A couple of days ago on the tube home, squashed up to the door, SULA (sweaty upper lip alert) happening big time, I tried to look past a man who was directly facing me. He was chewing away on a piece of fruit, remnants of it dropping all over my shoes. As I looked down and then looked up to face him, he was smiling at me as if this fruit dropping had been a shared experience. He apologised quickly, through laughter, and I simply smiled and thought no more of it. A few moments later he tapped my shoulder and tried to get my attention. I could vaguely hear what he was saying to me and it went something like this:
“You’re annoyed at me aren’t you? Don’t ignore me. I know you can hear me but you’re just playing dumb. Your rude expression says it all though. Just because you pretend to not hear me doesn’t mean I’m going to leave you alone. Is it my accent? Is that why you’re ignoring me? Do you not understand me?”
At this point I continued to stay silent, because why give a fool a benefit of the doubt and better yet, why rise to the level of immaturity. He continued, trying to amend his conversation.
“You know you’re really pretty. You don’t come from this planet, you come from the planet beautiful. Why are you ignoring me? I said you’re beautiful. I know you can hear me. You girls act so innocent but I know you can hear me.”
At this point I interjected, pulling out my headphones. I looked at him calmly and directly and said:
“I can hear you perfectly, I’m just choosing not to listen. Do not be rude to me and please do not continue talking to me as if I’m stupid. I have been polite to you through all this, so please can you stop talking as though I’m beneath you or stop talking to me at all.”
He almost turned a new shade of red but I kept my cool. You would think being on a packed train full of people that someone would help or interject, but unfortunately no one did.
Sadly, this is not the first time I have encountered this type of situation. The first was when I was harassed on a train at around 16, when a guy pushed himself on me as if the train was completely packed. It was deserted. He continued to breathe down my neck as if it was appreciated and wanted. At 16, I didn’t know what to do. It seemed wrong to speak up and tell someone to move away, so I just stood there uncomfortably, dumbfounded by what to say.
It wasn’t until I got to about 18 that a similar incident occurred. Travelling home late one night from work, a slightly tipsy man sat on the seat next to me in a carriage of empty seats. It was easy to tell he’d had a few but still I stayed quiet and kept focused on other things. He nudged me a few times ‘accidentally’ and he laughed as he defended himself. He stared at me because ‘I was so good looking’ that he just couldn’t help it. The last straw for me was when he twisted his body round to mine. I remember telling him how uncomfortable he made me and insisted that he either moved or I would alert someone of what was going on.
His response? “You girls like it when we lads call you beautiful, you’re just pretending to not like it. Otherwise you would have said something.”
That response is not the desired one. A response such as that makes me fearful for what men think is appropriate and what is not. I will not be told, by anyone, that just because I stayed silent it meant I was happy with what was going on around me. I should not have to shout and become annoyed when a man is too close for comfort, I should not have to move seats to justify being left alone.
Being harassed is a scary experience. The fact that women live in fear, unsure of what could happen if they want to reject someone, is wrong. I will not stay silent to satisfy someone’s feelings. We should not feel fearful to express our right to speak up.
I am sure I am only one of many women who have encountered similar incidents and I want to say we are all different. You may not have the courage to speak up, but no matter how you choose to deal with the situation, it’s important to remember there are other woman who understand what you’re going through and that it is not normal to be made to feel this way.
This is not an opportunity to ‘bash men’. This is a simple post from myself saying please respect us just as we would respect you. No means no, if we are asking to be left alone, we are not doing it as a joke or to tease you. There are boundaries for all women and you may be crossing them and leaving an unwanted effect on the person. I recently read a piece entitled ‘Stop Saying “I Have a Boyfriend” To Deflect Unwanted Attention’ and it really registered with me. It took me a while before I realised that saying ‘no’ and ‘I’m not interested’ was okay and I would encourage other women to speak up when you can and remember that being silent is not the only way to address an uncomfortable situation.
We have voices – let’s use them.
- Ellie Ledra