One-Sided Conversations on a Train

Wednesday afternoon, I’m on the Pink Line, staring into space, exhausted from teaching a 4-hour morning class after a night when I couldn’t sleep.

50sish white dude with a baseball cap and a Sox jersey: “I like your sunglasses, where did you get them?

I don’t know how to describe this, but everything about the too-casual way he’s asking is fishy and ulterior. He’s working up to asking me for something – whether money or conversation or whatever – and I know I don’t want to talk to him.

But on the off-chance he’s sincere (they are good sunglasses), I say “Eye Spy, on Lincoln.”

He goes on chattering about the sunglasses and what he likes about them, and where exactly is that place, is it the one on such-and-such corner? And then he asks if I’m a student because I look like I just came from class. And you guys? I was done. I was so, so, so very tired. So I just stared at him without talking. I’m not sure I even meant to be mean – I was too tired to even think of anything to say.

And then he repeated himself: “ARE…YOU….COMING…FROM…SCHOOL…you know, because you have a backpack?

I did not respond.

He waved and then SNAPPED his fingers in front of my face. “Hellooooooo!” and I kept staring at him.

And then he got weirded out and backed away from me, muttering about how rude some people are, and went into the next car.

I saw him yesterday on the train again (glory, we must have a similar schedule) and he said “Heyyyyy, it’s the mean girl with the glasses” and I gave him the death glare again until he moved away.

Obviously casting Imperious Glare or whatever isn’t magic protection from someone with truly bad intent, but I felt pretty great when he was the one to get uncomfortable and move away.

Of course, a few stops later yesterday, a different gentleman (no baseball cap) looked at my grocery bags that say Trader Joe’s on the side and said brightly “Going grocery shopping, I see!”

Me: …

Him: “At the Trader Joe’s?

Me: ….

Him: “I only ask because I want to know what wine should I bring.

Me: …

Him: “For when you cook me something later.

Me: …

Him: “You don’t want to cook for me? Make me some pork chops or something?

Him: “What, you got a boyfriend or something?

Him: “Won’t even talk to a n——. Damn.

Him: “You’re one cold bitch, you know that?

Him: “I feel sorry for your boyfriend.

Then it was his stop, so he went away.

Then of course, last night, it continues. I’m riding the Blue Line to go meet my friend at a party in Logan Square, reading Master & Commander. 45+ year old white dude (also in a baseball cap) plops down in the seat in front of me and asks something like, “Hey, is that a good book?” I honestly didn’t quite catch what he said or even realize he was talking to me at first, so I kept reading.

Baseball Cap guy waves his hand in front of my face, again, like “Helloooooooooo?????” and asks louder,”Excuse me, I said: ‘Is that a good book?’

Me: “By ‘good book,’ do you mean the kind where you get so immersed in the story that you shut out everything that’s happening around you because you want to find out what happens next?

Him: “Yeah.

Me: :stares at him for a good while, watching it slowly sink in:

Me: :goes back to reading:

Him: “……Sorry.” (sarcastic)

Me: :keeps reading:

I wouldn’t say I was worried about my safety, though in the back of my mind I am always aware that these things can go a different way. So I guess in the back of my mind I WAS worried about my safety, but I’m so used to that feeling as a baseline hum that I don’t really think about it. I didn’t feel like I was in any immediate or acute danger. But after several such encounters in three days it’s left me feeling annoyed and tired and viewing pretty much anyone who comes near me on a train through the lens of “What fresh hell is this?

So for the Painfully Literal Dudes who are reading this and getting sad and thinking “Does that mean I can’t even TALK to ANYONE on public transit EVER? That’s not FAIR because I’m NICE and you can’t paint me with the CREEPY brush it will probably just be because I’m UGLY anyway, you’d talk about nautical fiction with Brad Pitt if HE asked you and why do you even live in a city if you don’t want to talk to people anyway? You’re just being paranoid/oversensitive/need to get laid/need to relax/loosen up for chrissakes/are you really trying to say they were harASSING you?/maybe they were just awkward shy people who can’t read body language/are you really that fragile that you can’t handle a little conversation…” etc.

I find that I am very comfortable with your bad feelings about that. I’m okay with you missing out on talking to a potential “prospect.” I’m okay if you feel weird and like maybe you shouldn’t talk to women on the bus or the train ever. I’m okay with you being worried that if you do you’ll be accidentally creepy. Can you spread that anxiety around to the general population? It might make the world a better place.

We could make this a thread about how to avoid or respond to people who bother us in public, but honestly, I want to take a page from this post about stopping victim blaming and NOT give strategies to avoid harassment. All I did this week was ride public transit in a big city like I have for 20 years, sometimes while wearing cool sunglasses, sometimes with groceries, sometimes with a book. That should be enough to avoid harassment.

I took a taxi home last night (Cost: $15 + tip) even though the eL was right there, because I didn’t feel safe or up to the mental task of riding home by myself at 1 am. The cab driver played great music and drove me home in complete, beautiful silence and didn’t try to chat with me, so the tip was generous. Problem is, I don’t have a car or $15-$20 every time I want to go somewhere in the city where I live and avoid Chicago Transit Authority speed-dating. I have a vested financial interest in wanting public transit to be a place where the polite, decent thing to do is to leave other people the fuck alone.

556 thoughts on “One-Sided Conversations on a Train

  1. I think some of the problem lies in people’s assumptions when things topics come up. We already know the guy is an asshole and not likely to change so we don’t talk that much about it because we assume everything has come to the same conclusions. So since we can’t discuss how to make the asshole change we talk about things the other person can or can’t do.

    1. Unfortunately I think that’s basically true. What we’re doing here is hoping that some borderline asshole dude is referred here by a woman, or his cool male friend, and finds out how strongly women feel about the topic, and realizes he should stop. Much better than discussing how wearing sunglasses or reading, or just BEING, can bring on the assholes.

  2. You have my sympathy. I have a hard time identifying what feels so disrespectful and uncomfortable about this to me, but something sure does. My girlfriend is a very naturally outgoing person and tends to chat back, cheerfully and casually, in similar situations—which is great for her but actually makes me feel crummy, like the Painfully Literal Dudes are right and if I were just a nicer, less suspicious, less grudge-holding, less pessimistic, less cranky WHATEVER person none of this would be a problem for me. But as a mean, suspicious, grudge-holding, pessimistic, cranky user-of-public-transportation-and-other-public-spaces I just don’t like being chatted at, that’s all.

    1. I am a cheerful, friendly, optimistic person who can’t bloody stand it when strange dudes talk to me on public transportation. Something about literally being trapped in a space with someone who is using their relative social dominance to make me interact with them makes me uncomfortable for *some strange reason*. (And yes, that’s exactly what they’re doing, even (especially!) if they’re unaware of it)

      It’s perfectly OK to not want to hang out with that guy for even a few minutes. It doesn’t make you unfriendly, or cranky, or whatever else.

      By the same token, your girlfriend isn’t better than you for playing the femme social game so well (and she isn’t worse for that either! These are both perfectly acceptable ways of being female out in the world).

      1. “…someone who is using their relative social dominance to make me interact with them”

        YES YOU NAMED IT YES THANK YOU. And thanks for reinforcing that it’s okay to hate that shit.

        Funny that you should call it the femme social game, as my girlfriend is somewhere to the butch of me on that spectrum—I think she can kind of neutralize the dynamic a little by making it more of a dude to dude thing. Mostly, though, she’s a big extrovert and I’m just not. But I do really appreciate the reminder that it’s okay for both of us to be how we are.

      2. “…someone who is using their relative social dominance to make me interact with them”
        That is brilliant. I’ve never thought of it that way before but that hits it right on the nose. I think that may also be the reason I can’t stand “mansplaining.”

      3. So right on all counts. I think to me the key to LW being unhappy is that she was clearly minding her own business, and some guy intrudes and then keeps intruding on and on. I’m actually a pretty extroverted public-transport kind of person, I’ll look directly at other people many times and if something happens I’ll make remarks, all of that can lead to fine impromptu conversations. But the key word is CAN. I sure don’t talk to anyone who’s reading or earphoned or otherwise engaged, someone who doesn’t return my look, and I’d never add a second sentence if the first is not responded to. Also, I’m a middle-aged woman, I’m clearly not going to follow anyone off the train and try to rape them, and almost everyone is unaware of how I’d slug them if I really didn’t like what they were doing :-).

        So it does come down to “relative social dominance”. We’re not objecting to interaction, as long as it’s completely mutually consenting. We’re objecting to people on top of the scale imposing their interactions on the rest of us. Especially when it’s clearly unwanted. Enthusiastic consent is also a concept valid on the bus.

    2. Re-reading, and just wanted to recognize that “chatted at” is maybe too casual for the situations you describe. I do think there’s a difference between attempting to start a collegial conversation with a stranger and hitting on someone under the pretense of casual conversation, though I’m rarely interested in either when I am going about my life minding my own business.

      1. As soon as you’re waving a hand in someone’s face and being like “hellooooooooo” you are being a patronizing ass.

        1. That is pretty nakedly aggressive and awful. Not that anytime ever is a good time, but dealing with that kind of interaction 4x in the space of a day is terrible and I am really sorry.

        2. That’s exactly it. I don’t overly mind if someone wants to make an off-hand comment to me about my book or my glasses or whatever, I mind when they get all in my face and obnoxious about it if I don’t respond, or respond in a way they don’t like.

          1. Exactly! It’s not the original comment, but the angry follow up when you don’t get down and kiss their feet.

          2. Yes! I think the Cap acknowledges this well, the automatic response of ‘But how will anyone interact ever??’ It’s not always the first remark that is offensive – not if it’s something they might say to a man – it’s the idea that their ‘witticism’ must be laughed at politely, their question (and all follow-ups) answered in depth, or their instructions (‘Smile!’) followed immediately.

          3. I take exception to “Smile!”. Issuing an instruction to a random stranger that isn’t related to someone’s safety or something within your authority? That’s massively rude right from the start, no matter how one tries to frame it as “friendly” or “joking”.

            It’s only possible to do that in a way that is *actually* friendly or joking when you have a relationship with that person.

            Even in the most innocent possible framing, it’s the conversational equivalent of putting your arm around someone or patting their butt.

        3. Honestly, it makes me want to bite their hand. Like, honest-to-God snap at it and hope I leave a mark.

          Except – who knows where that hand has been? Blech.

          1. A quick swish of peroxide when you get home should be okay. (I always want to bite people who do that, too. Never have. Yet.)

          1. Yeah, I… definitely would never do that, and I’m a pretty hefty dude. Escalating someone who has already demonstrated that they’re a jackass is usually the worst possible plan.

      2. I agree. This is not being “chatted at.” I’ve been this situation with men and women. With the women, they will chat with me, but most of the time I feel like they are really talking to themselves. They don’t get offended if I go back to my book or look out the window. I can go in and out of the “conversation” at will. With men, it’s never a choice on my part. I am REQUIRED to participate, will me or nill me. And that participation better include smiles.

    3. I don’t think of myself as naturally outgoing, but I work in customer service and am very good at my job and part of that means I am good at small talk with strangers.

      I also like to knit on my commute, which gives strangers an opening line.

      I’ve found I am usually happy to chat to old ladies, and to parents with children who are interested in what I’m doing and how it works, and even to men who ask the sorts of technical questions that show that even if they don’t knit, they understand what it is to craft something and to learn a skill. Some of those conversations are amazing.

      But when someone uses it as an excuse to have a conversation with me, as opposed to a conversation about the thing I’m doing, and it’s clear that they have no interest in my knitting other than as a possible “in”, then I shut down, and answer in monosyllables, and if they don’t get the hint, I sometimes have to be blunt about not wanting to talk to them.

      Substitute knitting for book or grocery bag or whatever, and you have those guys who the Captain described pretty much to a T.

  3. Could there be something in the air? The amount of unwanted attention I’ve had in the last month has made me think that silly season has started. What has really irritated me the most has been that instead of thinking “hey, that dude was odd!”, I’ve been in the “what can I change about myself to be less of a nut-magnet?” zone. Getting better at stopping the latter but this post struck a chord.

