If There’s Any Lesson to Be Drawn from This, I Guess It’s that You Don’t Stand Between a Man’s Wife and His Biscuit

I have to call time-out on my boycott of all things WKRN, because I think it’s very important that we talk about the implications of this story.

In case you’re also boycotting WKRN, let me sum it up for you: They’re doing a story about the day laborers who stand outside the Jack in the Box on Murfreesboro Road in the morning and, in all fairness, trying to cover way too many complex issues in the little space they have.

I think that it’s clear that Jack in the Box has a right to have no loitering at their restaurant, if that’s what they’d like, so I’m not bothered that they would take steps to rid their front lawn of day laborers.  I am bothered by the assumption that those day laborers are all illegal immigrants and that the presence of undocumented people who are trying to work has somehow a correlation with the high crime in that part of town.

I mean, I know the stereotype of Mexicans is that they work hard, but I refuse to believe that anyone is so ambitious that he’s working all day for the Man and then turning around committing crimes all night.  When are these folks supposed to sleep?

But this is not actually a post about immigration.  It’s a post about this little telling snippet.

Would you want your wife or daughter to walk through this gauntlet of a dozen or more men to get a breakfast biscuit?, they ask me.

Because the answer to this question is often NO, many patrons bypass this restaurant for a morning biscuit. When you bypass this Jack in the Box because you might not feel comfortable, that means the business is losing money.

Let’s look at the instant replay:

Would you want your wife or daughter to walk through this gauntlet of a dozen or more men to get a breakfast biscuit?, they [the police] ask me.

A lot of times when feminists complain about how language is used–like in this instance where the assumption is that women belong to someone, “your wife,” “your daughter,” and that the problem isn’t how the women feel about having to navigate through a bunch of men to get to the Jack in the Box, but how the man feels about his women having to walk by those men–we’re dismissed, told that we’re reading too much into things.

But think with me about this.  None of these men standing outside the Jack in the Box has assaulted a woman while she was trying to get in the Jack in the Box.

I want you to make this distinction with me.  It’s fine for Jack in the Box to ask the police to help them deal with loitering because it reduces business.  It is not fine for the police to want to reduce the number of men outside the Jack in the Box because it’s uncomfortable for other men to have those men looking at “their” women.

You may think that it doesn’t matter why the police remove the men; the end result is the same.

But step back with me and let’s look at the larger picture.  The police are repeatedly removing men from in front of the Jack in the Box in order to make women feel more comfortable (or, by their words, in order to make men feel more comfortable about letting their women go to Jack in the Box).  No one has ever been assaulted by those men while they’re in front of the Jack in the Box.  And yet, we spend our taxpayer money on giving folks the illusion that women are now safe from ogling brown men.

But we still can’t get the police to patrol a part of town where a woman was raped for over two hours, a part of town that folks need to be able to walk through with relative safety.  (See S-town Mike’s continuing coverage of the state and local continuing “Oh, tough shit for you guys” response to this situation.)

Do you see how screwed up that is?  The police will dog on a location where women are perceived to be in danger and disregard calls for them to be in locations where women actually are in danger.

And why is that?

Again, I go back to that wording–“Would you want your wife or daughter to walk through this gauntlet of a dozen or more men”–and what it implies about how the police view their role, in this case, not just as enforcers of the law, but enforcers of proper gender norms.

Men have women–wives and daughters and, I assume, mothers–and it is their job to protect them and to control who has sexual access to them (even as far as who is allowed to look at them salaciously).  If a man cannot protect his women and control who has sexual access to them, it becomes the job of the police.  But these women, who are just trying to buy some breakfast are “good girls” and, according to our cultural narrative, men protect good girls.

A woman on her own, however, walking back from a night of drinking, through the park alone WITHOUT A MAN TO PROTECT HER is, almost by definition, a bad girl.  If she wasn’t, she wouldn’t have been downtown, she wouldn’t have been smoking, she wouldn’t have walked through the park alone.

And, again, according to our cultural narrative, no one has to protect bad girls.

I sincerely hope that this is not the underlying motivation for the continued ignoring of Bicentennial Park by the police–this unspoken belief that the kinds of women who are in the park alone at night don’t really need the same kind of protection as other women–but the fact that we talk about our allocation of time and energy in terms of needing to make women at Jack in the Box feel safer, with no thought given to how to keep women in near North Nashville actually safer really makes me wonder.

30 thoughts on “If There’s Any Lesson to Be Drawn from This, I Guess It’s that You Don’t Stand Between a Man’s Wife and His Biscuit

  1. On the one hand, yes, I’d prefer not to have to walk through a knot of men (of any sort) to get where I’m going. I don’t like walking through groups, no matter what their composition, I don’t particularly like other people (I know, I know), and I’ve been in situations where I’ve been surrounded by men (okay, technically “boys”) and threatened… which, rightly or wrongly, has led me to avoid groups of men more than I might otherwise.

