She gets up clutching the collar of her blouse. Her companions look at her, questioning. She waves them off and makes her way to the ladies room. She can’t catch her breath. She grabs her throat hoping to dislodge the piece of chicken caught in it. She tries slamming herself against the wall. Nothing. She grabs the sink, sliding slowly to the floor, her mouth trying desperately to pull air into her lungs. She dies quietly and alone.
In a class on group dynamics that I recently taught, we were discussing how powerful group pressure is in keeping members from speaking up. During the discussion, a female firefighter told the group that it was common to get called to restaurants for choking incidents. It was shocking to her how often the firefighters would come to find women who had died alone and silently in the ladies washroom. When she told this story to the group, you could hear a pin drop in the room. We were stunned.
This image stayed with me for weeks. Women dying rather than causing discomfort for others. Women wanting to avoid causing a fuss. Not wanting to be a bother. Wanting to take care of things themselves.
My heart bleeds for them. I desperately want them to have a voice – to speak up and say want they need.
Even though we think we have made strides in gender equality – we still have a long way to go.