    1. Are you/they young? Do you live in a college town? This is September. A lot of the people who felt that the only thing holding them back in high school was their own shyness are resolving to talk to randoms more when they go off to Grown Up School. Some of them are… not very good at it.

      1. Gentlemen in question have all been in their mid-30s to late 50s, but excellent point. I shall hide from the incoming postgraduates! XD

        1. I rarely get it from college guys. But I have had a lot of men assume that I am in college (and probably lonely, or need someone to show me around my own town). Maybe that’s it!

          1. Men do pick on younger women to harrass. They know their contemporaries are more likely to bite them, having shed their inhibitions decades earlier. They know that younger women are often too polite to tell off an older guy the way they would a younger one. In short, they add one more element of social control to the mix, and it’s in their favor.

  4. There are a lot of disadvantages to being old but one good thing is that if a young man speaks to me, he’s not trying to pick me up. In fact, since I let my hair go grey, I’m more likely to be offered help.
    I don’t miss those moments you describe. Rest assured that at about 50 you will become COMPLETELY INVISIBLE to men. It’s a strange phenomenon. You can be standing in front of them & speaking to them and you might as well be on the moon. Then at about 65, you become slightly more visible because you look like their grandma.

    1. This is an interesting point. My flatmate started going grey at 25 (early greying runs in her family) and was entirely grey by about 34. She has really long, thick, gorgeous hair (past butt-length) and when it was red-brown, she got plenty of unwanted attention from men. But now that it’s all grey, she gets zero interest. We’re both about the same height and weight, both have long hair, and are both currently in our mid-thirties. But when we are out together it’s always me who gets extra attention from men, be it wanted or unwanted, whereas to them she seems invisible. I think she’s hella grateful for that fact, too, and it’s one of the things that makes me jealous of her grey hair!

    2. veryslowwriter, this is so true, it is starting to happen to me right now and it feels weird. I’ve been so conditioned to random men talking to me that I started thinking something was wrong with me. This has been especially disturbing since I’ve been out of a abusive relationship long enough now to think of maybe meeting someone new, this phenomenon makes me feel like alone is how I’m going to be from now on…alone and invisible.

      1. I feel exactly the same way. I’m so invisible now that people will literally bump into me, or sit where I’m sitting.

      2. You won’t be invisible to men you actually meet. Or at least, not all of them. It’s nice being invisible to random strangers who just want to intrude on your space. True, it’s a bit of a pain when clerks in stores don’t see you. And young women patronize you. But in return, I don’t worry about how I’m dressed when I go out.

        And, as you know, there are far far worse things than being alone.

      3. No no, you won’t be *alone*. But you will be invisible to the kind of man who thinks your having tits in public means you owe him your complete and undivided attention.

        I have to say that becoming Middle-Aged Invisible is completely fucking awesome.

        1. I’m really jealous now. Unfortunately my 35 year old sister still gets carded by people who genuinely think she might be that young so genetics may not be on my side.

          1. Yes, fat will get you invisible too. I’m a fat chick, and I’ve been invisible to men, and many women since I was about 16 – when my ‘peers’ decided it was no longer any fun picking on the fat chick.

    3. “Rest assured that at about 50 you will become COMPLETELY INVISIBLE to men.”
      Boy, do I hate that. Not the phenomenon of being ignored/dismissed by these kinds of men, but the “invisible” euphemism. Because that’s what it is, a substitute word that tries to make what they’re doing sound not as bad as it is. I mean, he has to notice her, see her, assess her age and attractiveness before he can decide whether he’s going to harass her or ignore her. “Oops, I didn’t see you” sounds a lot more benign than, “Old. Ugly. I’m going to pretend you don’t exist.” She is not invisible – he’s seen her, rated her, and, most importantly, categorized her according to her usefulness to him.

      1. ok… as a guy who reads these sites to learn a little bit more about what it’s like to be a woman today (because not only am i a man, i’m also gay and very involved with sports and the like; i get very little woman perspective in my life otherwise):

        ““Oops, I didn’t see you” sounds a lot more benign than, “Old. Ugly. I’m going to pretend you don’t exist.” ”

        in what way is this different than women classifying men by looks? in fact, the very post we are commenting on could easily be viewed as precisely this kind of interaction, from the other side. maybe some of those 50 year old guys feel invisible and ugly because they’re fat and balding and getting on the old side of middle age. and… what?

        personally, i think more open honesty would do the world wonders. “if you’re actually interested, i’m but i have a long term boyfriend and am not on the subway to flirt, sorry.” <- why not say that? the author appears to believe that her status as an irritated, tired woman obviates her responsibility for honesty and courtesy. and to some extent it does – i imagine it must get soooo annoying being constantly flirted with – but although a clear narrative develops through reading this article, some of the individual men mentioned here might have a plausible opposing narrative that is a lot different.

        1. “in what way is this different than women classifying men by looks? in fact, the very post we are commenting on could easily be viewed as precisely this kind of interaction, from the other side. maybe some of those 50 year old guys feel invisible and ugly because they’re fat and balding and getting on the old side of middle age. and… what?”

          How does “pretending you don’t exist” even come close to “not feeling entitled to attention from you”? While I am not always “invisible,” I have been PHYSICALLY KNOCKED OVER several times by dudes who were rushing to hit on other women. I mean, I bet it’s not super fun being constantly flirted with, and I am sure those women have it a lot harder than me in some ways, but the problem is not that she gets the attention and I don’t, woe, angst. It is that either way, neither of us is being treated like actual real human beings worthy of basic respect from these dudes.

          When we express annoyance at being, euphemistically, “invisible,” it’s not because we want to be harassed. (Or at least, I don’t want to be harassed. I have been, and I prefer being invisible if those are my only two options.) It’s more that NEITHER approach considers women to actually be real people.

          (Though I don’t especially want to get into it in this comment, it is also partly that women are socialized to value sexual attention from men, even when in practice they find it unpleasant. This post has been linked a few times in this thread and explains a bit more about that mindset, although IMO the bigger issue is I want harassing dudes to learn that women are human. If they did, I probably wouldn’t get hit on more often, but it’s sad that women have to take refuge in being considered unattractive.)

          [Also, I feel I should mention, not in response to 1of42 but regarding the thread generally, I had a perfectly nice, short conversation about blizzards with some new-to-the-city guys on the train today, and then I went back to my book, and everything was fine. More evidence that not hitting on women on public transit doesn’t mean THE END OF ALL CONVERSATION WITH STRANGERS.]

        2. Ok… aside from the obvious “what about teh menz” thing here…. I have a hard time believing that a man’s visibility (or lack thereof) to women would ever become an issue of personal safety. Does that make me sexist? I don’t think so – it merely illustrates the disparity between what two different factions of society experience. You’ll notice – as far as I can tell – none of these stories have been about men who were verbally or physically abused by women whose advances they rejected.

          (Please feel free to correct me if I am wrong on this, anyone.)

          Maybe those 50 year old guys DO feel invisible and ugly. As you said: And…what? That doesn’t make it ANYONE’s job to cheer him up. And it certainly doesn’t give him the right to bother people who would rather be left alone. It’s still an invasion of personal space and an unwarranted demand on someone’s time. Just because he might have had sadfeelings when he did it doesn’t make it any better.

          The “plausible opposing narrative” bit really bugs me, though. My rapist had a “plausible opposing narrative”: he says he was in love with me. He didn’t see anything wrong with what he did. In his mind, You Have Sex With The One You Love….. and you do or say whatever it takes to get it out of her. If you were to ask him, he would vehemently deny that he ever raped me. He’d swear to this day that he loved me. So when you tell me that he might have a “plausible opposing narrative,” what you’re really saying is “Your anger and hurt and feeling like you’ve been violated is probably invalid, and I don’t believe you because I’d rather believe this dude.”

          And then I have exactly zero fucks to give about you or about hurting your precious feelings.

          It’s not about who has the “right” narrative. It’s about action and reaction. You don’t get to decide what my reaction is or should be. To your actions or anyone else’s.

        3. I think I’m going to bake some special MRA cookies just for dudes like you. I’ll get my friend to give me some of her rabbit’s extra special “raisins” to add to the dough because really, we women have to eat shit on a daily basis, so why shouldn’t you? Congratulations on a classic example of “But what about TEH MENS??”, here’s your cookie. Don’t choke on it now.

        4. Them feeling invisible and ugly doesn’t mean they get to use their privilege as men to force women to socialise with them on public transport. hth. Also, your suggested response will 95% of the time get a reaction of “I WASN’T HITTING ON YOU, GOD, WOMEN ARE ALL SUCH STUCK UP BITCHES, I WOULDN’T EVEN FUCK YOU ANYWAY YOU UGLY COW.”

          It doesn’t matter whether the men actually want to fuck her or if they just want her to entertain them. The fact is that society expects that women will always smile and play nicely with whatever men demand and women are pretty fucking sick of it. Women are not obligated to talk to you, they’re not obligated to open themselves up for the inevitable abuse they get when they respond with honesty, and they’re not obligated to give you the benefit of the doubt that you’re just so sad and trying to force a stranger to be your therapist. Why don’t you talk to strange men instead? This is an actual suggestion, I would like all men who claim they’re not trying to get sex to randomly strike up conversations with other men and see what reactions you get.

        5. her responsibility for honesty and courtesy

          No one has any responsibility to be honest with a stranger, especially an intrusive or threatening one. As for courtesy, interrupting a stranger who’s trying to read or work, or asking personal questions of a stranger, is discourteous to start with and is not owed a courteous response.

          some of the individual men mentioned here might have a plausible opposing narrative that is a lot different

          … What “plausible opposing narrative” do you think there might be for snapping your fingers in front of a stranger’s face and saying “Helloooooo?”, other than “I felt I was entitled to that person’s time and attention whether they wanted to give it to me or not”? Or for calling a stranger a bitch, out loud, to their face, when they don’t respond to your announcement that they’ll be cooking you dinner?

          1. not that they’ll be cooking dinner for a train-met stranger:
            Him: “I only ask because I want to know what wine should I bring.“

            Him: “For when you cook me something later.“
            Me: …
            Him: “You don’t want to cook for me? Make me some pork chops or something?“

            This is not entitlement. It’s just some guy having a good time and maybe getting lucky. The gal’s response is either positive or irrelevant to his lifestyle

          2. I don’t think I understand. Are you saying that guy doesn’t feel entitled to (positive) attention from the woman he’s talking to? To me, his sense of entitlement is a little bit visible in those first few lines you quoted (in that he keeps bugging her after she’s already refused to engage with him), and becomes very visible when his response to not getting her attention is to call her a “cold bitch.”

          3. So… it’s just a guy having fun, never mind that it makes the woman extremely uncomfortable? And if her response is negative that’s irrelevant to him?

            In that little scenario, the guy’s ‘fun’ is more important than treating the other person with respect. That would be the definition of entitlement. One of the bigger points of this thread is that sexual comments from strangers are very unpleasant and we wish people would knock it off. How are you not grasping this?

          4. No, he’s not going to get “lucky” No way in hell. Not when he intrudes on her, and tells her she’s going to put out. Even before he called her a cold bitch he wasn’t going to get so-called lucky. She’d have to be a suicidal doormat to respond to that.. and clearly nobody here thinks it’s anywhere close to a good time. Schmuck behavior does not lead to luck.

        6. Here’s the problem I see with your argument: when the men mentioned throughout this post/comments didn’t get a response, or the response they wanted they ALL became instant assholes. So no, they weren’t just trying to strike up conversations with another human being, they wanted female fawning, they felt *entitled* to it. And THAT is the problem.

          I think you might be missing another point here, this is NOT a ‘oh woe is me, I’m being hit on again’ situation, this is a ‘assholes keep verbally attacking me on public transit’ situation. Because, you know what, once someone starts snapping their fingers at you and waving hands trying very rudely to get your attention, that’s WAY over the line of polite conversation and into the, ‘sticking your hand in your bag to get the mace ready’ territory.

