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[personal profile] taylweaver

I could tell this was not going to be my favorite subway ride when the greeting from the guy who sat down next to me was, "how are you, baby?" (or "hi, baby," or, "how're you doing, baby." Some greeting that ended with "baby.")


He didn't look very threatening. In fact, he even gave me a bit of a gay vibe - though clearly, he was not gay if that's how he was greeting me. When an overweight woman sat down on my other side a stop or two later, he even moved over a seat to give me more space - which I didn't take, because I was kind of hoping someone would sit down between us.

He saw my netbook, which I had pulled out to work on my novel (it being November and all), and he started a conversation about netbooks and getting a signal on it while traveling. I'm kind of used to these conversations happening sometimes on the subway, so I was polite and answered him the same way I'd answer anyone else.

At that point, I was still willing to dismiss the "baby" bit as an anomoly. Plus, I have yet to figure out how *not* to engage in conversation when someone else starts one with me on the subway without feeling rude and awkward.

Then, the train got more crowded, and he moved over to give another guy a seat. Of course, he moved closer to me.

Remember how the woman on my other side was overweight? Well, I was definitely all the way at the edge of my seat (this being a 1 train, it comes fully equipped with clearly defined seats that are not quite large enough for the average New Yorker). And the guy who sat down on his other side wasn't overweight, but was large.

So that was when he took his arm and laid it across the window ledge behind me, almost as if he had put his arm around my shoulder, only without touching me.

I ignored him, and went back to working on my novel, but I was definitely Not Happy. 

Thankfully, he didn't get off at my stop. When he did get off, though, he said good-bye to the woman next to me, and also to me, at which point he gave me a pat on the back.

And what did I do? I just sat there. 

Still not quite sure whether I should have said something (not about the pat on the back - he was gone five seconds later, but about the arm.) Still wondering whether it would have been better or worse to get up and move. I looked around for someone elderly/with heavy bags/etc. to offer a seat to. That would have taken care of things without looking like I was moving away from him. I suppose I could have gotten off at an earlier stop and switched to another train, or waited for the next one - but I didn't think of that until just now, and besides, what if he had followed me off?

Like I said, I was happy when he got off at a stop earlier than mine.

Anyway, so that's what happened, and I just sat there. Not sure what I think of my response. Not even sure what my reasoning was.

What would you have done?

Date: 2010-11-10 02:58 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] hatam-soferet.livejournal.com
You're allowed to say "Please move your arm," and you're allowed to get up and move.

whether it would have been better or worse

In terms of what? You were worried about him becoming violent? Or about appearing overly touchy? Of offending him? He was already in your space, you don't have to be Nice when people are in your space.

Date: 2010-11-10 11:41 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taylweaver.livejournal.com
I was worried about giving him the satisfaction of knowing he'd gotten to me. Like asking him to move his arm would show some sign of weakness.

Date: 2010-11-10 03:43 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] hatam-soferet.livejournal.com
Ah.

Well, makes sense, I suppose. What do you think you want to do next time?

Date: 2010-11-10 04:03 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] j00j.livejournal.com
It's hard to know how to respond to these things in the moment. We're surprised when people do things that make us uncomfortable, and it's hard to quickly decide when the right time to say something is (and sometimes not saying something may be a safe or comfortable choice). And we're also socially conditioned not to make a fuss, so that isn't particularly helpful.

Did you do anything wrong? No. But you absolutely shouldn't have to put up with being uncomfortable like that.

As someone else pointed out, this guy was being offensive and invading your space-- you're not obligated to be nice at that point, and you're allowed to say "Please move your arm" or "Please don't touch me." Or "Don't touch me!" I stop being a polite Midwesterner when someone is rude enough to intentionally touch me like that.

Date: 2010-11-10 11:43 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taylweaver.livejournal.com
For the record, he didn't actually touch me (unless you count being squashed up against me, which is perfectly normal on the subway, regardless of where his arm was) until he was on his way off the train, at which point, it was too late to do anything because he was gone.

Had he touched me, I would have either said or done something, because that would have crossed a different line.

Date: 2010-11-10 04:30 am (UTC)
ext_27060: Sumer is icomen in; llude sing cucu! (Default)
From: [identity profile] rymenhild.livejournal.com
I second [livejournal.com profile] hatam_soferet.

As women, we're socialized to be nice when people around us are rude. We're trained to ignore these things.

But we have the right to claim our personal space, to resist sexual harassment (and sexual harassment is what that was), and to protect ourselves. You wanted to find a polite excuse to move, like an old person you could give your seat to. You DON'T HAVE TO BE POLITE when other people behave offensively to you. Get up and go.

Date: 2010-11-10 11:45 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taylweaver.livejournal.com
The thing is, that was part of it - and I realized, even as it was going on, I think, that that was part of it.

But as I said above, the other part of it was not wanting to let him know he was bothering me. Because that would somehow make me look week, or make me look like I was giving in.

Date: 2010-11-10 02:51 pm (UTC)
ext_27060: Sumer is icomen in; llude sing cucu! (Default)
From: [identity profile] rymenhild.livejournal.com
On the contrary. It makes you look strong when you resist.

The problem, then, is another issue we were trained into when we were small geeks being subtly bullied by the leaders of our school and camp social groups. When there's a social hierarchy telling you that you're at the bottom of the heap, and your interests are uninteresting and your behavior is weird, the thing to do is be silent and proud and don't let their scorn touch you. I understand that. I was there with you, in a completely literal sense.

But the sexual harasser on the train is a different situation. He relies on whatever training you have that keeps you there. If you get up and make the harassment visible to the rest of the train, you are in a public space, other people will see you and the harasser can't follow you without alerting the train to the problem. You need to move.

Date: 2010-11-10 01:26 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] debka-notion.livejournal.com
What I think I would have done, ideally: gotten up and moved.

What's more likely, knowing me: depending on mood, I'd have either sat there and said nothing, and been uncomfortable, or I'd have freaked out, said "you're making me uncomfortable" and gotten up in a flounce.

This middle path of just doing what I need to in order to feel comfortable- I'm still getting the hang of it.

Date: 2010-11-11 12:52 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] taylweaver.livejournal.com
I think this is one of those cases where the theoretical "what I'd do" ends up being different from the practical "what I did."

Because I feel like I've thought this through before. I see the ads on the subway about sexual harassment being a crime ("a crowded subway is no excuse...") and I think, "oh, if someone touched me inappropriately, I'd do X."

But then, I ended up in a somewhat murkier situation (there was invasion of personal space, slightly demeaning language, but no actual inappropriate touch until he was on his way off the train), and it made me feel all indecisive.

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