Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Snack Food Intervention



The above
video of a subway fight was making the rounds of the internet last week. The video begins in the middle of the fight as a woman pushes a man, the man kicks her, and she kicks him back. While camera phone captured fight videos are not uncommon on many corners of the web, this video gained popularity not for the brutality of the fight, but for the interesting way it was broken up. A stoic man eating chips steps into the middle of the scrum, and his facial expression never changes as the shouting dies down and the fight ends. He just keeps eating his chips.

 It’s hard to tell exactly what was going on before the chip-ervention, but it seems to be between a man and a woman who accuses the man of following her. No matter how the fight started, it’s apparent that the fight needed to stop to prevent harm to any of the people in the subway car. Chip Man (as he will be referred to in the rest of this post) took our Where Do You Stand? campaign literally and intervened in the situation simply by standing in the middle of the fight. Chip Man’s intervention uses a few of the bystander intervention strategies we teach in our workshops and trainings: he separated the people involved, he provided a distraction, and he made it known that fighting was unacceptable simply by making himself apparent in the fight.

Chip Man’s intervention is an example of a counterstory of masculinity, a story which is in opposition to the dominant story of masculinity. When talking about being an active bystander, most people might imagine a person taking over a situation and preventing harm through her/his sheer force of will. Chip Man shows that sometimes the most effective intervention strategies are the most passive. He didn’t make a grandiose speech about the wrongness of violence, he didn’t judge either party, he just recognized that the most important action was to stop the fight and get them both away from each other. Granted, this strategy might be too dangerous in other situations (I certainly wouldn’t advise standing in the middle and calmly eating chips as a way to break up most fights), but that’s why we refer to intervention strategies as being part of a bystander intervention toolbox. You don’t need a hammer for every job, you don’t need a screwdriver for every fix, but you have those tools available to you in case you need them.

Chip Man as an active bystander is probably not the first thing a lot of people thought of when they saw this video. It would have been easy to watch it, laugh at Chip Man’s indifferent enjoyment of his salty snack as the subway descended into chaos, and move on to the next picture of a cat with its face outlined by bread. There are counterstories all around us, though, men and women who are actively making a difference in their community and working to create cultures free from violence (whether they realize it or not). Take a lesson from Chip Man: chill out, grab a snack of your choosing, and take a stand against violence in our communities.

Jared Watkins is a Development Coordinator at Men Can Stop Rape and a facilitator for George Washington University Men of Strength Club. He has interned and worked at Men Can Stop Rape since 2008 when he founded Georgetown University Men of Strength. He can be reached at jwatkins@mencanstoprape.org.
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