A strange and interesting trend has emerged from my life experiences. I wouldn’t have noticed it unless there were several incidents where a similar uncomfortable event occurred, leaving me feeling desperate, scared and confused. It’s odd and probably doesn’t mean much, except that I have gotten to the point where I am enraged and I want it to stop. What’s the trend? Complete male strangers telling me to take off my earphones, stop listening to whatever I am listening to, so I can hear what they have to say.
It might seem simple and harmless, for all I know, it may be. But perhaps the reason it’s gotten me so fed up is its frequency and its disturbing effects on my sense of safety, and the fact that these men AREN’T my friends. They AREN’T my coworkers, my classmates, or superiors. They are strangers on the train or on the sidewalk who have no place in my life. Do I owe them respect? Sure, as much as they owe me. Do I have to interact with them if I don’t want to? As prissy as it may sound, NO actually, I don’t. Just as much as any stranger on the sidewalk or train can avoid interacting with ME if they don’t feel comfortable.
This morning, in a completely empty traincar, a stranger plopped down next to me and said good morning. Since I had been listening to my ipod, I lowered the volume and returned the greeting. It didn’t take a minute for him to tell me, in an accusatory tone, “You should always have one earbud out, it’s the LAW.” First of all, no it’s not. Second of all, why single me out from all those men and women who wear two earphones on a train? Am I not allowed to enjoy my music in the morning in order to cater to whatever YOU have to say? It’s nice that you said good morning, but why did you say it? To get to know me better, even though I am half your age? To make me feel uncomfortable in an empty traincar by squeezing in next to me? Or was it simply a nice act – if so, why didn’t you repeat it with the next stranger that got on? I got so furious at this that I told him, “Sorry, but I don’t appreciate people telling me what to do.” He paused and said, “OK, but it’s the law, fine if you don’t wanna listen.” Even after seeing my discomfort towards him, he decided to sit right across from me, staring at me and causing me to feel even more uncomfortable.
This is the most recent incident, though this kind of attack has taken place in an even more physical way. I have actually once been physically PUSHED by a man in a library after because he walked away from a computer line, leaving a space open, and I took it. Not knowing he was intending to come back, not even seeing he had been there in the first place, I went next in line. Since I was listening to music, I didn’t hear him say, “YOU STOLE MY SPOT!” as he came back, even though he clearly did not ask anyone to hold it for him. Because I couldn’t hear, he decided pushing me was the answer. Pushing me hard. I could not believe it had happened at first, and did not know why it happened until he said in a very hostile manner, “You had your damn ipod on and you didn’t hear me. I went away and you stole my spot in line.” Obviously, his reasoning made little sense – I would understand anger on his part if he had made any effort in saving his spot in line. But he had not- he had walked away, and expected that nobody else would occupy it. I remember feeling so helpless, like a little child at that point, because he was bigger than me and I obviously wouldn’t win in any physical altercation, not that I wanted to engage in one. I merely told him he needed to learn how to show respect, to which he profoundly responded, “Oh, shut up” in a disgustingly belligerent way.
Then, there are the other incidents. A man was spewing crazy crap about his philosophy of life in the train and, seeing me ignore him, since I was trying to concentrate on studying something in my notebook, screamed that “YOU MUST BE A GOOD STUDENT!” Since I decided not to respond, he yelled into my face that I need to take those earphones off so I could listen to what he had to say. Another young man pushed me aside to get ahead of me on a sidewalk, fully knowing he could’ve just side-stepped me to get ahead, telling me I need to “PAY ATTENTION!” and make a beeline to allow him to go in front of me.
I rarely see men being approached in this way – being told what to do, what not to listen to, to pay attention by other men or women. Why is that?
I am angry because these men actually expect that I SHOULD, no that I NEED to listen to them, whatever they have to say. That their hostile behavior implies what they have to say is more important than my safety, my comfort, and my personal space. So what if I don’t WANT to speak to you? So what if I don’t HAVE to listen? What if I don’t want you to sit next to me, pushing against me, in a train car that has plenty of available seats? What if I don’t seek your attention in any way, and I don’t want it?
I am sick and tired of being singled out because I am a female who DOESN’T want to be approached on her morning commute. I am sick and tired of not being able to enjoy my music like every other human being on this planet because there are certain men who think what they have to say is of a higher priority. And I am not saying all men do this—I am saying certain men seem to be prone to doing this, although I don’t have enough experience to say whether or not this happens to men and women alike, or if nobody but me has experienced this (unfortunately, I don’t think that’s the case). All I know is that I am furious, and I am glad I finally spoke up to that man on the train today. It was actually one of the first times I said something, and I don’t want it to be my last.