          Perhaps there IS a bit of a double standard here, but it’s completely justified. How often are men sexually assaulted on public transit by women? How often are men verbally attacked by women in public spaces? I’ve never heard of a single case myself. But even I, a very fat 33yr old woman have been sexually assaulted on public transit. So if I don’t want to talk to the creepy guy trying to get me to stop reading my book, I DON’T HAVE TO. And I’m not about to feel bad or think I should be more polite. How about HIS responsibility to be polite and leave me the fuck alone? Hmm?

        7. I have ****NO****, zip, zero responsibility to provide attention, conversation, or day-brightening to random strangers just because they want it. The sooner you understand that, the sooner you can act like a decent human being.

          I want things too. For instance I might want the $20 in a random stranger’s wallet. That doesn’t mean I’m entitled to it and can whine and shout when they don’t give it to me upon request (“I was just aaaaaasking, sheesh, don’t be so RUDE.” “Oh, you didn’t seem to hear me ask for $20, I’m going to wave my hands in your face now.”) Basically these creepers are like aggressive panhandlers for female attention.

  5. I’m currently on crutches, and just started classes at a new college. Apparently being on crutches is equivalent to holding a big “please talk to me fucking entitled creepy dudes” sign. And I feel like I have to roll with it, because it’s not like I can get away quickly, or get off the elevator, or step out of the lunch line, or whatever. Jedi hugs all around.

    1. I’m fat and asthmatic so probably not great at getting away either. Maybe I should look at it as a twisted incentive to get in better shape!

      I hope you heal soon. Jedi hugs back.

      1. The main change I’ve wanted to make to my body throughout my whole adult (and city-living) life is to have bigger arm muscles. Visible ones. Arm muscles that lend an aura of power and don’t-fuck-with-me to my whole bearing.

        But my body doesn’t go that way, even when specifically weight training for it. I thought I was just doing it wrong until I saw that I have the same arm shape as every other female relative on my mom’s side, so. . . back to the verbal boundary drawing board.

        1. Funnily enough, now that I’ve been on the crutches and had to traipse all over campus carrying 18 credit hours worth of textbooks for 2 weeks, my arms are TOTALLY RIPPED. Seriously, I put on a tshirt this morning and the sleeves were tight! However, my new guns seem to be utterly unimpressive to creepers.

          1. I’ve been using crutches (and occasionally wheelchairs, but mostly crutches) for 17 years. I started not long after I turned 20. I had always had strong legs and toothpick arms. I thought it would be like that forever. Nope. One day I just sort of noticed that I have big-ass biceps, and they’ve stayed big, even as my legs (and other parts) have gotten weaker over the years. None of the other people – women or men – in my family have arms like mine. It’s just slow, steady use of my arms over months and years, and it adds up. It does still feel weird, though, sometimes. I grew up bottom heavy and ended up top heavy. Strange, y’know?

            But the other thing is that crutches and a cast = conversation starting magnet for creepers. Crutches and a gait that looks disabled? Total invisibility. Wheelchairs even more so. When I’ve had a procedure or an accident and have one foot or leg braced, guys assume it’s some injury and totally want to know the details of my exciting story. When I look like a cripple (which, of course, I am) they don’t wanna come anywhere near me.

      2. No need to look at it as a twisted incentive to get in better shape.

        No, it’s a push to go buy pepper spray. Stick to Fox. Works great, less “I’m roundabout hitting on you” conversation once you whip out the can and have it in your hand.

        Just sayin’.

        1. Right, because why work on having a strong and capable body and feeling comfortable under your own power when you could just carry a weapon that causes serious damage, is illegal in many jurisdictions, and can easily backfire in the presence of a light breeze or when wielded by a nervous person?

          1. A “strong and capable body” are not within reach for everyone. So to shame someone for not feeling that achieving that is reasonable, or useful, is very not okay with me. Not to mention that strong women are assaulted, too. If someone feels like carrying pepper spray to feel secure, I neither blame nor judge them. Is it perfect? No. But acting like working out at the gym is some sort of deterrent? No.

          2. I never said strong women don’t get assaulted. You know what? Women who get carry pepper spray get assaulted too. There is no action you can take to ensure that you will never be assaulted.

            Which is why I didn’t say anything about deterrents. Pepper spray is not a good deterrent either. There are no good deterrents. Because you can’t control whether or not you will be assaulted.

            Pepper spray is dangerous. To the person wielding it, to bystanders, to your children or drunk friends who were getting something out of your purse and decided to play with it. I think it’s a DUMB weapon. And I think that advocating carrying it as a BETTER OPTION than getting in shape (whatever that may mean for your particular body) is plain silly.

            Look, I get that the fact that you (general you) can’t control whether you will be assaulted is scary. And I get that people try to soothe themselves by carrying weapons. But I find that this kind of thinking (“I will carry pepper spray and then I will be safe”) is deeply connected to the culture of victim blaming and rape apologism (“if she had been carrying pepper spray she wouldn’t have been assaulted, she is to blame for not taking precautions”). So I advocate against taking measures that increase our emotional commitment to those attitudes. Especially if those actions are also physically dangerous.

          3. Hey, look what we’re all doing! Exactly what the Captain said not to do in the post. Please, everyone, stop with the “What to do differently, victims!” talk. Now.

          4. Pepper spray is legal in every US state. Maybe individual cities ban it but googling I can’t come up with a single one. I really wish this myth that pepper spray is illegal would go away!

          5. Not everyone who reads this is in the US. It IS illegal to even possess it in the UK. It’s also not a blanket or even always a good solution.

          6. Yeah, having been gassed by it when my next-door dorm neighbor triggered hers in the hallway, I’d say pepper spray may not be the best idea ever. It’s less “spray” and more “cloud.”

          7. Well, I happen to be in the U.S., sorry, I should have clarified that yes, you can own pepper spray legally in the U.S., and that if you plan to do so, purchase the ballistic stream. Goes farther, and you’re less likely to create a fog for yourself. Of course, I have also heard that wasp killer spray works just the same way, and it’s effective up to 30 feet away from your would-be attacker.

          8. In reply to a comment that said “in many jurisdictions”. There are jurisdictions outside of the US and us silly foreigners tend to roll our eyes a lot at people who respond to universal statements with US-centric ones with no acknowledgement whatsoever that the US is not actually the world. If you don’t want people to point that out, you might want to consider your phrasing when rebutting statements like “pepper spray is illegal in many jurisdictions”.

          9. Well I’ll remember that on the tiny chance I’m ever in the States. In New Zealand it’s a restricted weapon and you need a police permit to carry it.

    2. When I read “I feel like i have to roll with it, because it’s not like I can get away quickly” it made me shiver… to realise how tenuous our feeling of control in these situations are. Heal up soon!

    3. I (27 years old, I use a cane to walk distances over 3-4 blocks) was walking down the street the other day, and some middle aged dude in dad shorts tried to stop me at a fucking street corner to tell me that I looked way too young to be using a cane. I stared flatly at him and said, “Excuse me? Do I know you?” which is my usual response, and which (I hope) makes cripple-shamers feel embarrassed for asking personal questions. What I really wanted to do was punch him in the throat.

      I don’t know what it is about being visibly Not Healthy that makes the way-too-curious creepers come out of the woodwork, but it seriously does. I wish I knew a better way to handle these people, given the likelihood that I will be walking with a cane for the rest of my life. Being standoffish but polite often makes them go away, but it always leaves me feeling so angry.

      1. I hate those comments! I used to snap, “How many years do I have to walk around in pain before I’m allowed to use one?”. My super-angry response is, “How nice for you.” Which is so… muted.

      2. my most memorable was “you’re too pretty to be in a wheelchair”.

        from a delivery guy. who was in my home. way to be professional, dude.

        i was speechless. i wish i had perfect little quips to respond to that crap.

        1. Right. Cuz all it takes is being pretty before 8 topless men volunteer to carry you around in a sedan chair 7 days a week. FFS.

      3. Ugh yessss. I’m the same age as you and I only use mine when my injuries are playing up, which has been a more recent development but I got those injuries over a decade ago doing gymnastics. I have no idea why it doesn’t occur to people that young people get injured. Like, kind of a lot actually.

          1. You know, it’s kind of funny, when I was on crutches, guys were assholes on transportation—-they’d pretend they couldn’t see me—–while women were amazing. Always women. Sometimes even pregnant women would help me, but guys would smugly stare off into space, pretending they couldn’t see me, until I made sure they were aware of me. (And I’m talking about guys sitting in the seats at the front.)

          2. Ginmar, I’ve found that guys are happy to acknowledge me, but mostly by holding open doors. Frequently handicapped doors. That I’ve already pushed the button for. 9.9 Women are the ones who have 1) offered to carry things for me and 2) moved obstacles out of my way.

          3. The bus drivers I deal with are usually good, but they’re the only men I’ve particularly noticed being okay except for in the Māori mental health system and when I was briefly involved with Occupy.

      4. I have scoliosis (mild, but painful enough) and was at the doctor a few months ago. This guy came in with his walker and sat next to me. I had been chatting with some of the other patients when he said “You look pretty healthy to be here.”

        My retort of “I have scoliosis,” did shut him up for a minute, after which he proceeded to want to tell me all of his ailments. I just ignored him. I think he eventually got the hint because he shut up.

        But yeah, don’t judge someone because they look healthy.

        1. I have a blue badge for parking (it’s for disabled people and lets you park pretty much anywhere, which is helpful because as well as not being able to walk very far, I’m also pretty shit at parking) and it’s not uncommon for people to tell me I oughtn’t have parked there, that I’m obviously not disabled, that they’ll report me to the council…


          A wheelchair is not the only way for a person to be disabled.

          1. I know this feeling all too well. I am disabled, but like many things in our culture, disability is grossly misunderstood. Usually until you see me limping, doubled over in pain, or puking in a bathroom because my pain went beyond a certain threshold you wouldn’t know. Ableism is an issue that doesn’t often get talked about. Many times since I’ve been disabled I have wished I had a cane so that people would understand that “Oh, she’s disabled” when it comes actually rendering certain legally requires concessions. But appearing visible disabled, or adding some kind of “marquis” to show that I am doesn’t fix the problem. It will certainly stop the male, white, able-bodied and privileged bus drivers from driving off with out giving me a chance to get on (which is usually the people I that do it on my “bad days”), but it also makes me a target for people’s ableism. With the issues we face out there, it’s not hard to see how this problem intersects, and how creepers can see it as “an opportunity” for them.

      5. I also had a cane before 30, but only got stopped by old women, not old men. My standard response was, please send a note to your deity of choice that I’m too young for this crap.’

        Yay for the offended looks I got back 🙂

    4. Yeah I use a cane sometimes, which on the one hand makes me feel slightly safer because I have something immediately to hand to hit people with, but on the other hand there’s this huuuuuuge range of creepy behaviour that isn’t obviously threatening to an outsider and, more importantly, law enforcement.

    5. That happened to me too, a couple of years ago when I was in a wheel chair after a horse riding accident. The worst part was that I had to take a (subsidized) taxi to work, and some of the taxi drivers were really making me uncomfortable. And I knew that if one of them had tried anything, there would have been no way for me to get away – they were in control of the car, and my wheel chair was in the trunk…

      I still occasionally get the “you’re way too young to need that” comment about my cane. Dude, I’ve had it for ten years. I should have started using it earlier except I was too hung up on “not being ill enough to need one”, even though I clearly did. Being young doesn’t stop you from having an illness.

      1. The worst thing of this sort happened to me in a Taxi, I was crazy sick with what I thought was tonsillitis but was actually glandular fever(mono) and I don’t drive so I need to get a taxi to the doctor, about half way there the Taxi driver asked me what was wrong with me and I said tonsillitis and the taxi driver said “you know I hear that you get that from giving head” I was speechless! I had a very uncomfortable rest of the ride.