    On the other, more important, larger and manlier and better in every way hand, I’d really like not to be raped. If there’s a choice between resources going toward the alleviation of relatively minor discomfort or having them go toward fixing real problems, I’ll take the latter.

    I do wonder, though, not living in Nashville… is there a difference in the demographics of the two areas you talk about? That is, are ‘bad women’ (or otherwise relatively unimportant people) more likely to be found in Bicentennial park than, say, trying to get into that Jack in The Box? I would think that would also add to the dynamics of where the police spend their time and money.

    And yes, dammit, at some point I’d like to be seen as more than an attachment. I get that it’s important for people to feel like they’re connected to a story in order for it to have weight… hence the “your so-and-so” arguments. I get it. I really do. But in many cases, it would work just as well to say “would you like to have to ______?” instead. It doesn’t work in this case (and ones like it, where you see this construction over and over and over again), because of the gendered way threat is percieved in this country, and the fact that men aren’t subject to the same litany of catcalls and harassment that women are. So they have to (or, perhaps I should say “have to”) resort to that style of argumentation, in order for it to resonate with their audience.

    Funny thing, that. Because if that’s the case, who are you talking to? Presumably women can read and use the internet, and looking around, I can see a good number of women do. The audience here is assumed to be male.* Women exist, as far as they do, as… handles. Pull this lever to get this response. We aren’t engaged in it at all.

    *Yes, I’m aware that it’s an anecdote, and the particular situation was a question leveled at a man. Its place in the article’s structure, however, (what with it immediately followed by: “Because the answer to this question is often NO, many patrons bypass this restaurant for a morning biscuit. When you bypass this Jack in the Box because you might not feel comfortable, that means the business is losing money.”), makes it clear that the audience is to put themselves in his shoes. The audience is ‘people like me,’ which in this case (and in pretty much every case where that construction is used) is ‘men,’ rather than ‘people.’

  2. It’s not just any men and women. It’s brown men ogling good godfearin’ biscuit-eating white women who belong to white men.

  3. Wait, haven’t you co-opted my opportunity for outrage? Is this a post about WKRN’s lazy, pandering approach to reporting, or a post about reducing women to mere chattel? Or, perhaps, a post about why healthy brown men won’t eat at Jack in the box?

    You and your subtext…

    Oh, finally saw all the emails about this, I stopped watching WKRN awhile back, right around the time they put Gill on the payroll.

  4. Where do you think the men heard about this “problem”? Their wives and daughters complained to them about it.

    Power behind the throne, you know.

  5. Oh, yeah, lord knows I’m all the time complaining about having to walk by hordes of men with deep brown eyes and work-hardened arms.

    Shoot, I wonder if I have time to get over to Murfreesboro Road before work in order to lodge my complaint in person.

  6. Also, I must say, in fairness to the police, if it were me, I’d much rather go hang out at the Jack in the Box and deal with perps who are courteous and cooperative and just looking to get the ordeal over with so that they can get back to work, than hanging out in a park where there are violent offenders.

  7. Clearly, the men who live and work around Murfreesboro Road have illiterate wives and daughers who never pay attention to the news. Only the men know what’s going on, which is why they have to closely monitor their women’s behavior.

    But why aren’t those same gals at home, cookin’ burgers & biscuits for their men? Aren’t they too busy with domestic chores to leave their homes and go flirt with the day laborers at the Jack in the Box?

    I think I’ve found the answer: women of today must stay at home and cook, and their men must eat the food they make. Then Jack in the Box will go out of business and the day laborers will disappear.

  8. I’m confused. Where are the feminists screaming that women should be able to go wherever they please without being sexually harassed?
    Hasn’t that been a running theme of this very blog?
    Ladies, women are being harassed!

  9. No evidence that any women have been. There’s only documentation to support that (white) men don’t want “their” women being looked at by (brown) men they presume are non-citizens. Male discomfort that somebody somewhere might be checking out a woman is not really getting my dander up.

    Expending police resources to patrol the parking lot of a private business because they want to help that business increase its breakfast trade rather than to patrol public property on which rapes have actually occurred…it’s a poor choice of resource allocation. Weren’t you the guy who was just bitching about rent-a-cops?


  10. Good try, Exador. And I’m glad to see that you are learning and that my feminism is rubbing off on you a little bit (tee hee! I’m all talking about rubbing off on Exador!), but if you look at the story closely, you’ll see that no women have actually been harassed entering the Jack in the Box. The police are just afraid that there’s an appearance of the potential for sexual harassment.

    I’m all for women being able to go wherever they please without being sexually harassed. I’m afraid I can’t get behind the notion that women should be able to go wherever they want without having to face the appearance of the potential for sexual harassment that might annoy their spouses.

