How Not to Be Rapey on the City Bus

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Let me tell you about something that just happened.

On an overcrowded 62 southbound bus in Chicago, I was standing to the side of a seated woman in her 30’s who had her purse on her lap. I noticed her when I got on because she was very pretty and dressed well. Standing next to me (and in front of the woman) was a white man in his 40’s: 5’5” or so, very slim, large glasses, wearing a polo shirt. He raises his voice a little to be heard and says to the seated woman, “That’s a beautiful purse.”

Her: Thank you. [small, polite smile.]

A few minutes pass in silence. Then,

Him: It goes very nicely with your shirt. [His voice is a little different now. It has taken on a wheedling tone. He’s making it clear he’s hitting on her.]

Her: Thank you. [only a glimmer of a smile. She averts her eyes.]

A few minutes pass in silence.

Him: So. Are you coming from work? [now he’s in full on creep mode. It is important to note that the way they are positioned places his crotch almost fully in her face.]

Her: [silence. Averted eyes.]

A minute later:

Him: Did you not hear me? Are you coming from work?

[enter Olivia]

Me: Excuse me, has she given you any indication that she is in the least bit interested in you?

Him: No. [stutters] Don’t worry about it.

Me: Well, I’m going to worry about it if you’re making her uncomfortable. And you’re making her uncomfortable. Leave her alone.

Him: Shut up. If she was uncomfortable, she would have said so.

Her: [looks up at me, refusing to look at him]

Me: Dude, are you blind? She’s uncomfortable. Leave her alone.

Him: [muttering insults]

Me: Did you say something?

Him: Yes.

Me: Oh I didn’t hear you. Because you were mumbling

Him: [silence]

The rest of the bus ride passed without incident. The woman got off five stops later and I got off seven stops after that (two after my actual stop: I didn’t want him to know my real stop in case he was a psycho). He stared at me for much of the ride but said nothing.

So why am I writing this blog? For a number of reasons.

Even if someone is not saying the words “You’re making me uncomfortable” they might still be telling you they’re uncomfortable. The woman’s clasped hands, the aversion of her eyes, the shifting in her seat, the refusal to answer his questions? This is discomfort. Part of living in a civilized society is taking social cues from one another. If you can’t restrain yourself enough to not hit on a woman in public—and I urge you to do exactly that: restrain yourself—at least have the humanity, respect, and presence of mind to take note of the behavior of the subject of your attention. Often, men who engage in street harassment rely on the societally taught politeness that is ingrained in most women in order to subjugate their target. They interpret this politeness as either interest or “playing hard to get.”   Hint: “Playing hard to get” doesn’t really exist in these kinds of scenarios. She’s not “playing hard to get.” She wants you to leave her the fuck alone.

Additionally, take stock of your privilege. Not just your male privilege—hopefully you’re already taking stock of that daily—but your physical privilege. Standing in front of a woman on the bus with your crotch in her face is not the time and place to compliment her on her shirt. Trust me. You are in a position of physical dominance. Allowing this posture to inflate your sense of control in the situation is not “being confident.” It’s being rapey. Don’t be rapey.

We need to teach men. Men need to be taught about boundaries, dominance, privilege, intimidation, street harassment, and a multitude of other microaggressions that they employ—sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously—when they interact with women.

Men, the first step is paying attention. Please, please pay attention. Sometimes you can’t see because you’re standing in your own way. Advice? Move.

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15 thoughts on “How Not to Be Rapey on the City Bus

  1. oh yeah…that’s one o mine, guys…read it and change now…before it’s too late…

  2. ‘Bus harassment’ is one of THE most common things here in India. We are just so tired of hearing about rape cases.
    And I’m glad to see that you have tagged ‘male privilege’ in this, because people here just don’t get that that is a problem; it’s still a patriarchal society we live in here.
    We really should stand up to people like them more. Thanks for sharing this!

    • oliviaacole says:

      Thank you so much for reading and sharing your experience. I sincerely hope we can continue to educate both men and women about the consequences of unchecked male privilege.

  3. lazojennie says:

    I absolutely love this! I go through this everyday day on my way to work to the city and people don’t seem to know ANY manners!

  4. Nancy says:

    Thanks for the post! My blog is new and a bit of a platter of topics, but this kind of thing is something I will hope to be covering. You have inspired me to make more of a stand now, I am sick of people staying quiet and averting their eyes when it happens.

  5. SrtaSoleada says:

    Wow, I admire your courage! I hope if I see this kind of thing happen I can remember this story and have the guts to speak up, too.

  6. There are so many times when I wished someone would have stepped in on a situation like this and helped me out because I’m feeling too embarrassed and afraid to say something. Thank you for posting this; it is SO necessary.

  7. I agree with you that his behaviour was horrible.

    I disagree with your implication that it was ignorant.

    People like him usually know full well that what they are doing is problematic. They are neither blind nor stupid; they are just willing to ignore other people’s comfort in pursuit of what they want.

  8. ContactRida says:

    kudos for standing up for the woman. i think the mistake we females make sometimes is that we want to be polite and for some unknown reason, males take politeness as a green light for everything. it’s unreal. as females, we must leave the house with our game faces on. we must expect the worst could happen, so if it does, we are prepared. if you can’t take a self-defense class, practice screaming ‘fuck off’ in the mirror with your most crazy face. men are afraid of crazy for some reason. trust me, i know…

  9. This also goes for the subway. Big time. The “inadvertent” groping and humping have become a part of the ride for most women. It’s unfortunate.

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