    6. I am losing weight and trying to learn to think of working out as something other than a chore. I recently injured my ankle badly at the gym (on the stairs. Damn you, irony.) I am limping and have various wraps around it. I have noticed that strange men use this as an “opening” to start conversations. Usually, “What happened?” or “Need some help?” I don’t mind the “Need some help?” guys so much, because it’s possible they are sincere. But I am still pretty cautious around them.

      Then, some jerk at the grocery noticed me limping and decided this gave him permission to “advise” me. He said, “You know, overweight women tend to have chronic joint problems. You’d probably stop limping around if you dropped some of that weight.”

      I wanted to say, “And men who feel comfortable commenting on strangers’ weight have chronic “my foot up their ass” problems.” But all I said was, “Get away from me.”

      I’m not sure if I picked the right option.

      1. Oh god the number of people who assume disabilities are always caused by weight rather than weight caused by disability drives me up the wall. I mean, in your case it seems it’s neither and even if it is caused by weight it’s still a disability so who the fuck cares but soooo often you see “well if you weren’t so fat” when it’s actually “if you weren’t so disabled”. It’s almost like people with disabilities can’t always exercise very much! And might be on medication that has weight retention as a side effect! And dietary restrictions to deal with! It’s right up there in my disability-related beliefs frustrations with the people who think that if you’re in a wheelchair but they see you stand and walk for a few metres you’re obviously faking because there’s NOTHING between completely abled and completely unable to walk unaided.

        1. That happened to my dad. Doctor kept telling him, “you’ve got to exercise, you’ve got to lose weight”. That fact that exercise was causing him incredible pain was brushed off.

          Turned out my dad had bone cancer which was causing hairline spinal fractures.

          1. I love-hate reading So many stories about fat prejudice in the medical system that sometimes have seriously bad consequences because all doctors can see is fat rolls or whatever. There’s also one in there about how the same prejudice means that people losing weight quickly isn’t always seen as a warning sign, because losing weight is GOOD, right? Except that it’s also a symptom of some really scary stuff, like cancer.

  6. Me: “By ‘good book,’ do you mean the kind where you get so immersed in the story that you shut out everything that’s happening around you because you want to find out what happens next?“

    Him: “Yeah.“

    Me: :stares at him for a good while, watching it slowly sink in:

    THIS is such an awesome comeback. Sorry that jerk put you in a position where you had to deploy it, though.

    This has just reminded me of the guy on a bus who kept telling me to smile, and when I did (I was so much younger then), he kept saying it wasn’t a real smile and telling me to smile more until I felt like a performing monkey, dancing for him. I wish I could go back in time and tell him to go screw himself. This stuff is the depressing background noise to Going Out In Public While Female.

    1. I haven’t yet trained myself out of smiling when people tell me to (I reflexively smile whenever people try to get my attention, so ugh…), but I’ve started to do this huge grimace (complete with hyena laughing, when I’m up to it) that makes people take a full step back half the time. It makes me feel better about having been a dancing monkey for so many years.

        1. OMG thank you for that! I just flashed back to when my mom and I saw that. It was our silent joke for years and years.

      1. Ye gods, I have a friend who gets hit on quite frequently because she APPEARS (upon initial observation) to be the epitome of a “petite, mild-mannered, submissive, pretty Asian girl”. Combine this with the fact we run in nerd circles that tend to place this fetish (it’s a fetish; I can’t see it another way) on a pedestal, she gets approached and creeped on A LOT.

        However, her creepers very rarely stick around after the initial approach. On the contrary, they’re usually running in the opposite direction as fast as their feet can carry them. Her face…is special. Our friends circle jokes that she has extra special muscles in her face allowing some of the most grotesque expression unknown to humankind. Heck, I didn’t even know it was possible for a human face to move itself like that until I met her! You know the troll faces memes? Imagine those faces times 10; THOSE are the expressions she’s capable of pulling. The last time a guy told her to smile, he sorely regretted it.

        Also, I KNOW people say “You shouldn’t have to defend yourself by acting a certain way…” but this friend is also, for lack of a better word, eccentric. Highly eccentric. Any idea of her being mild-mannered disappears as soon as she opens her mouth. It’s usually to scream something utterly random like “I LIKE CHEESE.” or “I’M A CORGI BAROOOO!” Or to tell horrible knock-knock jokes; the kind that makes you go “I don’t know this person, oh god I really don’t know this person….OH MY GOD WHY ARE YOU ON MY HEAD GETITOFFMEEEE….” She’s a genuinely good friend though.

        1. I have a face like that…apparently. My roommate calls it the angry face. I’ve never seen it, and I have little control over it, but apparently, when I’m some extra-special combination of pissed off and exasperated, I have this face which is the scariest thing in the world and will make anyone do whatever I want.

          1. Same here, and I’ve only become aware of it in recent years, I can only assume because friends have only recently nerved up to tell me about it! I think it’s completely silly, because I’m also quite a wuss, and have also only recently started learning assertiveness and boundaries and other good stuff.

            Some of us are just born with it, though, as evinced by this comic I like to pull out to explain my own frustration with the “smile brigade”:

  7. In all the examples, the guys ended up doing things revealing they do not respect boundaries. Waving hands or snapping fingers in front of faces? Using the b-word? Saying you are mean? Well, the Ignore instinct seems to have made a lot of sense in all these cases.

    What I get a lot: Hey, smile! Why aren’t you smiling!?


    1. I once got “You look like you’re concentrating on something. Smile!”

      And of course, I WAS concentrating on something, and then I lost my train of thought. Apparently girls aren’t allowed to concentrate in public…?

      1. I like to think up horrible things to do to my fictional characters on my lunchbreak, so they can earn their happy endings. So I frown in concentration and occasionally grimace in horror when I’ve got a really good plot going. I enjoy this aspect of writing a lot, so even though it looks like I am sadness personified, I’m not. I get this A LOT. And it totally ruins my concentration and puts me in a really bad mood, because rather than figuring out how someone gets out of a bad situation armed only with a dead rabbit and some produce, I have to go back to the real world where my facial expression is considered public property.

        Also, if I WAS sadness personified, how would telling me to smile help me? What if someone I loved had just died? How would “SMILE! You’re too pretty not to smile!” make me feel?

        1. That actually happened to me not long after my mom died. It was from someone I in fact knew slightly, and I hope to heck he heard later what had happened and put two and two together. I didn’t even care much as nothing could have made me feel worse than I already did, but geez.

          1. Oh man, I’m so, so, sorry that happened. I hope he realized what happened, felt like the jerk he was, and stopped commanding the arbitrary performance of facial expressions.

          2. I had a stranger do that to me a few weeks after my mom died — he actually yelled from a park bench, something like “Smile, it’s not that bad!” I sincerely considered assaulting him.

          3. I keep meaning to respond to “Smile!” with, “My mother is dead,” to see if that’ll learn ’em. But I never get hit with “Smile!” when I’m present in the moment. It only happens when I’m inwardly focused enough that being addressed by a stranger startles me into auto-react mode, which for me means a placatory smile while I catch up with why the hell some stranger is talking to me.

            I have taken to spitting “Jackass!” over my shoulder as I walk away.

          4. ‘It only happens when I’m inwardly focused enough that being addressed by a stranger startles me into auto-react mode, which for me means a placatory smile while I catch up with why the hell some stranger is talking to me.’

            Aaag! That describes my experiences so well! As a relatively rational human being, it takes a few seconds to actually realize that a stranger would act in that manner, taking it upon themselves to tell me what to do (or to spit something disgusting my way). Reflexes are awful when you overestimate people.

          5. Nearly 6 years ago, I got word that my ex-husband (who was also my best friend) had been in a motorbike accident in Wales. I was hurrying to get there in time when I got a phonecall as I reached Bristol that he’d died. I was standing on the platform still in shock with my phone in my hand when a random jerk said “Smile, you look like someone died!”

            I let rip. I think I turned the air blue for a good solid three minutes whilst people stopped and stared. Then I think I said something like “I have to go now,” and ran for my train. I could hear the passers-by berating the guy as I got on the train.

            I bet he never told anyone to smile again. At least, I’d like to think so.

          6. I’m so sorry for your loss. What a horrible moment for some fuckwit to choose to enforce your face as being personally decorative to him.

          7. when I was returning from my mother’s funeral, at the airport, the taxi guy told me he wouldn’t get me a taxi til I smiled.

            when I had just found out the baby inside me had died, I had a homeless girl tell me to smile while she asked me for money.

          8. I’ve had 2 miscarriages; if someone had told me to smile whilst they were going on I think I would have slapped the ever-loving sh*t out of them. I’m so sorry you had that inflicted on you at such a horrible time.

          9. arkadyrose and slfisher: I am so sorry you went through that. There are just no words for how absolutely, heart-wrenchingly godawful the whole process is.

            I had a lady ask me “Are you having a boy or girl?” at a farmer’s market – and when I replied with a confused “Huh?” she got all mumbly and was like “ohuhnevermind…” So then, of course, being a Nice Girl, I explained that I was not pregnant, just chubby (my go-to response). Her next question was then “Well, were you pregnant recently?” (!!!!!) To which my surprised-into-blunt-honesty response was just “Yes, but I had a miscarriage three months ago.”

            At least she had the good grace to look horrified at the incredibly stupid fucking thing she’d just done. Like, fucking seriously.

            On a side, side note: Every female nurse and doctor I talked to told me that the first pregnancy is much more likely to be a miscarriage (along with sympathetic, hang-in-there stories of their own experiences)…. I REALLY wish that was part of sex ed or something. Seems like pretty Important Information, if you think about it. It wouldn’t make it any easier, but maybe it would help to not be blindsided by it??

          10. Wow. What an awful thing to happen, and what an awful thing for that guy to do. I hope you told him *why* you looked “like someone died.” He’ll feel bad about that on his own deathbed.

          11. To be honest, I can’t really remember much of what I said; I just remember how white-hot furious I felt, and how utterly mortified and frightened he looked before I turned away. Much of that day is just an unpleasant blur now, but I do remember his face.

        2. Actually, one day literally EVERYTHING was going wrong for me, and I was walking through Union Square holding myself just behind the threshold of bursting into tears when I was accosted by a Children International “intern,” whom I duly ignored. As I walked away from him, he yelled, “Have a good day, and smile!” I don’t know what came over me, but I whipped around and got right in his face (pointing and everything) and screamed, “You do NOT tell women to smile. You have NO IDEA what happened to me just before you saw me. Do not EVER. EVER. EVER. Tell a woman to smile EVER again.” And after skittering back a couple of feet, he took a deep breath and paused and said, “I’m sorry. I’m very sorry, you’re right.” And I shouted, “THANK YOU” and stormed off on my way. At which point I did actually burst into full-on tears, but at least no one else fucked with me the rest of my way home.

          I think that guy got the hint because he was young. And my height.

        3. Have you heard about Jeremy Renner and his “resting face”? He’s talked about it in a few interviews, how he just naturally looks very serious and he’s just thinking something like “I like your shirt”.
          A stranger isn’t going to know what you’re thinking, and honestly, it’s not like they really care to. It doesn’t matter if you have a serious “resting face” or if something is actually bothering you, they don’t get a say in how your face looks. (And really, if they thought that something was bothering you, they should ask if you’re okay…)

        4. I used to always get “Why do you look so sad?” Apparently my non-expression face looks “sad”.

          To which I started replying “I wasn’t until you started talking to me.”

          1. The thing that drives me crazy about it is that I actually am pissed off right after someone tells me to smile. I mean, I was fine before! Thinking about stuff! Preparing for my day! Maybe writing something! Then some jackass shares his opinion on what my face should look like when I take it out in public and I’m angry for half an hour.

            One time some guy told me I had a nice ass and then a few yards later a different guy was like, “Smile! It’s not that bad!” because APPARENTLY I looked ANGRY and UPSET.

            It’s schoolyard bullying, that’s what it is. Pulling your pigtails, snapping your bra, tripping you up. Dance for me!

          2. Oooh – thank you for summing it up so perfectly! Its total Happy Policiing – where “well-meaning” folks want to “share” their joy by imposing it on you. Ugh – sometimes I’m just deep in thought Stranger Dude. I did not realize my facial expressions affected you SO MUCH.

