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Man Attacks Little Girl in Walmart

September 3, 2009

As a young woman without any children and with some fairly intense sensory sensitivities, I have to admit that I have at times found myself deeply annoyed by children crying in stores. I don’t have the patience of saints or stone, and I have on occasion been moved to grumble to a friend. Still, I have never thought that I had a right to use physical force against  a child because they were annoying me.

A man in a Georgia Walmart, however, believed he did. According to the AP, he slapped a little girl four times and then told her mother, “See, I told you I would shut her up.” This may seem like a relatively minor act of violence, but it certainly wouldn’t have felt to the little girl or to the mother who had no way of knowing how far the man would go. What’s more, it reflects a broader social issue.

What Roger Stephens did was precisely what the culture of the US teaches men, especially white men, to do. He prioritized his own needs over the needs of the two-year old child and her mother. Even the best parent can’t always keep their child from crying, and sometimes circumstances mean that a parent has no choice but to carry on shopping when the child does cry. This man didn’t bother to consider that sort of possibility because his privilege meant he didn’t have to. Instead, he demanded silence.

When that didn’t solve his problem, he turned to violence. Men with political power start wars. Cops beat suspects. Men who shop in Walmart hit little girls. Who they can assault and how much damage they can do depends on how else they are privileged, but when men do this, they are only doing what they have been taught to do by the media and by the attitudes of people around them.

Of course, men have agency just as women do and can choose not to be violent, even if that is a more difficult path.

13 Comments
  1. Cherri permalink
    September 3, 2009 9:34 am

    Well said.

  2. September 3, 2009 9:54 am

    “This may seem like a relatively minor act of violence”

    NO, IT DOES NOT. This is a MAJOR act of violence — a grown man has NO RIGHT to ever hit a child. Are we supposed to think it’s minor because he “slapped” her instead of flat-out punching her? Well, when his hand is the size of your head, that “slap” is a pretty major thing. “Slap” does not describe the amount of force, just the shape of the fist. This was an open-palm punch — actually, FOUR of them.

    Sorry, but this is an issue that gets to me. Child abuse is not OK, and it’s not minor. An adult man attacking a toddler is UNACCEPTABLE, and shame on the AP for ending the story with “the girl’s doing fine, she’s playing.” This is was an attack on the mother and the daughter, and I doubt the daughter is not going to have repercussions from this event.

    Thanks for sharing this story. As you point out, the problem is much larger than this one incident. The more we talk about it, the more we will become aware of the problem and its roots.

    • September 3, 2009 2:38 pm

      agreed. as a mother of two small children, this horrifies me. i can’t imagine what i would do if any adult, let alone a strange man, put his hands on my child.

  3. miss lala permalink
    September 3, 2009 10:22 am

    I, too, am frequently annoyed by loud and unruly small children in public spaces, but have never said anything to parents, much less stepped in (much less slapped a child!). I even try to keep my grumble face to a minimum; there is no knowing the circumstances of the parenting and the child(ren) in question, and not infrequently are “misbehaving” children either reacting to poor/improper parenting or they have emotional/cognitive/behavior issues that even the best parent cannot control. My visible annoyance (much less interaction) only goes to further a stressed parent’s anxiety levels, and that is the worst thing for the child(ren) in question.

  4. Marie-Therese permalink
    September 3, 2009 11:01 am

    I have to respectfully disagree. Violence is wrong no matter who commits it, male or female. The generalizations used in this article are sexist, and reinforce a type of “men are keeping us down,” attitude. I know countless men who would never use this kind of violence. Consider the situation. A man in a Walmart attacked a little girl. Are you aware how many crazy people visit Walmart stores each day? Not all politicians start wars. Not all cops beat their suspects. These kinds of statements are what fuel hatred against feminism, not acceptance of it. We, as women, should be striving for equality, not superiority. Otherwise, how much better are we than the men who have exploited our gender for centuries?

    • September 3, 2009 5:12 pm

      I would suggest that you re-read this post, especially the last part where I point out that men have a choice not to be violent. Would I have said that if I were saying all men are violent?

