I got on the J train at Fulton street, back of the second to last car. I sat on one side of a long bench. On the other side was a man, presumably homeless, who was talking to himself or the window or the ad on the train wall. Opposite me a man sat down and diagonally to my left another man. I was already slightly tired and out of it from my cold. I began to take count of the men on the train and as I have done in the past when I am the only female I wondered, what if one man tries to harass me? Will any other man or men defend me? Will they join in? So, I was on alert.
I looked around at the men and the guy diagonally to my left looked about my age, white, with a grown out mohawk, a few piercings, a leather jacket, boots, and an overall look that I would have swooned over in high school and most of college. I found him attractive. And then when I glanced away I heard him say, “What’s up?” It caught me off guard, but I looked at him and sort of nodded/mumbled an acknowledgment and hello. He then asked me, “How are you?” I rasped – my cold has left me with the voice of a thousand cigarettes – that I am fine. As soon as he had spoken to me my body tensed and I wondered to myself how far will this go? What does he want? I caught the look of the man opposite me. He was listening.
Then this guy said something else. I pretended to not hear over the roar of the train. When it stopped at the next station he said a little louder, “Are you still working?” He sort of gestured toward the packages I had with me, one a rather large Fed-Ex tube. I cannot remember his exact words but I told him I did not work for Fed-Ex. He said he knows, he meant was I delivering those packages for work. I said no. My responses were all very quiet and I barely looked at him. At this point he had gotten up from his seat and stood up next to me.
As the train filled in he said nothing else. I guess he realized I had nothing much to say to him. He did stand there for a while and then eventually moved so that he was standing in front of me.
Here’s the thing, ultimately, I did not feel threatened by this guy. And I know it takes courage to even say hello to someone. On the other hand, I am so used to being hit on in a creepy fashion and having to either ignore or tell men off that I literally did not know what to do. Upon reflection, I think this guy just decided to be bold, and failed. And did not fail because of his approach, but my reaction.
Here is the power of guilt and the position that women are put in: I felt bad for not being kind or flirting. I could easily be accused of being a bitch, as some men have said to me when I have not responded to them in a manner they found suitable. My experience as a woman is that men expect women to submit to them with a smile, a hello, a thank you, and the list goes on. Men are taught that the female sex is theirs to toy with. That does not mean that all men act this way, and I know from experience that many men are so caught up in their ingrained sexism they are not even aware of their behavior.
And what are we women taught? We are taught to be kind and generous and giving. We are taught that our smiles and even our glances could and often mean “please hit on me and have sex with me.” We are taught that when we say no we are being cruel and unfair. And we are also taught that we have no voice.
And I know that a lot of my reaction, or lack thereof, was and is because I lose my voice. In situations when I do truly feel threatened I want to scream or run but I physically cannot. I am trapped in this state of nothingness and immobility.
And I will confess right now that part of my surprise at his obvious attempt to hit on me was that I am also used to not fitting the norm when it comes to looks. I am overweight and while I at times may think myself an attractive person, I have a difficult time believing anyone else does. That sort of self-loathing is a whole other discussion that I am not necessarily in the mood for right now and is off topic from my desired course. But I did want to share it.
So, why is it that I feel so threatened and must automatically calculate how many men there are and who if any will help me and who if any will attack/harass me? What does that say about me? What does that say about men and this society? Why is the victim the first to be blamed? Why does this make me seem and feel crazy? Why not really sincerely ask why it is that so many women feel the need to be on guard at all times?
Do not mistake me, I am aware that I have me own personal issues to sort out about a lot of things, but this is a discussion I have had with many female family and friends. We as a sex are fodder for males. I refuse to be that and I am determined to find my voice. I am also determined to know my body more and my instincts so that if it is a case of someone being genuine and I happen to be interested in having a conversation I will not freeze like I do on all occasions.