    Joyce, holy shit! You have given me a brilliant idea for how the citizens of the near north side (can we call them the North End or is that corny?) can get their park some police presence! North Enders should strike a deal with the day laborers that they come stand around in the park waiting to be picked up by employers! Thus the police can continue to harass the day laborers AND the folks in the North End can have adequate police coverage in the park!

  11. Ahhh, true, but I also notice that you conveniently left this out:

    The officers share with me numerical data that indicates this is one of the busiest crime zones in the entire Hermitage precinct.

    By the way, I love your idea.

  12. Oh yeah, by the way, not to make light of it, but to my knowledge there was one rape. That seems like more of an anomoly than a rule, unless you’re saying that homeless men are more prone to rape. If that’s the case, you can have your little battle with Kevin.

  13. I only left it out because I thought the silliness spoke for itself. In one of the busiest crime zones in the entire Hermitage precinct, they’re busy busting on the criminals who are least likely to give them a problem?


  14. …. what bridgett said.

    And, y’know, what I said too. I’m all for being able to go places without being harassed. Since, however, no one seems to have said anything about actual women being actually harassed (indeed, no actual women seem to have been consulted at all) in this place, I’d much rather have the resources diverted to a place where actual harm has taken place.

    I think the park idea has some potential, Aunt B! It’s a win-win, except for the part where it’s extremely unlikely to happen.

    I am personally pretty fond of Job Centers for day laborers. We have one here, and it pretty much concentrates and streamlines the whole process. Day laborers congregate at the Job Center, which has coffee, chairs, interpreters, and a secretary/caseworker (I don’t know what her actual title is, since the only conversation I had with her was to the effect of “I think you’re in the wrong building”) who talks to them and sorts them by what they can do. Then when you need a day laborer, instead of trying to pick one off the street (while dodging cops, because we have all sorts of laws about them not being allowed to stand, and all sorts of other laws about not really being allowed to hire them) who can do what you want and with whom you can communicate, you go to the job center, tell them what you want, and they match you up with the appropriate people.

    The city wins, because it doesn’t have day laborers cluttering up its streets and making people and businesses uncomfy. The police win, because they know where everyone is, pretty much, and they don’t have to patrol nearly as much area to make sure people are standing or sitting properly (I shit you not – all the signs are to the effect of ‘standing/sitting/loitering in this area is prohibited,’ rather than ‘no soliciting’ or whatever). The day laborers win, because they have a place to wait with a roof over their heads and real chairs, and people who can actually communicate with them. And people who need their services win, because they have a steady, vetted supply of people to work for them, and a good idea of what they can do and a way to communicate with them. Everybody wins!

    Clearly, y’all need one of those. Jack in the Box wouldn’t know what hit them.

  15. “Busiest crime zone” does not necessarily equal day laborers at the JitB. Are the day laborers committing crimes? Where does it say the day laborers are committing the crimes?

  16. The officers share with me numerical data that indicates this is one of the busiest crime zones in the entire Hermitage precinct.

    Yep. It’s mostly blacks and whites selling and buying drugs and or themselves.

    The JITB’s business isn’t hurting because of the day labourers. It’s hurting because it’s located in a part of town famous for “either have a gun or be ready to run.”

    To make the Murfreesboro Road area look like a crime haven because a few non-white men of indeterminate citizenry are standing outside a fast food joint is hysterical.

  17. Interestingly enough, the area where this Jack in the Box is located seems like a pretty nice, stable place demographically. As long as we’re talking about the numbers and all, let’s look at what the Census information is for Zip Code 37217.

    Educational attainment is at or above the national average at all levels. Household income distributions show the area to be solidly middle class, with lower-than-national-average poverty and unemployment rates. Occupations skew toward professional and office jobs, with healthy showings from Service, Farm/Fishing/Forestry, Construction/Extraction/Maintenance and Production/Transportation. It’s overwhelmingly white, if a little less white than Tennessee as a whole. It has a good age spread, with most people in the 20-29 and 30-39 age ranges, and no heavy skewing on either age set that usually yields dependents.

    Looking at the Murfreesboro Police Dept Crime statistics for 2005* (sources: FBI, Uniform Crime Reports as prepared by the National Archive of Criminal Justice Data), the crime in the area is overwhelmingly nonviolent. As I don’t have a copy of STATA any more, I can’t run regressions and give you comparisons over time… but the trend is pretty obvious.

    The point is, none of the things that are a problem in that area are the kind of problem that day laborers standing outside a Jack in the Box cause. What they might do when they’re not standing outside the Jack in the Box is anyone’s guess. But it’s a stable community, with mostly non-violent crime, and there is nothing in either the article linked or any of the data I was able to turn up that indicates that these particular people in this particular place are causing either the problems that are actually there or the problems that are being imputed to them.