      What I was saying, rather, is that there are systemic pressures which encourage men to be violent which makes them more likely to start wars (or whatever else) if they have the power to do so. That’s not saying women are superior at all; it is saying that social systems treat men and women differently. That isn’t sexist or discriminatory, and it’s necessary to be aware of if we want to overturn those same systems which oppress all of us of any gender. If that makes some people uncomfortable or makes them hate feminism, that is unfortunate but not my concern. I’m not going to water down my analysis of systems to protect the feelings of people who disagree or can’t be bothered to understand the difference between systemic analysis and discrimination.

      In addition, I would suggest that you do more research on mental illness. The “crazy people” you refer to are no more likely than non-mentally ill people to commit assaults; rather, they are more likely to be the victims.

  5. Katie permalink
    September 3, 2009 12:25 pm

    I know why he did it, I’ve felt a desire to do so myself on several occasions…
    But tat doesnt stop me from thinking that it was wrong of that man to slap that girl.

    But I also think that if it were an adulate woman stranger,
    there wouldn’t of been half the fuss about it.
    :-/
    but her mother certainly should of done something to stop her child.

    • September 3, 2009 10:04 pm

      Katie, how do you know the mother did NOT do something to try to quiet her child? This is a 2-year-old we’re talking about. Children are children, temperamental and unpredictable. Sometimes, they throw a tantrum. It happens.

      This is not the mother’s fault. This is not the child’s fault. This was an assault on a toddler and her mother — the only person at fault is THE ATTACKER.

      Maybe if the attacker had been a woman, there would not be “half the fuss about it.” But of the attacker had been a woman, more than likely the hand hitting that child four times would have been smaller than this man’s, and it would have carried less force. Could that factor into the equation about how much “fuss” there was about it?

      If a crying child bothers you THAT MUCH when you are shopping, then LEAVE THE STORE. Walk over to another aisle. Turn up the volume on your iPod. WALK AWAY.

  6. Michele permalink
    September 3, 2009 5:51 pm

    From personal experience I know that women can be as violent in a family situation as men. I am afraid that many women have violent behaviour and tendencies and are pushed to hide their problem rather than seek help because they fear the stigma more than they fear the results of their actions.

    Stereotyping men as agressors and women as nurturers does not help stamp out violence against children. It adds to the problems of children who feel they cannot speak out because no one will believe that they are suffering violence from a female in the home situation.

    There are violent people and non violent people some of them are men and some of them are women. We need to deal with them all and not pretend that one category of violent people does not exist.

    As for men being more likely to take their countries into wars – have you forgotten about Margaret Thatcher and the Falkland War already? Golda Meir and Indira Ghandi were two more strong political leaders who led their countries in times of war – both very definitely female.

    I have seen many many mothers slapping children in shops to make them be quiet, far more than I have seen men do so. Probably because it is usually women who have the children with them and are under huge stress and therefore snap under pressure.

    • September 3, 2009 9:31 pm

      Michele, like Marie-Therese, you really need to re-read the post. There is nothing in there about women never being violent, simply that men typically are encouraged to be violent. You can tell this because I say that this is what men are taught, which is then carried out in certain ways by men with different types of power. You can also tell that I’m not saying ALL MEN do this (ie stereotyping) because I say “men have agency just as women do and can choose not to be violent”. (Pointing to only two examples of women who have started wars as political leaders also doesn’t exactly prove your point about likelihood, but that’s really not the point.)

      Moreover, this wasn’t about a man in a family situation. It was a man in a store hitting a stranger’s child because he thought he had a right to act violently rather than, you know, going down a different aisle for a few minutes.

  7. Michele permalink
    September 4, 2009 8:08 am

    I don’t know why my point needs to be argued with.

    If you agree with me that women can be violent then great , the more people who admit that, the sooner the problem can be dealt with.

    Perhaps it is a culture issue – but the general attitude I have witnessed in the UK is that ALL adults needs transcend the welfare of the child and the more the society give lip service to the child’s needs being paramount – the more it is a case of them protesting too much to distract us from the large grey elephant in the room.

