I understand the various exceptions made regarding personal space on public transportation during rush hour in major metropolitan areas. But today I found myself pressed against the railing on the edge of the seats of the 2 train, my chest against the bars and a fully grown man’s front knowingly pinning me in place while he was afforded plenty of room. This was not a crowded train; this was a case of one man being too entitled in his actions where he knew he could get away with a little overstepping when it came to touching my body. When I moved further into the corner, crossing my limbs uncomfortably to make myself smaller, he moved in closer — a telltale sign of intent.
I am not a girl who gets catcalled in the street. I don’t get looked at twice at a bar. I’m more likely to get the additional free drink purchased for my friends by the bartender. So while I’ve heard of harassment and its permeability into the lives of women, I rarely experience it on such a physical and unavoidable level. And now, in the wake of that 50 block subway ride, I can assure you: that shit fucking sucks.
When I got to work, I talked with my coworkers (read: friends) about the experience to only hear their own stories about subway harassment. I was informed I was lucky that I didn’t feel an erection the entire time I was subjected to the touch of the stranger, a reality I was honestly only afforded because I was too nervous and subsequently incredibly squirmy the duration of the interaction. But it was a relatable reality for all of them.
At this point, I’ve probably got some readers up in arms with the #NotAllMen. And that’s fine, because I agree. Just last night I was watching The Bold Type (two references in two days, what is this?). Alex, a male journalist on the show, is confronted with the fact that he may have not been as pro-consent in his past as he has always believed himself to be, and this reality shakes him to question what it means when a woman comes forward with an implication that a man has sexually harassed or, worse, assaulted her. And this is what was said:
I talk about this stuff all the time with my guy friends, over dinner, over text, but never in public. And that needs to change because that’s how the behavior changes. However, I’m freaking out. I mean, these are weird times. People are losing their jobs over tweets, not even new ones. And I’ve grown from this, truly, but I’m scared that people are going to come after me for something that I’ve done in my past.The Bold Type, Freeform
So this is what I propose. An equal playing field to both call those people who overstep personal boundaries like the man who wildly invaded my personal space on the train this morning while still offering absolution to those minor infractions from the past to those men who make intentional strides to prove that there really is some truth to the #NotAllMen trend.
Maybe if the discussion was more normalized, I would have been able to speak up about the discomfort this man was giving me in the moment of the interaction. But instead, I was kept quiet by the fact that I was afraid of offending him and causing an “unreasonable scene.” If you ask me, living in a cycle of accusation and outrage, and outrage and accusation, only means there can be absolutely no progress.
That reality sounds far worse than one that we live in now. At least now we have potential to open the door to progress.