            I’ve been trying to think of something snappier than “fuck off” – sometimes it occurs to me to say something utterly batshit insane and start theatrically sobbing, ” AUGH, I TRIED TO HAVE SEX WITH AN ANT FARM BUT IT JUST DIDN’T WORK! WHY WON’T THEY LOVE ME BACK??? I KNOW I’D BE A GOOD QUEEN!!!!” But sometimes I don’t have the energy for it in the moment, but it sure is a fun idea to entertain.

          3. It’s likely the next time I’m caught by the Happiness Patrol I will remember your ant farm idea and CRACK UP. It will probably confuse the fuck out of the hapless dude in question. So thank you for that.

          4. I find if you really want to share your happiness it’s far more effective just to smile at people. Some won’t notice, some won’t be much affected, but mostly even if you’re having a rotten day someone smiling at you and making *no demands on you whatsoever* is at least a little bit cheering – as long as it’s not, like, standing there staring creepily and smiling for ages, because that’s weird. And it’s far, far, FAR less likely to piss them off.

        5. I do the writing-in-my-head thing too (and torture my poor characters mercilessly), and this feeling of “my facial expression is considered public property” annoys the shit out of me. Unfortunately I’ve internalized it somewhat, so I hear it even when nobody is actually telling me my expression is unacceptable. Sigh. But you phrased it PERFECTLY. Now I need to find my inner Hulk so I can tell that voice and all the asshats who echo it in meatspace to stuff it, yes?

    2. The first time I ever got hit with “Smile! You’re too cute to frown!”, it was the day after my great aunt died. I was very close to her; compound this with the fact I had just entered college and was having a difficult time adjusting, along my family fighting with each other over auntie’s will and a bunch of other shit, I oscillated between a state of utter misery and total rage. When the guy told me to smile, I ended up cornering him and ranting like a madwoman because I was just so angry. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but it was along the lines of “My aunt just died. A huge part of my life is gone. I AM NOT GOING TO FUCKING SMILE. I AM GOING TO FUCKING BLOW UP THIS FUCKING WORLD IF I CAN. DON’T YOU GO TELLING ME I’M SUPPOSED TO BE FUCKING HAPPY.”

      I think the scared the shit out of that guy. Looking back, a small part of me is sure the excessive screaming and expletives were unnecessary, but I was just so angry at the time. He was so shocked, he only stuttered out an apology and ran when I let him go. So maybe I’ll end up as some MRA example of a “bitch” who won’t give a “poor nice guy” a chance. But I say society should teach everyone that people have a right to look like whatever the hell they want to look like. For all they know, someone I loved could have just died. Or I’m practicing my facial expression for theatre. Or something.

      1. I think, if the expletives helped you get your point through his thick fucking skull and actually made you feel better in the process (swearing and screaming has been shown to release endorphins – fuck yeah!)….. then they were absolutely, 100% necessary.

        In fact, it seems a bit like societal “nice girl” training to apologize for them – because, of course, good girls don’t curse, right? Fuck that.


        1. I remember reading something about how you should totally scream when you’re in terrible pain, because the reason you WANT to is because it HELPS. Which seems to be the same principle. Obviously you don’t want to use screaming at people to feel better over minor annoyances that aren’t really their fault because how scary, but men feeling entitled to police women’s facial expressions is insidious and horrible and I really don’t care how they feel when it backfires on them.

          1. Yup, I’ve read that, too – and it totally is the same principle.

            I agree with the minor annoyances thing – how scary. But a ridiculous little part of me thinks – how funny, if everyone in society did that. Not screaming at each other, but just screaming. Like, if it were a totally normal thing to just scream at the top of your lungs every time some stupid song that you hate came on the radio, or every time someone had to dig around in their pockets to get *just the right amount on change* at the grocery store, or every time someone interrupted you halfway through a really good story…

            We’d be like a pack of howler monkeys. It’d be awesome.

    3. I have gotten that a lot in the past. I had one experience that was actually good and not creepy (it sounds weird to tell it though, so you’ll have to take my word for it that it wasn’t scary I guess), though. I was on the el and crying after something teenager-dramatic happened and I had to leave my friend group and go back home alone. A guy sitting across from me caught my eye, then looked away. He was singing something quietly, then changed the words to something like “don’t cry, you are loved… etc” It as oddly comforting that this dude wasn’t getting up in my business but cared enough to try to help me feel better. it was also a bit weird, but it seemed clearly sincere and not creepy. I’m not sure what the line is, but people who think you just can’t talk at all in public to strangers often are the ones who are most likely to cross the line severely!

  8. I can’t remember which post I read, or who said it, but there was something about women living with a baseline of fear for their safety. It was never a conscious thing for me, until I read that sentence and then I was like, “Yes. Yes we do. And that’s not right.”
    I believe the fact that we live with this baseline fear, gives us the right/obligation to act in ways that are self protective. Every creepy guy should give you the $20+ you’ll need for a cab ride home. It should be like dues for being creepy.

  9. As a fellow CTA rider, I really empathize. I once had a guy try to hit on me for an entire bus ride, with me trying to be “nice” about it but very very clearly not interested (this was back when I had first moved here and was afraid to be rude) and then he got off the bus at MY stop (which was not my stop) and tried to follow me. Even cabs aren’t a guaranteed escape, because I’ve had cab drivers spend the ride trying to talk me into dating them.

    I also agree that the world would be a much better place if men erred on the side of leaving women alone. I think a good rule is that if someone is doing anything like reading, listening to music, looking at her phone — don’t bother that person. They are sending “I want to be left alone” signals.

    If someone is not sending these signals, and you try to strike up a conversation by saying something friendly, a response like: “Eye Spy, on Lincoln” means this person is not interested in a conversation, and pressing on is very rude. I would only keep talking to the person if she responds with a long and friendly answer, and/or if they ask a question in return. Otherwise, assume this person is not interested in talking to you, say “thanks,” and shut up.

    I also think that a man’s first comment should never be something like, “You’re beautiful, would you let me take you to dinner?” I don’t like when someone wants to date me without finding out a single thing about me. And since there is a high probability that the person isn’t even interested in talking to you, it’s just going to make them super uncomfortable. If an attempt to strike up a conversation is met with obvious enthusiasm, and the conversation goes well, then maybe you can ask if the person might be interested in seeing you again. But don’t start with an approach that is date-seeking. Women can tell *immediately* when someone is trying to talk to them because they hope it will lead to sex.

    I wish men could understand how it feels to get this kind of unwanted harassment ALL THE TIME. When they get all “So I can’t even say hi?? So it’s a crime to ask someone out??” it’s so incredibly frustrating, because they don’t realize that these interactions wear us down and make us feel uncomfortable when we’re out in public.

    The train is not a singles bar. The street is not a singles bar. Women need to get from point A to point B just like everyone, and this is not an appropriate time to hit on them.

    1. I once had a man ask me to marry me in the street without having a conversation with me. That was really eyebrow-raising! I think I told him that wasn’t the done thing in London or something.

      1. Yeah, I’ve had that happen several times, mostly down in Central America. Seriously – do they actually expect anyone to say yes?!? Actually, I’d be kind of curious to say yes just to see how they’d react…but that could get dangerous, so never mind

      2. that happened to me in a laundromat! Through someone else who for some inexplicable reason felt that translating this proposal to me was absolutely the right thing to do.

        1. If he was singing about a freeze ray beforehand, or offering you random frozen yogurt, you dodged a major bullet there.

        2. Oh, the laundromat…..what is is about the laundromat. I would load up my clothes, find a quiet corner, and build my Invisible Impenatrable Bubble while I read and waited for the cycles to finish. Mostly it worked, but there was one guy that always seemed to be there at the same time, the kind that thinks he’s God’s Gift but looks like he lived in his car. And he’d always try to make eye contact with me or say hi or whatever. Ignoring him made him go away but this would happen *every* time. One day after months of this he was there laundering with a buddy, and while I was clearly wrapped up in my book, they both came over and started hitting on me. I’d answer mono-syllabically and then go back to my book, which made Buddy really annoyed and he demanded to know why I wasn’t being more friendly. So I put my book down, looked them each in the eye and said, “I come to the laundromat to launder my clothes, not to avail myself of the social opportunities,” and then went back to my book. They creepered off muttering the usual “What a bitch” sympathies to each other but I wasn’t bothered again. I never felt threatened but just chronically annoyed and on my guard. It’s exhausting.

          Sadly I guess this must work for them occasionally, because sometime later God’s Gift coupled up with another laundry regular and they were there together every time, for years. I guess laundromats and public transportation are the lower-level PUA’s singles bars : P

      3. Years ago, I was going to the movies in the city with some friends, and this crazy guy literally threw himself on his knees in front of where I was walking and cried out “marry me!” and stared at me with this huge happy smile on his face. I was so mortified. I stared at him in disbelief for a few moments and then we all just hurriedly walked around him. (He wasn’t old or creepy looking either. Some young mid twenties guy, somewhat attractive.)
        Creepily, I often went to the city to go the movies in those days and a month or two later ran into him in roughly the same location… and he did it AGAIN.

        It was in my really goth days, so I was wearing big flouncy black skirts and a long satin cape. But how I dress is NOT an excuse for you to be a Dick.

    2. Once in the airport. as I handed out my passport, the immigration checkpoint tried to strike a conversation (and I responded, only in one or two just to be polite) which ended up him telling me “I love you”, “when are you coming back” and him giving me a piece of paper with his name and e-mail address “send me an e-mail”. I feel ambushed and harassed. In a way, he’s abusing his power (me: a traveller trying to get through an immigration check-point who is the worst nightmare is being held up in an immigration check point).

      1. He’s definitely abusing his power. Obviously, not as badly as someone who outright states “have sex with me or I’ll illegally deny you entry to the country and brand you as a criminal”. But people in a position of power — teachers, judges, policemen, soldiers, immigration or customers officials[1] etc etc — have an obligation to realise that lots of things (teasing someone, joking with them, hitting on them) are an abuse because the victim doesn’t know if this is one of the 90% of people who’s just having fun, or one of the 10% who will fly off the handle if you respond wrong and leave you without recourse.

        I’d say it would be rather unprofessional if he’d managed it in an obviously non-pushy way (eg. after the transaction was finished), beforehand seems obviously wrong.

        [1] People who are bigger and stronger than you when you’re alone?


    4. CL, I don’t think your advice goes far enough. Women shouldn’t be having to send “I want to be left alone” signals. Or be so accepting of the idea that “strik(ing) up a conversation by saying something friendly” is a perfectly normal, natural thing that happens all the time to everybody. I couldn’t put it any better than sophonisba in this feministe post based on a Captain Awkward letter:

      When I see these guys “just being friendly” or “just talking” to random dudes on public transit, then I’ll buy that that’s “just” what they’re doing to women.

    5. That’s what’s so insulting by being fed a line, or asked a question they don’t really want answered. They’re not genuinely interested in your book/accessory/ailment, just your boobs/face/vagina. They’re not chatting you up to see if you click, they’re chatting you up to see if you’re too timid to reject them.

  10. thank you capt! this makes me more aware of how often i leave my headphones on (with no music!) when i ride transit, just to avoid the freakjobs. when they should be the ones to change, not me.

    do you think this is ever a situation where “i’m don’t feel like talking” is appropriate? or would it escalate the offenders?

    1. sorry – i know the intention of this post is not to craft responses to this behavior so please feel free to delete!

      i have actually said this to chat assaulters though, and i wonder if it made a difference to them. like, realizing people aren’t obligated to talk to you.

    2. I actually did reply like that once. Not that I ever really want to talk to strangers on a train, but that day I was having a massively bad day at work, was sleep-deprived, and was overtired. It took me a while to even realize I was being spoken to. So I said to a man who was a COMPLETE STRANGER and who had claimed that his wife (who was next to him) wanted to talk to me (she was also a complete stranger), that “sorry, I don’t feel like talking.”

      This response invited racist verbal abuse from them. As they left the subway train, they pounded on the windows near me and mocked me in faux-Chinese.

