I don’t care much for Halloween. I don’t mind the little girls in their faery costumes and the boys dressed as ninjas or the doorbell ringing all evening long. But, I do have a lot of fears of violence and things that “go bump in the night” so I find October to be a generally tedious month where I’m flipping off the radio every time there’s an ad for a spook-tastic theme park. I don’t like being scared and I don’t enjoy gory anything (in fact, I often find such things to be “triggers” for the very real horrors that I experience day-to-day).
So last night when I went to a local market (Wholesome Choice in Irvine) to pick up ingredients for dinner, I thought little about the creepy Halloween display in the doorway of the store. When I first saw it a few weeks ago I remember thinking it in poor taste–it featured a life-size grim reaper character with a large scythe. So when I entered last night it was with barely a glance at that decor while I attempted to navigate my shopping cart through the crowded entryway that included a crowd waiting in front of the bakery area for the next batch of fresh bread. I was looking in that direction when I realized that the creature from the Halloween display was now leaning over my shoulder, with his arms upraised to scare me. I screamed and shuddered, as I processed the fact that this was a store employee wearing the grim reaper costume (not a mannequin) and that he was standing in the doorway display to scare passersby. I also realized that the bakery line was actually a crowd of onlookers who had gathered to see the customers entering the store being “scared.”
They were laughing, uproariously, after seeing how badly I’d been frightened by the grim reaper character.
I stopped right there and stated loudly, “That was not funny.”
This made the onlookers laugh even harder.
“That was not funny,” I stated even more emphatically.
One man started arguing with me. “It was funny,” he explained. “And it’s getting even funnier now.” He was laughing so hard that it was hard for him to respond to me.
I stepped through the doorway and hovered in the produce section and watched more people enter the store. As I did so I realized that nearly every woman who entered got the same fright treatment and the gawking laughter.
The women who were scared weren’t laughing. Most of them immediately put their hands to their hearts or to their foreheads, as if in pain. And then they walked through the laughing gauntlet with frowns on their faces.
As I continued pushing my cart through the store, every few seconds I would hear another scream from the front of the shop and then more laughter. I didn’t know what to do so I started tweeting what I’d experienced. I wanted to track down a manager. I wanted to stand in the front of the store and warn other women entering. I wanted to take that scythe from that grim reaper and hit him over the head with it (and also do the same to that man who kept laughing at me as I became more angry at being frightened). But I was still shaking so hard I could barely type. I couldn’t even remember what I’d come to the store to buy. I pushed my cart aimlessly through the aisles wondering what to do.
Most of all, I was trying to figure out why that had been such a scary experience for me, and why I couldn’t shrug it off as a Halloween prank. And I wanted to find a quiet place and sit down and cry.
Because, perhaps it reminded me of this experience from not too long ago:
I’d dropped my daughter off at the church’s childcare area so I could attend a talk with other women from my congregation. The talk was by a local author who was a hero of mine (Emma Lou Thayne). It would be the first time that I would hear her in person. I had a book of hers in my bag in hopes that I could get her to sign it at the end of her talk.
So perhaps that’s why I ignored the feeling of discomfort at seeing the childcare being staffed by two teenage boys rather than by adults. I didn’t recognize them as part of our congregation, but saw other women dropping off their children and figured that it was fine.
About 30 minutes into the talk, a member of the bishopric (the clergy) pulled me out of the meeting, and motioned for me to walk down the hall with him towards the childcare area. As we walked he explained that the boys in the nursery had been nephews of a woman in our congregation and should not have been left in charge of the children. My heart started thumping hard in my chest.
“They had your daughter in the middle of the room and were throwing things at her–small toys. They were making her cry and then laughing at her as she got more and more upset. They encouraged some of the other children to throw things at her, or to poke her. Another mother dropped by to check on the children and stopped them and called in the bishopric.”
“I’m sorry,” he said.
And then I remembered a scenario that plays out over and over again when I take out my outrigger canoe in Newport Harbor alone. Invariably, if it is a weekend, that will mean that there are a handful of rental duffies in the harbor being piloted by groups who are drinking too much. Despite the area being a “no-wake zone” where speeds are supposed to be kept to below 5mph, the renters don’t adhere to the rules when there’s an opportunity to harass a lone female paddler.
Sometimes the men (and it is always men) humor themselves by yelling rude taunts at me,
“Show me your tits!”
“Watch for sharks!”
“How well do you swim??”
This latter one is probably the scariest. It’s usually accompanied by a gunning motor and a veer of the boat in my direction. They are always laughing.
I swim well. And I can often paddle my lightweight canoe faster than the duffies with their bloated load of drunken passengers. But I also know the power of boat motors with their scythe-like propellers, and that they can be lethal for anyone in the water nearby. With just a few feet between me and them, the danger is utterly real.
And it is not funny.
It is not funny to hire a costumed killer to stand in your store and scare women.
It is not funny to taunt someone smaller and younger than you.
It is not funny to pick on a stranger simply because she is alone or more vulnerable than you.
I scare easily because a lifetime of experience as a woman has taught me that I should be afraid of the dark, of teenage boys, of men that are taller than me, and of partiers steering rental boats. Being scared hasn’t stopped me from paddling my canoe alone, but it did stop me from using church-sponsored childcare staffed by strangers, and it has now stopped me from shopping at my neighborhood grocery store.
I’ve tried to imagine a scenario where a store manager came up with the idea of frightening female customers as they entered the store and thought it would increase sales or customer satisfaction, and I cannot come up with any justification for spooking customers that makes business sense. So my conclusion is that was ignorant and mean. Moreover, I cannot conceive of a reason that I would continue to trust a store manager with such poor judgment to sell me the kind of high-quality food that I want to nourish myself and my family.