    Given how few female political leaders there have been I would say that statistically three is very significant.

    Still here are a few more

    Katherine the Great
    Elizabeth 1
    Boadicea
    Joan of Arc

    It is extremely common in the UK for women/females to be involved in acts of brutish violence these days so that is the experience I speak from. It is wonderful that you can speak from a different perspective.

    Perhaps recognising that everyone is capable of violence given the trigger factors and developmental failures might lead to a coherent way of preventing such things in future.

    You seem to not want to explore that avenue. Only you know why you chose that path.

    But one man behaving badly in a shop does not lead to the conclusion that all men are encouraged to behave that way and rarely succeed against the conditioning to behave well.

    If it did then 7 female leaders who engaged in warlike behaviour could also lead to the conclusion that all female leaders are encouraged to behave that way… OK maybe you’re right come to think of it.

    • September 4, 2009 9:30 am

      Michele, I think you missed the point of the post. Nobody is saying women cannot be violent, the point of the post is to point out there is a culture in the US where white men, especially those in management are almost conditioned to have the world conform to their needs. This does not mean every single male on the face of the planet will act the way this man did, but it explains why this man felt justified to act this way in the first place.

      As to your examples of female leaders in war, I’m not history major, but in order to truly engage in a debate about how often men and women with political power start wars because they are prioritizing their own needs above the greater good of their people, we would need to examine the historical context in which each of these people started their wars and the reasons for those actions. Something tells me the reasons George W. Bush had for starting the war in Iraq are slightly different from the reasons Joan of Arc had.

      And using ekswitaj’s argument about priviledge, even though Elizabeth I was female, she was royalty. Don’t you think the argument ekswitaj makes about white men in the US being justified because of their priviledge apply to Elizabeth I as well?

    • September 4, 2009 9:24 pm

      My apologies, Michele, I argued with your point because I assumed it was intended to be in response to my post. If your point was merely that you wanted to discuss another aspect of violence (note that this was in no way intended to be a thorough discussion of violence, as no short blog post ever could be), however, then I have to ask why you are so resistant to exploring the forces which encourage men to be violent. Why do you need to respond to a post about the forces that shape masculine violence by pointing to female violence? Why do you need to change the subject? “You seem to not want to explore that avenue. Only you know why you chose that path.”

      As for this– “one man behaving badly in a shop does not lead to the conclusion that all men are encouraged to behave that way and rarely succeed against the conditioning to behave well”–nobody said it did. I said that it was an instance of what this encouragement results in. You want proof that men are encouraged to be violent? Turn on the TV for five minutes. How many male heroes are violent? Look at movies targeted to male audiences? How many men are portrayed as violent? Talk to men who are gentle and ask how many of them have had their masculinity questioned because of it (and yes, this will work if the gentle men you speak with are from the UK). Go have a look at this blog post: http://contexts.org/socimages/2009/09/04/preparing-boys-to-be-soldiers/ In other words, open your eyes and quit arguing against strawmen.

      Speaking of which, I did not say that men “rarely succeed” in overcoming this conditioning (Though that has been my personal experience, I do recognize that my own experience may not be universal), only that it is more difficult.

      Moreover, I think that perhaps you should actually learn the stories of these women rulers before you decide to use them as examples. Boudicca did not begin the violence: she led an anti-colonial revolt against Rome after her daughters were raped and tortured. This is a totally different situation from the warfare enacted by our modern politicians. But perhaps you have only read the Roman side of the story?

      Also, I would expand upon what Criss said regarding Elizabeth I by pointing out that she actually had to take on some masculine attributes in order to maintain power (though of course she had to be careful precisely how far she went in this regard); it is a rare case of expectations of masculinity shaping the behavior of a woman. (You could make the same argument regarding your original two examples as well.)

      Finally, though I understand that you were making an attempt at ironic wit, I actually would say that all leaders, so long as masculinity is constructed as violent and leadership is constructed as masculine, are encouraged to be violent: men because they otherwise are not seen as real men, women because they need to be seen as being like men in order to rule.

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