The Problem with Public Transportation
He took the empty seat next to me, trapping me up against the window. “Do you know what time it is?”
“Are you a model?”
“Have you ever thought about being photographed, or being in videos or something?”
“I’m not interested.”
I snapped, in the most polite way possible. “If you’re going to talk to me like that, then go sit somewhere else.”
I noticed several people around me stir at the sound of my raised voice, but no one intervened. The man didn’t move, but I quickly lost my courage. He was at least twice my size, and I didn’t want to make him mad. He didn’t move for another fifteen minutes, preferring to sulk and glare at me. When I got off the bus, I was relieved to see he didn’t follow me.
I’ve never confronted someone like that before, but I know I’ve been building up to it. I moved from Oakland to Los Angeles three months ago; in these three months, I’ve been harassed more than in all my previous 22 years. Every time I step outside now, I brace myself for the leering, the smirking, the “where you going?”, the “hey girl, nice titties!” At first, I chalked it up to changes I was making. I’m growing my hair out, and I recently warmed to the look of red lipstick. But even with my hair in a bun and no make-up on my face, I was getting it.
Two days ago (again, on the bus) I was witness to another woman getting it. I was already on edge after being stuck between two crazies threatening to pepper spray each other. After moving towards the back of the bus, I ended up standing next to the woman. At first, I thought the man standing behind her was a little close. Then I noticed she was a little uncomfortable. Then I noticed the little tent in the front of his sweatpants. I was horrified; I realized that whether I liked it or not, my proximity made me a participant in this scene.
I stared straight at the man, feebly trying to make him aware that I knew what I he was doing and that I didn’t approve. We made eye-contact, but he didn’t care. I knocked my shoulder into him when I got off the bus, but nothing else. I’m ashamed of myself for not saying anything, for not sticking up for the woman and telling him to back off. I can feel my face flushing, my hands are clamming up just thinking about it.
I always assumed I would stick up for other women, should the time arise. It did, and I didn’t. I would like to think that I won’t stay quiet again; that something like this won’t happen again in front of me unchallenged, not on my watch. But I’m not sure. I just hope in the future that I can be brave, and do the right thing. If not for myself, then for the woman I didn’t stand up for, and all the other women no one ever helps.
Brave women who made the news for standing up to their harassers:
First off I’m sorry to hear that this kind of stuff has been happening more often to you too hun ❤
It’s really hard to say what we all COULD do to help ourselves and other women in situations like this. The fact of the matter is that our society is one where victim blaming is used to lay down responsibility on not the person doing the harassment, but the innocent person that is being harassed. Like you said Caitlin it is so hard to muster courage for ourselves or other women when we are being harassed. Over the years of dealing with harassment on public transportation as well as on the sidewalk I’ve noticed my feelings of shame and self loathing at myself when men would say things or make motions at me. I’d be convinced that it was somehow MY fault that these men were doing things to make me feel uncomfortable when really I had nothing to do with it. One of the biggest things that has helped me in dealing with being harassed has been the realization that I wasn’t doing anything to egg these men on, not the way I dress, the way I walk, or whether I decided to wear make up that day. After dealing with the shame it’s become easier for me to get angry and defend myself more, to make it clear to men that it isn’t ok to treat women like objects. As for helping women when they are being harassed the safest and easiest thing for me to do has been to let the other woman know that she isn’t alone, that someone else is aware about what’s going on by either talking to her or helping her move away from
a guy that is giving her trouble. One of my biggest fears is that someone would get violent with me through harassment so I try to keep as non-confrontational as I can while getting the message across that I won’t let some man make me a victim.