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