids eh?’ , 'Not all men' and 'Boys will be boys' excuse toxic behaviour and remove all semblance of responsibility from those around those 'boys', those men and those 'kids'. Quite simply, are you just saying this to make you feel less guilty about doing f*ck all?
I was considerably upset and it took me the day to process all the specific reasons as to why I wanted to scream with rage. And here they are....
First point: If one of the men on the train had asked them, I bet you £50 those boys would have picked that bloody bottle up. Because they would naturally have respected him more.
Second point: If I had threatened violence, or behaved in a hysterical and frightening manner, they would have picked that bloody bottle up. But because I was polite, they didn’t care – because politeness is not a valid way of communicating. We shout, we tweet, we mock on tiktok, we send an angry badly spelt WhatsApp - we don't have eye to eye, polite dialogue.
Third point: It would have taken absolutely zero effort for any of the other adults on the overground to back me up and agree the kids should have picked up the bottle, and if they had, perhaps those kids would have realised that outside of their schools and their family homes, the world isn’t a place where they can behave without any social repercussions. Instead, they were silent, making me the anomaly and thus proving to those kids they have the power to behave the way they want.
Final point: No one said anything to me afterwards – no one asked if I was okay. And why? If those four kids had unprompted called me a slag and had thrown a bottle at me when they got off the train, many adults around would have reached out to check in on me. Why? Because I would have been a victim, a poor innocent woman who had not deserved it. Through their silence and their smug eye rolling and saying ‘Kids eh?’ they made an even more upsetting declaration - because I had tried to correct the kids behaviour, because I had spoken out, I deserved the insult, because what was I expecting? I had provoked it.
It takes a village to raise a child, that’s not just parents, that’s not just teachers, that is ALL of us. Whether you like kids or not, whether you have children of your own. We all have a collective responsibility to shape the future, we should not be afraid of calling out bad behaviour. We are meant to be role models. In that scenario I saw sexism, the patriarchy and felt a horrible sense of hopelessness. You may read this and think the real twats were the kids. But we all learned the importance of being kind after feeling the pain of being cruel – and I have no doubt that those kids will end up getting thrown in a bin or out a window when they call someone slightly more unhinged than me 'a slag' - but the people I am really upset by in that interaction? The adults.