On busses

I’m quite sure that everyone with an Internet connection nowadays is more than familiar with the following clip:

In short: a woman smokes out of an electronic cigarette in a crowded bus, the other passengers react negatively and she reacts violently, two other persons begin assaulting the woman and nobody intervenes for minutes on end, with some even running away from the vicinity of the beating.

There are two main definitions from which I’d like to start my analysis of this event: that of social psychology and social consciousness, two intertwined concepts which may help shed light not only on the events that transpired in the above video, but also on similar happenings.

Social psychology is an empirical discipline which studies the influence on the people’s psychological variables (such as thoughts, emotions and behaviors) by the presence of others – be it a real, tangible presence, or an imagined/implied one. Here, both the individual and the group’s dynamics may be studied to come to conclusions regarding their behavior in relation to others.

The domain is abundant in fascinating theories, but for this given situation, I will apply the theory of the bystander effect, which postulates that the more people witness an incident, the less they are inclined to help its victim.

Social conscience, on the other hand, represents the totality of knowledge, representations, ideas, concepts and mentalities of a human collective, which reflect its life conditions, as well indications -towards the state of their social psychology.

Coming back to the situation at hand, what can we learn about it by applying the above concepts? The actors will, for this purpose, be split into two: the figure of the woman, and that of the other passengers.

The event which catalyzes the entire chain of events is the woman’s smoking of an electronic cigarette in a closed public space. The topic of using such cigarettes in places where smoking is banned is somewhat controversial, with users maintaining that the device does not utilize actual cigarette smoke, but rather a non-harmful vapor, which makes it legal to use.

On the other hand, some say that it is still an act of smoking which causes inconvenience towards the other people who are in the same space as the smoker; this is backed up by recent findings of the World Health Organization, which claims that such vapors pose a clear health hazard. As such, the fact that the woman is using the cigarette in a crowded public space clearly indicates that she disregards the needs and emotions of the other passengers while doing so. When the first passengers begin to complain of her use of the cigarette, she becomes verbally violent, making unfounded accusations towards an elderly passenger that he is a former communist torturer and a pedophile. These specific actions show us that the woman

It is when that elderly passenger knocks the cigarette from the woman’s hand, prompting an equally violent response, that several passengers begin to hit and shove her around the vehicle, that one entire minute passes by until somebody intervenes to break up the conflict, with two young men even running away from the fight when it became close to them. Even after the incident subsides, the elderly man from the beginning tries to attack the woman after she blames him for having been beaten – it is only now that someone intervenes to stop the fight from happening, not by telling him that it is wrong to hit someone (especially a woman), but by warning him that an old person would have a hard time in prison.

These reactions and responses show us a grave fact, which is particularly hard to analyze in this case. Is the bystander effect the sole explanation of the events that transpired? Was everyone paralyzed in fear of being hurt themselves? Did they expect someone else to intervene? It may be so.

However, in a traditionalist society such as Romania’s, where women are constantly being discriminated against and are frequently subjected to violence, the matter at hand becomes even more complicated. The abuse of women, having been practiced at such a large scale in this country, has certainly entered the social conscience of Romanians (with jokes such as “a woman unbeaten is like a clock unwound” belonging to the collective mentality) – which might be the reason why the woman was attacked and why the people around reacted passively, permitting these events to transpire. (In all likelihood, the attack would have not happened if it would have been a man smoking an e-cigarette in that specific bus.)

The fact remains, regardless of the way the woman had acted against the norms and regulations of public spaces, she should certainly not have been attacked physically attacked. According to a study conducted by Avon, a Romanian woman is a victim of abuse once every 30 seconds; another study by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Human Rights shows that around 30% of Romanian women have been victims of physical and sexual abuse, with 13% of attacks being perpetrated by individuals that were previously unknown to the victim. It is now, in the wake of this horrifying event, that the case of physical abuse of women should be discussed at large in Romania’s mass-media and households, so as to prevent such events from ever happening again. People should be encouraged to intervene in such cases, and should be taught not to participate in such actions.

The fact remains, however, that the perpetrators of the attacks caught on camera were all senior citizens, whose attitudes and perceptions may prove to be difficult to change. But relying on the natural change of generations in hopes that such attitudes will disappear is naïve and morally questionable – something must be done especially for this category of people, who are more prone to such violent outbursts than younger individuals.

Flavia Dima

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