    * Link may not take you to table. I couldn’t find a permalink for the data. The search I ran was for the Murfreesboro Police Department, all variables.

  18. I lived in 37217 for 8.5 years.

    1. There are a large number of immigrants there–illegal and legal–in various apartment complexes. I don’t know if the immigrant population would answer the census, but if they answered truthfully I surmise it might change the census data somewhat.

    The entire zipcode is hard to quantify as it contains a lot of single-family homes (which when I lived there were majority white-owned by older couples) and apartment complexes. When I lived there the apartment complexes were a mixture of young white entry-level employees and students–like me and my husband and black and hispanic immigrants. The apartment complex just up the hill from mine had one apartment where 11 people from Guatemala were living, for instance. I doubt that if they answered the census at all they admitted that 11 people were in the apartment in violation of the lease agreement. (They were eventually arrested after a fire in their building.)

    the crime in the area is overwhelmingly nonviolent.

    There’s a lot of car stealing (my car was stolen), drug selling and vandalism. There’s not a lot of rape and murder.

    The cops don’t like the area generally because of the drug selling in the apartment complexes on Massman, Glastonbury and Patricia. The Nashville Scene had a cover story a few years back about cops beating some day labourers in one of the apartment complexes a few blocks from my old house.

    The problem seems to be that cops see brown men+large amounts of cash=drug deal, but as day labourers and offbook work became more prevalent, much of the brown men+large amounts of cash=offbook labour.

  19. That makes a lot of sense, and seems to integrate things pretty well. My point with all the statistics was not so much that it’s a utopian place and therefore there couldn’t possibly be the crime that people were talking about, but rather that “someone gave me some numbers” isn’t really all that useful when you’re talking about a specific, relatively small event. (I know, I know, I should have said that up there. I was anxious to get it posted before the computer ate my post like it did at MCB.)

    Aggregate Census data is supposed to project for the presence of classes of people who won’t answer, or won’t be answered for. I don’t know if the specific website I got that from used the estimates or not, though. My guess is that they didn’t, because that opens up all sorts of accusations of unreliability.

    Interestingly enough, car theft, drug sales, and vandalism are all issues that are relatively … if not simple, then straightforward … to deal with, if one has the resources. Having more cops milling about on the street absolutely does drop the prevalence of car theft. Keeping streets clean (trash, broken windows, graffiti) lowers incidence of vandalism significantly (though not really as much as a proponent of broken window theory might claim), and has an added bonus of improving community feelings of safety and unity. Drug sales require more complex measures to stem (if there’s anything I’ve learned working at a Drug Abuse Agency, it’s that), but are extremely well researched and relatively well-funded in this country, and there are a number of programs at work to do that very thing. Many of those agencies (including ours) partner with local police departments to reach more people.

    In light of this picture, it seems to me that at least part of it (beyond the laziness and CYA angles) is that the theory is there, but the application is skewed. Sending cops to stand around looking menacing isn’t actually a bad tactic, in an area where crime is taking place. The problem, of course, is that this particular area (in front of the Jack in the Box) isn’t the one where those crimes are largely taking place. They’re standing at the wrong sites.

    (And, you know, overall the resources are being invested slantwise. If having day laborers standing all over the place was an actual problem, or if the perception was really that bad, everyone’s money would be better spent on a job center of the type I described. And so on and so forth. But that brings us to a slew of “not my job” stuff.)

  20. Forget the big sociological issues, B. I can’t figure out how I’m supposed to refer to the two most important females in my life if I don’t introduce them as “my wife” or “my daughter”.

    Do I say, this is Lintilla, we had a marriage ceremony 20 years ago which hasn’t been revoked? This is Trillian, she’s a female child under 18 with inheritance rights, whose care I am legally responsible for?

    And if I introduce my dad as, well, “my dad”, am I enforcing some kind of power over him? He can still kick my ass…

    You’re reading too much into it. ;)

  21. Slarti, please when you get a chance, pass along the email address of your father. I have some freelance work for him. ;)

    You have managed to completely miss my point. I don’t care what you call Lintilla and Trillian. I care that we still talk in ways that reaffirm the idea that what happens to the women in your life is only a problem insomuch as you perceive it as a problem.

    I would have no problem with you saying, “My wife is uncomfortable with having to navigate a crowd of men in order to get into the Jack in the Box.” I would have an enormous problem with you saying, “I am uncomfortable with my wife having to navigate a crowd of men in order to get into the Jack in the Box,” as if Lintilla’s opinion on the matter wasn’t important.

  22. Not only that, but as I pointed out earlier, phrasing it as “would you like your wife or daughters to have to ______?” makes it very clear that the audience is supposed to be male. Yes, women can have wives and daughters too, but I’m sure that’s not what’s implied in that construction.

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