Years ago, I had a British friend, Dina. We met at a Jewish summer camp for college-age people, and a few months after that I spent ten days with her in London. It was late December and we spent a lot of time holed up in her flat in the deep communion that can strike when two people click during a period of transition. Dina was fierce, hilarious and brilliant. The kind of charismatic and opinionated person who ends up with a lot of friends, admirers, and, if not enemies, a fair number of people left intimidated and offended in her wake. She once described arriving at a party with a couple of friends, and when they walked into the room about half of the guests rushed toward them while the other half rushed away.
Though Dina had grown up Orthodox, she had an intrinsic feminism that was one of her life’s fundamental drivers, and about which we had many conversations. Feminism was a big deal to us both. One morning of my visit, before Dina was up, I walked down her street to an area with shops, bought an eggplant and a jar of curry powder, and then made a meal for us with rice in her kosher kitchen. While we were eating, she told me about a little incident that had happened recently.
She’d been on her way to a meeting in another part of town and on a street with some shrubbery when she passed by two blokes pissing into it. “And one of them,” she said, “turned around and started waving his willy at me.”
Dina was short and the bloke was tall, and because she was very close on the sidewalk the willy was nearly at face level. She was utterly incensed.
“No one does that to me!” She cried in her cutting English accent, there at the kitchen table. “No one does that to me! I didn’t know what to do, so I punched it!”
I burst out laughing.
The bloke, she said, doubled over in pain, croaking out, “Aw, you fucking bitch!” While his friend laughed at him, saying he deserved it. Dina sped along on her way.
“No one does that to me,” she said again, harpooning her fork into the rice.
I’m not an advocate for violence, but I did think Dina’s response was wonderfully appropriate. I said I thought the guy would surely think twice before doing that again. Impunity is the great reinforcer of bad behavior. I thanked her for all the future women she’d surely saved from that same kind of moment.
I’m grateful to Dina and to all women who have punched the patriarchy in ways great and small. I’m pretty sure I owe them my life many times over.
Is an author of several books, including her most recent House of Rougeaux. Follow her book reviews on Goodreads, request her titles at your local library, or disappear in her audiobook, narrated by the award-winning Bahni Turpin.