Photo by Interchange
Photo by Interchange
Tonight I got into a confrontation with an apparently famous (I didn't know this) local man named David Zancai. He was very large and strong. He got onto the subway and started storming around, yelling, doing pushups and roaring, and ranting about how "ladies" and "girls" need to "keep their knees together" and "stop showing their monkey" to men on the subway. He went on for about five minutes about why men shouldn't let their girls out of the house dressed in spandex, and the male pedophiles and rapists and voyeurs wandering among us and how women and girls are responsible for such men's reactions to them and "know what they are doing" when they dress in yoga pants and other tight clothes "because men are only human." He was extremely loud and intimidating and very invasive of others' personal space.
He then began walking up and down the subway car, dragging behind him a huge banner with a woman's bare legs, commenting on individual women's clothing and appearances and shaming them for anything revealing. He began to repeatedly target a girl who looked about 17 and was dressed in a tight workout outfit, yelling at her and shaming her for how she was dressed, pointing at her groin and breasts and telling her he could "see her monkey." She was clearly very upset by this and kept staring out the window trying not to make eye contact with him or cry. I was horrified at this and looked around at the men to see if any of them were going to respond (most of the women were frozen in anxiety or fear that this guy was going to target them next and were trying not to call attention to themselves). None of them were doing anything.
Then he went to move toward her and yelled that he was going to take a picture of her and "her monkey", and went to take out his phone. She was so scared and humiliated and began to cry immediately. At this point I got up and walked down the car and stood in front of her to prevent him from taking photos of her. He began yelling at me about "what right do I have to stop him from taking photos" and how "this was for my own good as a woman", and I turned my back to him and began talking to her, asking what stop she was going to, telling her I was going to stay with her and that I was sorry this was happening. He began getting very verbally aggressive with me so I turned and went through a few minutes of yelling back at him to leave us alone and stop acting like an asshole, ignoring him, continuing to block the girl with my body so he couldn't see her, etc. Still no one did anything, other than a couple women close to me telling me not to talk to the man - they were clearly afraid he would come over.
When we got to the next stop some women told the girl to get out and go to the next car, so while I blocked the man's path to her we moved to the door and she did that. Then began several more minutes of this man verbally harassing me and yelling at me.
He then came and stood beside me and was clearly going to get out at my stop. We got out, he walked beside me harassing me some more, and then he turned away and I realized that he was following the girl into the next car. He was dragging his large banner behind him on the ground, and since I couldn't make it into the car in time I ran and stood on the end of the banner that was sticking out, blocking the door from closing and giving myself time to get ahead to the next door and cut him off. This angered him a lot.
I spotted the girl on the car, looking horrified that the man had followed her onto the car. I got in front of her again. The man was storming down the car toward us, continuing to yell, and the girl began to cry again. I began yelling at him repeatedly to "leave her alone and get off the train", and telling others around us that he had been harassing her. Other than one woman who quietly asked the girl if she was okay, no one did anything. This went on for another minute or so until a woman came up to me and quietly told me who this guy was and that he had a long history of bothering people on the subway, had sexually harassed her while she was in her teens, and that he was banned from the subway.
He ended up getting off one stop before the girl. I stayed with her nearly till the end of the subway line. When we got off, the girl and a few women thanked me for intervening. The girl was clearly terribly shaken up. This entire time, not a single man other than that harasser had said or done a thing.
At the end of this, I stood and talked with a woman who had watched part of this, and the discussion was really disturbing. She said "I'm glad you helped her, but you've got to admit he has a point. I know she's just young and doesn't know better but hopefully now she has learned her lesson and will carry a wrap with her so she can cover herself up." I said that he was the one who needed to learn a lesson (hopefully that he has no right to police women's appearances, but at the very least that he should keep those views to himself and not harass girls and women), and that that girl had every right to ride the subway with the expectation that she would be treated with basic respect.
I then headed back on the subway towards home, shaking with adrenaline, realizing how scared I had been the whole time that he was going to hurt me. When I got home I googled the guy and found out that he's a cult figure around the city, has been the subject of a graphic novel, a Vice article, a documentary, etc. He is often talked about like a humorous, kooky, and even endearing person. Unsurprisingly, he has some serious mental health issues due to an accident that left him in a coma, and some serious issues with women probably connected to his girlfriend apparently leaving with their daughter after he became ill (which given the behaviour I witnessed, was probably a good parenting call). He is banned from many places.
His story sounds like a sad one, with some good lessons for how we as a society deal with mental illness. But that's not my point here. I'm sharing this so that girls and women in Toronto know that this guy's unstable behaviour extends into sexual harassment and that you may very well not be safe around him. I'm sharing it to express my anger that I had to put my own safety in danger to protect that girl, which I have had to do so many times before in similar situations over the years. I'm sharing it to call out all the men who did nothing, not because I expect men to fight him or otherwise live up to some kind of "masculinity" standard, but because I do expect that they will use their privilege and power in a situation like that to, at the very least, ask the girl if she was okay, ask me if I was okay, tell the guy to leave her alone, put their bodies between her and the man, push the alarm strip, take a photo of him for helping her to make a report if she wants to, acknowledge that the situation is even happening, SOMETHING, because it is totally understandable that the women in the situation may be in fear for their own safety in the presence of a man who is aggressively and exclusively targeting them because of their gender.
"I'm sharing it to call out all the men who did nothing, not because I expect men to fight him or otherwise live up to some kind of "masculinity" standard, but because I do expect that they will use their privilege and power" WTF?
wonder why she didn't hit the yellow strip herself?
Her comments about being so focused on Zanta don't 100% jibe with her comments about no men signalling they were prepared to jump in if shit got real. Maybe they were prepared? If you're too distracted to notice the bright yellow strip that will bring trained professionals with guns to your aid, you probably aren't keeping tabs on bystanders willingness to intervene. At no point did this get physical so it was never tested.