I recently just graduated from college and was fortunate enough to obtain a worth while job which relocated me to Atlanta, GA. I’ve never truly lived in a city before, especially on my own, and I was naturally excited by the idea of new adventures in a much more diverse environment than my childhood home.
In an effort to reduce my expenses and live a more green lifestyle, I use public transportation to fulfill my metropolitan duties. Before, I actually enjoyed my 45 minute commute to work which utilizes both the train and bus system of Atlanta because it was great “me time” to prepare myself for the day and then destress myself afterwards.
Yesterday morning, I got on the bus like I always do on my way to work. Typically I sit in the front part of the bus, but this time all the seats were taken so I had to go to the back corner of the bus for a seat. Like always, I pulled out my book to read while I waited for the bus to pull out of the station. A few minutes later, a man sits down beside me, accidentally spilling his lukewarm coffee on my lap. I immediately start to brush it off and he takes notice of me.
“Oh, I’m sorry…Sorry to make you wet…Did I make you wet?” in that conniving, disgusting, sexually objectifying voice which makes me feel so uncomfortable because he is so close to me that I can feel this breath on my skin. I don’t acknowledge his lewd tone, say it’s okay, and return to my book.
“You’re so pretty…are you single?”
This isn’t the first time a random stranger had made these kinds of remarks to me. Instinctively I say that no, I am not single, I have a boyfriend. In my past experiences, this answer is enough to impede the unwanted attention, but this man does not stop there. “How’s your sex life? Are you happy with him? Does he satisfy you?” I cannot believe what I am hearing. We are in a very crowded bus, everyone around us is listening. I even catch the glances of my fellow passengers who are uncomfortable and I desperately show that I am appalled. And yet not one word is spoken by anyone, only my agressor who continues his rant.
“Are you going to get married? Because if I had a woman like you, I would make her my wife so she couldn’t run around free.”
I have always identified myself as a feminist, and proudly so. On my college campus, I advocated proactive movements for my female peers to demand the respect of their male counterparts in order to equalize our statuses in society.
And yet here was a man who was clearly objectifying me, who was violating my right to privacy and I did not know how to respond. I considered getting off the bus several stops early, but realized if he followed me, I could not outrun him and escape. I was physically stuck and had to endure the rest of the grueling 15 minute bus ride.
Finally, he gets up to leave to bus, but not without saying “I won’t forget you. I’ll be thinking about you tonight.”
I was utterly nonplussed. The gall of this random man left me shocked, I could not move or respond. I saw another female passenger look at me and then immediately look away in shame. I finally reached my stop, went to my office, and then within 45 minutes left because I was too distracted to focus on my work.
24 hours later, my feelings of embarrassment and confusion are gone and only left with anger and frustration. After researching online, I realize I have become another statistic. Websites like ihollaback.org are filled with collections of stories from women all over the world with experiences like, and many times worse, than mine. It makes me question our notions of a civilized society as a whole.
Yes, the human race has made immeasurable advances in the sciences, humanities, and arts. And yet my basic right to respect as a contributing member of society is completely disregarded because I am a woman. My aggressor exercised his privilege as a man to sexually harass me and he felt entitled to it, like so many men across the world who feel that it is okay to comment on a woman’s physical attributes without being warranted at all.
I posted my experiences already via my social networks and have spoken to several of my peers who gave their overwhelming support and sympathies, but I noticed an overarching trend with their comments. They always speak that they are disgusted and sorry for me and immediately apologize for the other passengers on the bus who should have helped me and spoken up. One particularly well-read feminist friend told me that this is the reason why sexual harrassment and abuse is so prevelent, because very few are held publically accountable for their actions. People look away, not wanting to get involved, not wanting to “rock the boat” further and divert the unwanted attention to themselves. This negligence is a unspoken approval for an agressor’s actions.
A viral video of a woman who immediately called out a man on the DC Metro for flashing her swept internet message boards by storm, with many applauding the woman for her quick response and decisive action. I greatly admire her, but after being in the same experience, on the receiving end of harassment, I do not regret my reaction or lack there of. Sure, I wish I could have screamed, yelled, demanded the man stopped, but I was physically immobile and vulnerable. With everyone witnessing what had happened and no one saying anything, I felt true isolation, that if I had reacted more actively, I would be left defending myself, by myself and I would have lost.
What I wish more than anything else was that this man never started speaking to me in the first place. The coffee spill was an accident but he voluntarily harassed me and then continued to do so when he realized he had the advantage in the situation. Explotations like this lead to cases far more severe like sexual assault, domestic abuse, and rape. Crimes like these are what motivated movements like Toronto’s SlutWalk, that give attention to the fact that these aggressions are never deliberately provoked by any behavior by the victim. It is only the attacker and those who let such crimes occur that should be held publicly responsible for their actions.
So today on the bus, I deliberately sat in the front between two older women and kept my head down and thankfully the whole ride was uneventful. I don’t know how I’ll react if that same man or any other man harasses me again. But I know I’m not going to let this disgusting and unnecessary rite of passage stop me from living my new metropolitan life.