      So yeah, apparently racist straight couples ALSO feel entitled to the attention of complete strangers.

    3. I’ve used that–recently, even. Walking home late, but not super-late. I always take a well-lit, bar- and cheeseteakeria-studded street instead of the closer but darker and quieter street at that hour. Walked past a bar and a dude out front starts hallooing and “Excuse-me-miss”ing.
      I keep walking, because that’s what I do.
      He starts walking after me. I’m walking really fast, and he jogs half a block to catch up. That’s when I said “I don’t feel like talking.”
      He said aw, that’s okay, I just want to ask you a couple of questions, blah blah blah.
      I repeat that I don’t want to talk. I keep walking fast. I don’t look at him.
      He keeps talking, but as he has stopped jogging, he is talking to air after a few minutes. The last thing he yells down the street after me is “Would you ever date a black guy?”

      That was that. I didn’t feel particularly threatened, just annoyed–I’ve been doing this awhile, I trust my spider-senses–but I did have my hand on my phone at the ready, because he could very well have turned from Annoying Entitled Guy Who Wants Answers to something scarier. He did follow me for about three blocks.

      So the answer is to your question is: you can’t know. “I don’t feel like talking” is a great statement: it’s true, it’s clear, it’s impersonal, it can’t logically be argued with. But you have no control or means to predict how a stranger will react to it, so users beware.

      1. I’ve gotten the “would you ever date a black guy?” line several times, too. Oh, now I’ll totally reconsider my decision to forego the pleasure of being harassed by a total stranger — just to prove I’m not racist? What?

        1. I like to think my response would be either “Yes, just not you” or “No, I’m more into black women“, but most likely I’d just keep moving, possibly with a look of disgust. I mostly get shit from white guys though, particularly white guys in business suits around middle age – like, the age they start hitting management positions. Car honks are often younger guys, comments on the street are business types.

          1. I like to think my response would be either “Yes, just not you” or “No, I’m more into black women“, but most likely I’d just keep moving, possibly with a look of disgust.

            That’s nice for you, but women get killed every day for doing less offensive things to men than refusing to go out with them. And gay people also get killed every day for being gay. Also some people may not wish to identify as gay just to scare off a creeper.

          2. That’s a large part of why I probably wouldn’t say it, I’d just really like to. I’m trans but too small and curvy to pass even though I wear a binder so either I’m getting street harassment from people who just see “woman”, or I’m copping flak from people who assume men’s clothes and short hair=butch=lesbian, or who hear me saying something that makes it clear I like women. Depressingly I’m almost grateful when I get transphobia because at least it means they noticed.

            OTOH while my comment didn’t indicate that I wasn’t a straight girl appropriating homosexuality (which I should have made sure to do given I replied to someone doing the same thing wrt trans* stuff down below), it was pretty obvious that I get seen as a woman, so informing me that I shouldn’t reject a man because women get killed for less is sort of pointless. Either I avoid doing anything that could get me killed and stay locked up in a room all day with no contact whatsoever with the outside world, or I’m going to have to risk someone overreacting to me.

          3. I’m new to this blog (came via Ari Flynn @ Unsolicited Advice), but I think it’s opened up some very valuable conversations just in this one blog post, with such a wide variety of experiences. We began with one young (presumably cis) woman’s experience with public transit harassment, and since then the scope has expanded to include the varying levels of danger or privilege one receives depending on age, color, gender identity/presentation. And compared to the comments section of some blogs, this place is a downright high tea gathering, with gloves and doilies and everything. 🙂

            I’m commenting in response to Chris especially for talking about his ftm experience, and also because I snuck a peak over at your blog, dude, and I see you’re also in New Zealand. :waves: I’m up in Wellington, and an expat with only 2.5 years under my belt, but I’ve gotten stuck in with the local queer/trans groups over the past year because I have more hope for exacting change here than I did back in the US.

          4. I don’t understand your point here? Women get killed every day for lots of reasons. Are there some specific come-backs to creepers and harrassers that you’re saying we shouldn’t use?

        2. Hell, I’d just shout back “Nope!” and let them think I am a racist.

          Of course, that works more in the almost-out-of-earshot scenario, and less in the in-your-face one. So maybe not so helpful. Fun to think about, though.

      2. Cheesteakeria is certainly conjuring up the most delicious visions of food in my mind. I’m going to steal your word and use it in the future, if you don’t mind.

        1. Enjoy! I’m probably not the first to make it up. It sounded like “taqueria,” which there are also a lot of nearby. It’s a good food neighborhood.

    4. It’s a fine response. Anything you want to do (or not do) would be a fine response. If you want to speak up, it might feel good for you to speak up.

      If it escalates, trust me, it’s not because you said something back.

    5. I do the headphone thing, too. It gives me a good reason to stare straight ahead when they start talking, like I can’t hear them.

    6. I’ve been honestly tempted to stare blankly and sign “Sorry, I’m Deaf.” at people. But I’m not actually Deaf, so it seems a bit …I dunno, disrespectful of the Deaf.

      1. Relating to this, when I’ve faced harassment in USA (and it’s a LOT more frequent here than in my home country Finland), I’ve sometimes replied by speaking Finnish back to them and faking I don’t speak English. I’ve found it doesn’t really work, since then they just start speaking English to me REAAALLYYY SLOOOWWWLLYYYY, because maybe I’m just dumb and will understand them if they speak to me like an idiot.

      2. On the other hand, if you sign “Sorry, I don’t want to talk”, a lot of people might assume you’re Deaf but you’re not appropriating the label. More like someone saying in a different language, “sorry, I’m not interested.” A friend of mine says it in Gaelic. People assume she can’t speak English, but that’s not her problem, and it’s also not what she’s saying.

  11. Yes. Just…yes to this whole thing.

    Earlier this week an older slightly creepy-looking guy spoke to me as we were getting on the bus (about something inane like the driver or the weather or what have you) then followed me to the back of the bus and sat down right in front of me.

    I thought “no f*cking way” and moved elsewhere. My 20-minute commute is my haven of peace and quiet in a life that otherwise involves being talked at almost constantly (primary school teacher + 4-year-old at home) and there’s no way I’m giving that up for some entitled git.

    Now I wish I’d stayed where I was and made him uncomfortable if he tried to talk to me. Mind you, I’m guarded about my space on public transport as well; if the bus/train is packed then there’s nothing one can do, but on a nearly-empty bus like my morning one, I like to have a good bubble of empty seats around me.

    I miss having a car!

  12. The other day, I was shopping in a toy shop when a guy a bit older than me approached me and made conversation. I pegged him as a little socially awkward, but I made small talk and honestly didn’t mind him talking to me. And then he took his penis out. In the middle of a toy store.

    So yea. Talking to people and being nice isn’t the answer. Some people are going to be assholes no matter how you react to them.

    In retrospect, I should have pointed and laughed, but I got the store manager and she helped me chase him out. We got him on camera and filed a police report, so I hope they catch him.

    1. Jesus. That is just all kinds of wrong. I would have been just as shocked as you were. I mean, there is no RIGHT shop in which to flash your junk, but it’s hard to think of a creepier place to do it than a toy shop.

  13. Move to Tokyooo. Not a real suggestion, but I do miss absolutely everything about public transportation in Japan. Clean, reliable, prompt, and best of all nobody bothers anyone. It’s just not in the culture to interact much with strangers. Chikan (perverts, or gropers) exist but I was never on a train crowded enough where I thought that would happen to me. And rush hour trains in the mornings have women-only cars which I loved.

    1. Wow, women-only cars! I live in Seattle, and I actually don’t get harassed on the bus much. At a bus stop, maybe; on the street, sure, all the time. Some people complain that Seatlleites are too cold. Newbies call it the “Seattle Freeze.” I think part of it is that we just don’t interact with strangers much. We prefer to meet people through social activities. Riding a bus is not a social activity, at least not here.

      1. “Riding the bus is not a social activity” – it isn’t for most people here, either. Nor SHOULD it be.

        1. OH! This just reminded me of a public-transit conversation I had with a young man who’d recently. . . rejoined the public world, I guess, having been in rehab for awhile, and he asked quite earnestly “Is this a thing people do? Talk to strangers on the bus?”
          But that memory isn’t filed under my “public harassment” files because he did not demand my attention, just accepted as much as I was willing to give.

          It’s a tl;dr kind of story but I talk about it here.

      2. My girlfriend and I live in Seattle. She doesn’t drive, and takes the bus to work several times a week. She gets harassed at least once a week. I drive her whenever I can, but I can’t always. The Seattle Freeze is very real — it is very difficult to get to know people here compared to most other parts of the US, including through social activities — but it doesn’t mean there’s not harassment on public transit.

      3. Aw, I always find Seattle folk perfectly friendly to strangers (me being the stranger) – however, I am from the UK, so I wonder if it’s because you tend to hit a level that fits nicely with our social, ummmm, tendencies!

      4. Wow, the toughest part about moving from Boston to Seattle for me was how people talk to me all the time. Even on crowded public transportation! I don’t think I want to go to a place where people find this the “freeze.”

        I would love to have women-only cars, though.

    2. See, man, that was the exact opposite of my experience when I lived in Japan! Granted, I was down south in a slightly more conservative area, but I rode public transit about three times a week (usually a 20 minute subway ride to the major shopping town on the next island), and about once a week, some guy (always a guy!) would come up to me wanting to practice his English. One even grabbed my arm from my book to get my attention!

      Maybe my area just had an extra concentration of people who flout the social order, or maybe the entitlement of the more hierarchal community there made them feel like this was okay behavior. But, yeah, I found Japan to actually be worse in terms of street harassment. Maybe I just needed to be in Tokyo!

      1. And then there are the people who assume that ’cause you’re a gaijin you must not speak Japanese, so they feel free to talk about you right in front of you. Or the ones who think it’s ok to touch your hair in elevators or wherever they can get close ’cause they can’t believe that color (reddish brown) just grows.

        My worst-ever conversation with a Japanese guy was in a bar; when I was there Japanese guys had some pretty messed up ideas about “furee sexu in America.” He asked what I was doing in Japan; I said “studying Japanese language and culture.” He said “Nihon no sexu wa?” (How ’bout Japanese sex?”) Ew.

        1. Oh man! I didn’t understand enough Japanese to know when they were talking about me (thankfully?). And I never got comments about sex, to my knowledge. In fact, I was told that I should expect to remain alone for my time in the country because “Japanese men do not want American women.” Those types of comments came from my Japanese colleagues and students and were ALWAYS unsolicited. We’d usually be talking about something mundane or unrelated and they’d volunteer this information. It was…so weird.

          I mean, for the most part, I was just ignored, which was nice, but there were times it was just overwhelming. The weirdest was the dude who decided to show me his “award-winning” karate moves…on the subway, while the car was moving. I still don’t know how that happened or how he didn’t injure someone in the nearly full subway car.

    3. It’s rarer, but it happens sometimes if you’re obviously a foreigner. I was in a train with a friend reading a book in Japanese and she had a guy questioning her for the whole journey. “Wow, can you actually read that? You understand it? You read Japanese?”

      To which the obvious answer was: Well, she’s not carrying round a Japanese novel so she can admire the pretty characters, is she.

      Another friend of mine lived in the north of the country, in an area where non-Japanese people are very uncommon. She had one very unpleasant incident where a guy started commenting on her hair while she was on the train, then followed her after she got off.

      And I got felt up twice by train perverts in Tokyo, so. (Unfortunately, both times it was too crowded to a) tell who the culprit was and b) reach down and grab their hand.

      Don’t get me wrong, in general Japanese trains are much better for lacking harassment! But they’re not immune to it.

    4. I have been sexually harassed by women while waiting for/using public transit as well as by men, though not as often. Women-only cars sound really awesome and probably are much safer, but they’re not a perfect solution.

    5. They have the women-only cars in Kyoto as well, and I do like them. I think they help make a lot of women feel safer. But at the same time, they made me a bit mad — instead of treating the problem, which is the men doing the groping, let’s segregate the women and make it even more about them being victims.

