Me: Walking up to the bus stop at Colfax and Wadsworth. It’s 3:30 p.m. Sunny and hot. I’m wearing (Is this important info? See below for the debate.) beige sweatpants and a red t-shirt.
He: Sees me coming and steps out from the sizable crowd awaiting the bus. Wearing a tank top, dirty shorts, and skin that is abnormally tan, as if he sleeps outside, during the day. Plants his feet on the sidewalk in a wide-legged stance.
Me: Stops to wait for the bus at the edge of the crowd so that I don’t have to squeeze my way past him.
He: Walks over to me anyway. Stands too close.
He: What’s your name pretty thing?
Me: Jennifer. (In my head: why am I even talking to this man?)
He: I like your sunglasses. Where are you going?
Me: (Say nothing. My default procedure in these situations. Stare intently at the Wal-Mart parking lot while listening intently for the approach of the bus. Cross arms intently across my chest. In my head: la, la, la, la, la.)
He: Why don’t you take those sunglasses off so I can see your pretty eyes?
Me: I don’t think so. (In my head: good girl. Stand up for yourself. Now… more, better.)
He: (Loudly and angrily) Fine! Maybe I don’t want to see your stupid eyes!
Me: I think that’s for the best. (In my head: Huh? Does that count as standing up for myself? Who cares? All that matters is that he’s walking away.)
This delightful exchange happened a few weeks ago, early on in my experiment with not using my car. I was taking the bus to Westminster to have tea with a friend. Of course, the exchange with that man didn’t end with our conversation, because we boarded the same bus. I was nervous the whole time that he would try to re-instigate something.
But the absolute worst part? Later, on that same ride, I was sitting in the middle of the bus. The “He” from the above dialog was standing at the front of the bus. About halfway through my trip, another man came up from the back of the bus, whispered something obscene at the back of my head, and then quickly exited the bus.
Why? Why do people behave like that? Why do they think it’s okay? Why is the bus so much worse than the lightrail (although, the lightrail is by no means exempt from this problem.)
I was well at working putting that (those) incident(s) behind me through my patented mix of denial, mental-compartmentalization, and not-talking-about-it, when I read a Facebook post from my friend Robin. She posted that she was tired of being catcalled, harassed, and even touched, because she dresses nicely in skirts and rides the bus to school and work.
I can sympathize. Every woman can. Her post got me thinking about what triggers these behaviors. Is it really about clothing choice? I thought about my outfit that day. By that theory, my sweatpants should have earned me a degree of immunity from harassment, but did my red t-shirt counteract that immunity by acting like a flag in front of a bull?
And if so, should women have to dress down to survive parts of their day un-harassed? Do we need to be some kind of sexual harassment superhero, rushing in and out of phone booths to change clothes to save our own dignity?
I’m not going to do that. (And not just because phone booths are few and far between these days.)
I’d like to see the conversation shift from what women wear to what signals we put out. I realize that some men use the bus as a pool for potential mates. Simultaneously, some women use the bus to get to work, whereupon they’d like to look professional, successful, and attractive. These two situations can co-exist if the mate-seekers can recognize and interpret the signs of disinterest in the work-goers, like not making eye-contact, keeping to herself, and not inviting conversation.
Or is that too much to ask? Are these men operating on a throw-it-against-the wall-and-see-what-sticks method of mate-finding, and they are just completely oblivious to the fact that a woman is not interested in their interest?
This post raises more questions than answers, but I do know two things: my brain hurts from trying to analyze every possible angle that these questions raise, and I’m going to have to be a lot more forceful and rude with these bus stop mate-seekers.