I just finished working 8 hours, I’m tired, but cheerful because I had a good day. Mostly, I’m just excited to get home and have dinner. I get on the subway with my friend, we both put our feet up, because, amazingly, there’s actually space this evening. My friend says she wants to vegan-ize macaroons, and then is trying to describe them to me because I’ve never had them.
Enter three teenagers – two boys and a girl. They spread out as well, with one of the boys sitting behind my friend and across from me, and the other boy across from him, holding his phone awkwardly, trying to look like he’s not filming. The boy behind my friend says, “Hey, wanna have some fun?”
I give him an unimpressed, ‘really?’ look, and we continue talking. Turns out, it’s pretty hard to continue a conversation when someone is determined to harass you. I literally couldn’t hear my friend over his sexual solicitations, and I could tell that she was becoming more and more uncomfortable (as was I).
“Come on, I have protection,” Clearly, ignoring him wasn’t working. So I decided to play him at his own game. If he thinks sexually harassing women is just super fun, then fuck this, I’m guna show him how it feels.
“Alright, drop your pants.”
“Drop your pants, lets go. Don’t be a tease, I know you have protection, let’s do it.”
“Where? There’s people…”
“So what, there’s a floor. What, are you afraid you can’t perform?” (I know I shouldn’t really have said that one. I’m usually against shaming men for having small dicks, or not being able to perform, etc. I know those insults rely on the patriarchal idea that power comes from male-ness, but I was desperate. I needed to do what would work.)
It went on like this for… a few seconds? minutes? I’m not sure. I do know that eventually he turned around, put his hood up, and avoided eye contact with me. I couldn’t help but throw in an, “Oh I’m sorry, does that make you uncomfortable?!” to which he did not respond. I had won, and I was glad, but I was also shaking. And by this point, I was also pissed.
My friend moved over to sit near me and farther from him, and we planned to wait together until they had all left before splitting up to go home. When they got off at the same stop as us, I was almost* tempted to go up and grab his ass, start talking shit right in his face, or follow him home. Fuck this, I’m tired of being scared. You think this is fun? You think this is a game? Let me show you exactly how it feels. Except that I never could, it would never be the same. He’s a teenager, and I’m a 20-something. I’m educated and smart and I consider myself to be empowered, but none of that matters because he is male and I am female and that’s what it comes down to. He is male, so he has the power. He is male, so he can walk up to any woman on the subway and make her uncomfortable, and even scared. And we just have to accept it.
And I don’t even know what my point is, because I don’t accept that, but it doesn’t make me any less likely to experience it. Sometimes I forget how important feminism is to me. I haven’t written anything for a long time, I think because feminism has become so much a part of me, that I don’t remember to appreciate it anymore. Then something like this happens, and the only thing that gave me the strength to respond was knowing that there is a whole community of feminists out there who support me. That’s a pretty powerful feeling, even if I couldn’t really feel as powerful as I pretended.
The best part is that once I left my friend and got on the connecting subway, there was a middle aged man staring at me suggestively. When I looked away, he started laughing and said “It’s okay, don’t be scared of me.”
So what’s the solution? I don’t know. But having it be acknowledged helps. Knowing that it’s not just me helps. I don’t have anything brilliant or profound to say about it. Let’s just keep trying, cuz next time it won’t just be me he harasses.
*Almost, because I know that 1) that would be getting dangerous. I don’t know these people or what they might do. And 2) that would be assault, and would be illegal (as it should be). I know that even though he very intentionally sexually harassed me, it’s still not okay to sexually assault someone, and I would never actually be tempted because no one deserves to experience that, not even him.