      That said, my Japan experiences are very positive. I lived in Kyoto for three and a half years, and Tokyo for a year, and the only time I ever got spoken to on the train by a stranger, it was by a drunk Australian at 5am on a Saturday. (I was on my way to a work-related event, and my poor co-workers had to sit quietly next to me and wonder what this idiot white guy was saying. on that occasion, I didn’t mind as much, because he couldn’t speak Japanese and was obviously desperate to speak English. I get that.) I did get picked up by a really cute guy on the street once in Tokyo, but I encouraged it after he initially spoke to me, and we went on several dates and had a lot of fun. And I don’t think he’d have pushed it if I’d ignored him.

      The only time I ever felt unsafe around men in Japan was when I passed a group of Middle Eastern men on the street in my local area, who all stared at me like I was property. It was creepy. Other than that, I felt so relaxed and safe around men in Japan. I had tons of male friends there, I felt much safer about dating strangers I met off the internet there, and I went to all sorts of events and concerts and stuff by myself where the attendees were predominantly male, and never had to worry about what some guy might do. And it was that change that made me realise how unsafe I felt in Australia (my home country), and how much I hated that feeling. As soon as I moved back to Australia, all my walls had to come back up again to deal with entitled strangers in public places who keep thinking I owe them my time. It’s one of the things I miss the most about Japan.

      I know that’s not the ONLY experience of Japan — there’s still a lot of problems of gender inequality and harassment. Particularly if you’re in a more rural area. But I feel like it’s less likely that men will speak to you and expect that you owe them something in return, unless they really are suuuper seedy to begin with.

    6. I got proposed to by a middle-aged Japanese guy under the Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Museum! That was surreal. Fortunately I didn’t feel threatened by it – just, “Dude, I just finished walking through the graphic depiction of horrific human suffering and now I am standing by a fountain explicitly dedicated to all the people who died begging for water, this is NOT THE TIME.”

      The weirdest and most uncomfortable thing I found actually came from Japanese women who would comment on the size of my breasts…

    7. Nobody bothers anyone? I’m going to have to respectfully disagree with you here. A friend of mine once had some businessman try to force her knees apart with their briefcase on the Chuo line. I’ve been screamed at on the Yamanote for daring to be a foreigner in public. I’ve seen a guy howl abuse at a group of girls on the Takasaki. Another acquaintance of mine told me the story of how someone on the train up and grabbed his friend’s breast, like straight up reached out and squeezed. And on and on and on. People keep to themselves on public transportation more here than in other places, but just because it isn’t prevalent doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen here.

      1. Also, the same friend in the briefcase story was asked by an elderly man a few years ago if she would come with him into the public bathroom to watch him masturbate. Funnily enough, it was on Respect for the Aged Day.

    8. I disagree with this. I loved my time in Japan, and wouldn’t trade it for the world. But chikan were a huge problem that Japanese women and girls had to contend with (much more than the scary gaijin woman like me), and if they raised hell/tried to defend themselves/called the cops, they were blamed (and sometimes assaulted even worse). I had my share of catcalls and harassment but my Japanese female friends were really targeted, as were other women of color. And you really didn’t have to be on the train to get harassed.

  14. It’s kind of ironic that 5 minutes before reading this post I was parking my bike in my court-yard whilst dealing with exactly that kind of guy; the one who just keeps talking and physically corners you and is just so horribly annoying. And like you, I didn’t feel scared, but I am so tired of those guys. And I honestly don’t care about his intentions, I just want to be left alone.

  15. I don’t even think anymore about why I wear huge bulky black headphones when I commute, but even last night, I used the appearance that they were noise-cancelling (they’re not) to avoid an awkward conversation on the bus. (With a woman, but the principle’s the same.)

    But y’know, I only have so much energy in the day. I try to spend it as wisely as I can. I try to help people. I try to be a good friend. But to do those, I need the time I spend on a bus/train/ferry to be mine.

  16. Ugh, I’m sorry you’ve been encountering such jerks.

    I grew up in Chicago and was using transit regularly by the age of 14. To keep the crazies and annoying people at bay, I adopted what amounts to a mild death glare that I automatically shift into when using transit. It has served me well over the years. (Though I’m sure my non-feminine, punk inspired outward appearance also helped when I was a teenager.) I’m still using the mild death glare 15+ years later in another major U.S. city. My only complaint is that it usually leaves me feeling glum and a bit cranky. It would be nice to feel safe enough to be my friendly, cheerful self wherever I go. =/

    …Now that I’m thinking about it, I remember being surprised when random dudes chatted me up on both the red line and blue line when I was in Chicago for Lollapalooza. I figured I was just projecting an open cheerfulness, being on vacation and all, but maybe this is a THING happening in Chicago? That definitely wasn’t happening to me when I still lived in Chicago a few years ago.

    1. “My only complaint is that it usually leaves me feeling glum and a bit cranky. It would be nice to feel safe enough to be my friendly, cheerful self wherever I go. =/”

      RIGHT? I am a gregarious person who chats back, usually, but sometimes I just have to shift into scary-thousand-yard-stare mode and it makes me glum.

  17. I have, at times, considered finding (or making) a shirt or giant hat or something that says LEAVE ME THE FUCK ALONE, but I’m pretty sure I’d just get guys asking me about it, or asking why I’m in such a bad mood.

      1. Ironically, I once had a pair of stockings with “SLUT” written all over them. I was not ever approached once while wearing them. I’d see guys point and whisper, but not one ever talked to me.

        1. Heh. I decided I wasn’t up for wearing the “Slut” ones. I’ve got the ones that say “Bitch.” Never had a problem when wearing them!

    1. Yeah, I wouldn’t bet on that working. I have a hat that says “Deadline! No time to chat!” but if I put it on at work, I get a lot of, “Oh, haha, you’ve got the deadline hat on! Guess I’d better not talk to you! Oh, I feel bad already for wasting your time; so-and-so is always telling me not to waste so much of your time. I just had this one inane, non-work-related, and totally unnecessary question …”

      1. Ha, one time everyone who sat near me at a job was at a department-wide retreat. I was part of a different dept., but sat in one of their cubes. Everyone who passed me on the way to the kitchen had to remark on the quiet. “Sure is quiet today!” “It must be so quiet for you over here!” “Wow, it’s really quiet over here!”

        It WAS quiet.

        1. lol my office is this sort of makeshift set up in another company’s building that both the grants team (me!) and the recovery/outreach team work out of. When we’re processing payments we tend to set up in the filing cubby which is right by the bathrooms and break room and all day, every day, everyone who goes past comments on us being off in Siberia or asks if we’re cold or something. We just want access to the files and solitude so we can snark about people fucking things up! But no, everyone has to interrupt us to comment while we’re working. It was good last year when it was only grants and payments had its own office – people would only come to ask us work-related questions, except when we were doing the monthly payments to power companies and had an ABANDON HOPE ALL YE WHO ENTER HERE sign on the door. (Sadly not literally, though I did suggest it.)

        2. Hey, I had this while working my last job. I was doing filing which involved mostly working in a room on my own. I actually really liked it, because I could get into a kind of zen state and listen to music or whatever without having to talk to anyone at the office, which I find pretty stressful (introvert!). But it was also a through-route to get from one place to another in the office, and a bunch of people ended up walking past deliberately and ALL TRYING TO TALK WITH ME. I guess they felt sorry I was ‘exiled’ or whatever, but I did try to explain that I was happy just listening to my music, thank-you-very-much, and they still could not resist trying to interact with me again… I wonder if I was a guy, whether they would have respected my boundaries more?

    2. Many years ago, a friend gave me her leather motorcycle jacket – it was an old-school, creaks-when-you-move, leather jacket that was meant to keep your skin off the pavement, not look pretty. It was AMAZING how much less hassle I got on public transit when I wore it.

  18. I just remembered a friend telling me a few years ago about a website aimed to document and call attention to street harassment and harassers. It’s called Hollaback ( and I’m not entirely sure what their reputation is, but it looks like a place to share stories about harassment. There are various sub-sites broken down by cities, so you can share stories about these creeps in Chicago, for example.

  19. It’s not at all hard to strike a balance between friendly and respectful if you want to chat with someone in public. If they’re reading or have headphones on, leave them alone. If you want to talk to someone who seems otherwise unoccupied, greet them, or make a simple and brief comment that doesn’t require any follow-up response. If they want to talk to you, they will respond, if they don’t respond, leave them alone. It’s sad that we have to explain something this simple to, apparently, a lot of people.

    1. That’s because clearly, Mark, you are not a creeper. Would that we could say the same of all men.

    2. That’s because clearly, Mark, you’re not a creeper (that whole respectful is even important to you thing). Would that we could say the same of all men.

  20. I’m sorry you’re feeling battered and beleaguered on your commute.

    I think it’s perfectly ok for someone to throw out a little comment to a fellow traveler (on public transit or in life) about their sunglasses, their grocery bag, their book. It’s called “striking up a conversation,” and when it “takes” it can make a commute pass faster for both people.

    But when your response is not to meet the overture partway with a chitchatty comment, a smile, or some other form of encouragement (for example, when it is no response at all, a glare, or a verbal response so terse/flat/unenthusiastic it is as if words cost money), you are saying perfectly clearly “thanks, but I am not inclined to turn this random encounter into a getting-to-know-a-stranger-moment.”

    You are not meeting the stranger halfway because you don’t want to meet the stranger at all! Which is your right — for any reason or no reason!

    Just because you’re in a public space doesn’t mean you (your attention, your thoughts, your precious energy, your words) have suddenly become public property that any random stranger is entitled to a share of, making you a jerk for withholding that. Nor are they entitled to an explanation; they don’t have a right to know whyyyyyy. “I don’t feel like it” is enough, and self-evident.

    Under the circumstances, the *only* socially acceptable response is to wander off down the aisle/platform, maybe even with a “sorry for disturbing you,” depending on how intrusive they were.

    The people who claim to be confused about this are the same jerks who pretend they don’t understand women’s body language, who think that their “friendliness” to a women entitles them to some return. (Which is, after all, basically what this is all about). Which means that they were never going to be your pals, even if you had given them the return they were fishing for. Bon voyage, assholes.

    1. To be honest I don’t think it’s cool to attempt to strike up a conversation with someone who’s reading. They’re obviously busy with something else. If someone is just sitting there, not obviously doing anything, then hey maybe ask about their sunglasses or something else explicitly non-creepy/invasive, but when I’m reading a book I want to read a book, not talk to some stranger about it.

      1. I would agree but if my now husband (of 15 years) hadn’t struck up conversation with me while I was reading we never would have started dating.

        1. So if your husband had met you because he ran into your car when he was drunk, you’d be cautioning people that maybe they shouldn’t be all neg on drunk driving?

          1. Not really because drink driving is wrong not matter what sex you are and I wouldn’t hang out with someone that did that. On the other hand just because someone wants to talk to you while you’re out in public doesn’t automaticlly make them a bad person. Which is what I was trying to say.

            I just really suck at putting my thoughts into words I guess.

          2. Not being a “bad person” doesn’t mean you won’t ever do anything inappropriate or badly-timed, or that you won’t ever upset anyone else. And frankly, whether a person is “good” or “bad” is not germane at all to what people are discussing here. I don’t care if you’re someone who does life-saving cancer research and volunteers with orphans in your free time- if you try to initiate non-utilitarian contact with me on public transportation, especially when I’m reading or otherwise preoccupied, and you persist in talking to me when I don’t respond, and then you ANTAGONIZE me when I clearly and politely express my need for space, for all intents and purposes you’re a Total Fucking Asshole.

    2. Sunglasses and shopping bag, yes. Book, I’m a lot more doubtful of. If someone’s reading that looks to me very much like they’re already engaged in an activity and don’t want to be interrupted. I think it was the Schrodinger’s Rapist post that had the thing about how often women have already said no before the conversation even starts with body language etc.

