something terrible happened. last weekend, i was getting on the metro and a man touched my arm. completely wrapped up in a funny text message, i didn’t turn around to inquire about the touch’s origin, but instead cursorily acknowledged the man’s apology. the train platform is busy on saturdays and with metro doors that will enclose you like the jaws of life, shoving and pushing is common while folks are clamoring to get on the train.
my favorite seat on the train was free — you know the one that’s off in the corner behind the glass partition — and the unwarranted toucher sat right beside me. being from the south, my first response was to look at him and smile to acknowledge his presence, but then things got uncomfortable. this dude sat really close to me. long legs stretched out, his body was almost touching mine. also, there were empty seats all over the train, and everybody knows the unspoken metro rule requiring single passengers to sit alone whenever possible.
i made a mental note to move at the next stop, but then it happened. i glanced over and this random person was watching a video of a man masturbating on his cellphone. shock and embarrassment entered my body. i shook my head in disbelief and quickly looked away. obviously committed to his sexual harassment, when i looked again, this poor excuse for a human being was in fact watching porn on his phone while invading my personal space. in real effing life.
i got up and quickly found a seat on the other side of the train, but the image lingered in my head all day. what bothered me the most was my immediate response. the first thing that crossed my mind was how i had been responsible for this guy’s actions: i shouldn’t have smiled at him, i should have glared at him when he touched my arm, i should have moved immediately when he sat beside me, i should have been paying more attention to my surroundings, maybe my shorts were too short…all bullshit. as a feminist, i’m sensitive to the rhetoric that tells women their victimization is their fault. however, while i can intellectualize this, my emotional response was to blame myself. in a society that hypocritically teaches puritanical values and conditions women to submit themselves to male power, i faced my conditioning head on. how had i, of all people, thought this was MY fault?
for all the women who have faced male predators on public transportation, let’s get this clear: we do not deserve it. we alone have agency over our bodies and the immediate space surrounding them. our clothing and demeanor do not give another person the right to violate us. sexual harassment and victimization are acts of power and dominance, and nothing else.
if you’ve been sexually harassed on the metro file a complaint here. who knows if anything will come of it, but i feel a bit less vulnerable after sharing my story.