      It is *possible* to start a conversation with someone who’s reading, like if it’s a book series not many people know and you’re a huge fan and have never met anyone else who enjoyed it, but I think it takes an awareness that it is by its very nature rude and you need to compensate for that by being apologetic and willing to back off as soon as they don’t act enthusiastic about talking to you.

  21. It’s one of the things I love about my car — I very rarely get harassed in it. Not never. Shockingly, not never…

    Maybe we can figure out ways to help harassed people? I don’t know what to do when I’m somewhere and some guy is like “Hellllloooooooo?” I don’t want to be The Rescuer! I don’t want to make it More Of A Thing for someone who just wants to be left alone. But I also don’t want someone to feel alone and helpless in the face of Boundary Crossing Asshole.

    although the few times I’ve been on public transit lately I guess I’ve been more likely to be all trying to shrink into my space. I did end up sitting next to a young black man for a fairly long ride in a crowded car, and felt better when the moment of Eye Contact And Smile came along, so I could communicate “I am trying to give you space in your seat, not trying to avoid touching you because ew”.

    I am ALL OVER people saying “Yep, you do not get to hit on strangers in public! Sucks to be you!” and having it be a real social expectation.

    1. I’ve started to employ the tactic of giving the person being bothered a raised-eyebrow “psh, that dude, oy” kind of face, and/or the same raised-eyebrow “really, dude? really?” face to the person doing the bothering, in instances where it seems safe. It’s unintrusive, but it does at least communicate that I see the situation and the (usually) woman isn’t totally alone.

    2. I’ve intervened for someone who was being harassed on a bus by the exact same guy who had harassed me twice (one of those times earlier the same day).

      There was a particular old man who would find women sitting by window seats, sit beside them to pin them in, and then slowly spread his legs to push against them harder and harder. If addressed politely, he’d feign deafness, or even put on headphones, while pressing his leg even harder against the woman.

      The first time was creepy and unsettling, but I just suffered in silence. The second time, months later, I recognized the same man, and called him on it. Louder, when he continued to pretend not to notice. And then finally got up, pressed past him (ew), and stood in the aisle glaring at him. He ended up standing up the instant another woman got on the bus, and trying to offer her the window seat beside him. ANd he tried that with every woman who got near until I got off the bus.

      Later that day, the same damn bus, I saw him sit down beside the woman behind me, and do the same damn thing all over again. Except this time he started muttering nasty things constantly, low enough that people further away couldn’t hear over standard traffic and bus noise.

      I turned around and asked the woman (who looked frozen with discomfort and fear, but I don’t know, I’m lousy at reading expressions) if she wanted to take my seat instead. And she didn’t say anything, then just looked away when I asked again. But at the next stop, she got out of her seat and stood in the aisle instead. And when that man tried to coax another woman into the window seat there, no one took him up on the offer that time, at least.

      I still don’t know if I helped anything. Maybe she would’ve moved anyway. Maybe I made her more uncomfortable by calling attention to the situation. Maybe I should’ve talked to the bus driver instead, but it was one of those situations where everything was low-key and subtle enough (he wasn’t whipping out his penis or grabbing people) that I wasn’t sure the bus driver would even want to bother, especially since that’d require stopping during rush hour and inconveniencing a few dozen people with the delay…

      I just don’t know. I sent customer feedback to the bus company when I got home, describing what happened as calmly and in as much detail as I could, but I never heard back from them.

      1. I had the great displeasure of sitting next to a guy who was spreading his legs apart like that once. It was vastly unpleasant. I was sitting there the whole time thinking, “Is this guy clueless, or just a jerk?” I’m sorry to hear how likely it was that he was really that much of a jerk, as opposed to really that clueless (I did not speak up at the time and find out — sometimes I just find it easier to pretend it’s not happening).

          1. He certainly does get around and I’ve encountered him A LOT on Muni. Once, and only once, I decided to call him out: This d-bag was doing the leg thing to me on the train on my way home from work. I sat there and fumed for the entire trip, getting more and more angry (as he opened his legs wider and wider pressing me ever closer into the wall I was sitting next to) until I’d finally had enough and decided to call him out right as the train was approaching my stop. I got up, grabbed my bag, and, right before I got off turned around and started to say something along the lines of “Hey, man, what’s your problem?” but before I could even get the whole question out, he jumped up, got right in my face (I’m 5’3, he was well over 6′ and had 150lbs on me, easy. This guy was HUGE.) and screamed “SHUT THE F*** UP YOU F***ING BITCH. F*** YOU”. I jumped off the train and ran, literally-ran, home, pausing just once to make sure he hadn’t gotten off the train and followed me. It was only once I was home with the door locked and a glass of whiskey in my hand that I realized how scared I was. So now I don’t say anything. I just tolerate the leg thing or I get up and move. Even having to stand for the whole trip is better than dealing with that shit again.

          2. Whoa, that’s really scary. I’m sorry that happened to you. All the same, I don’t think you were wrong to say something. At the very least, you forced him to show what a jerk he is to the entire car. But you also weren’t wrong to be scared and wouldn’t have been wrong to stay quiet if you’d chosen.

      2. I’m surprised he did it again in front of you (ok, behind you). Maybe he didn’t recognize you?

        I was groped on a bus once. This professional guy sat next to me and we chatted for a while, and he seemed really nice. Then after a while I fell asleep – I was coming back from the hospital and was exhausted and in pain, and this was a 2+hour trip – and woke up to find his hand on my thigh. I was so shocked that I couldn’t think of what to say, let alone translate it (this was in a foreign country), so I just jumped up, yelled something like “What the f&*k? No!”, and moved to a different seat.

        The guy slunk up to the front of the bus, and looked embarrassed. But over the next few months I ran into him several times on that same bus. He would take one look at me, look down at his shoes, then slink to a seat as far away from me as he could find! One time, though, the only open seat on the bus was right in front of me. I think my leg must have developed a muscle spasm, because it just kept kicking against that seat during the whole trip 😉

        I never caught him groping anyone else.

        1. “I’m surprised he did it again in front of you (ok, behind you). Maybe he didn’t recognize you?”

          My impression, based on how he was acting then and what I saw him do at bus stops, is that he’s retired and just rides the bus all day, harassing women. At which I figure all the women he harasses must blend together a lot into one faceless mass.

          Or maybe he just figured that he could get away with it even if I called him on it. Which seems to be the case, because even with all the detail I sent to the transit authority, they never even got back to me about it. He clearly hadn’t been banned in the several months before the first incident and last time I saw him.

          And frankly, I don’t think he will be. If he were shouting or actively groping with his hands? Maybe. But an old man who can claim to be hard of hearing, who was “just” stretching his legs? And oh, surely you misunderstood what he was saying, he was just talking to himself, you thought he was talking to you but he was singing along to his music, of course he wasn’t actually asking you to suck him off–

          I just don’t have much confidence in anything happening to these assholes when they are called on their bad behavior.

          1. I’ve sadly lost a lot of faith in the public transport authority where I live. A few months ago an older guy got on the bus and tried to sit on me–ON me–and then spent fifteen minutes harassing me when I told him no. Verbal, loud harassment, including all the gross stuff he’d like to do to me for denying him the seat (he had two perfectly fine legs and there were other open seats available). He also repeatedly threatened to hit me–like swinging punches at my head and stopping inches away. I was in a panic by the end of it and the bus driver refused to help. When I reported the incident and asked the tapes from the bus be pulled so the driver could get why I was so angry at him for not helping, they said no. Nothing else. Just no.

            Busses are the worst.

      3. Ughhhhhhh. I had a dude do that to me when I was pregnant, pinning me against the wall of the bus. He also used my thigh as an arm rest, jamming his elbow up against my abdomen. I yelled at him LOUDLY asking him what the fuck he was doing, I was not an arm rest, and he jumped and scrambled away from me. I’m VERY used to men trying to shove me around on public transit, especially where their legs and precious ballspace are concerned, but this was just beyond the pale.

    3. Re ‘shockingly, not never’: yeah. So, one summer day I’m in my car, with the window down because it’s hot, and without a bra on because it’s hot, and I’m stopped at the lights, and the guy in the car next to me says “Excuse me.” And I assume he’s going to say “you have a flat tyre” or “what street is this?” or something like that. But no, he says “Do your boobs touch the steering wheel?” And my hearing’s not all that great, and I say “what?” and he says “DO YOUR BOOBS TOUCH THE STEERING WHEEL?” and he and his other bloke friend laugh uproariously as I hastily close the windows, suddenly spiralling back into “It’s because I’m fat. It’s because I didn’t wear a bra today. It’s because I had the window open” and so on, and it takes me at least half an hour to recollect that none of those would be sufficient reasons for me to harass a stranger.

    4. I have been a rescuer before- once a guy was really getting in the face of an exchange student who was asking me some questions on the bus. He just started trying to butt in and ask very personal questions. She seemed so uncomfortable and unsure how to deal with it, so I said to him “we’re having a private conversation and we are not interested in talking to you,” and he backed off instantly. I’ve also just gone up to women whose body language looked uncomfortable with the guy talking to them and engaged them in a conversation, either pretending we were friends, or asking them a question about what they were wearing, etc. They welcomed the diversion.

      Most important I think is the knowledge that someone *sees you* and cares.

      1. I just confronted a guy at the gas station who was chatting up two young women. The one pumping gas looked uncomfortable and was pressing her lips together and shaking her head. Then he went and leaned into the car to talk to the other one. I walked up and loudly said “Excuse me, do you know this man? Is he bothering you?”

        She said “I’m fine, thank you.”

        He burst into loud pretend laughter and asked if I “was serious”, followed by “I can’t believe that shit!” To me that’s not the response of “I’m her friend Joe just saying hi.”

        As I drove off, she waved to me. I think I did the right thing there.

      2. That’s my tactic, too. ‘Sarah, hi! Oh, sorry, you look like a friend of mine. Hey, do you know where this bus stops?’ and so on. Just give them an out.

      3. I’ve rescued before as well.
        On a city street, these 3 teenage girls, no older than 14-16, were using the (open, not in a stall) ATM. I was hanging back waiting to use it with my son. Suddenly this homeless guy comes RIGHT UP behind them, while they are getting their money, and starts to ask for change/be a general creep to them. They all cringe toward the wall and machine, effectively pinned there.
        I said, “HEY. Why don’t you keep moving, pal?” and took a step toward him.
        Luckily, probably because the street was pretty public, he replied “Yes, ma’am!” and slunk off. I watched to make sure he really was going and that he wouldn’t flip out and start stalking me or the girls. He started asking other people for money a little ways up the street and the situation resolved with no abuse.
        The girls dissolved into nervous giggles and thanked me. They then crossed the street on their way, so they wouldn’t have to be on his side.

        I don’t like to be an asshole to the homeless, but upon further reflection, this guy was way too aggressive, in a very calculating way, and my gut told me to act. He chose teenage girls because he guessed (correctly) that they would be too young and embarrassed to say anything, and this pissed me off. He violated ATM etiquette by getting up right close to them, where he could’ve done anything, like attack them or steal the cash.
        He could have easily turned on me, I guess, but I didn’t feel in danger for myself. I get pretty mama-bear sometimes, and lucky for me I *can* be intimidating in stature (I’ve had people tell me this: I’m tall, big and have bitch-face). But my stature hasn’t *always* protected me from harassment. 😦

    5. Why wouldn’t you want to be The Rescuer? I really like it :-). Now that I’m older and less likely to be hit on (halleluyah! I’ll take menopause over youth any time) I’m perfectly happy to fly to the rescue of younger women when I see it happening. Often they’re shocked at first at such vocabulary coming from under white hair :-). But I like to think I’m setting a good example. We’re bred to be polite, but polite is just not a necessity, or even a possibility, when facing one of those creeps.

      Seriously, the only times people have come to my rescue when I was dealing in public with a guy who was too large/enraged for comfort, it was always women. So I feel I OWE the female kind some payback. I may have occasionally been too chicken to defend myself, but I’ll never be too chicken to defend another woman. Besides, most bullies are cowards deep down, they’ll back off if you defend yourself, and in any case of them them will always back off when you have help.

      1. I think what carbonatedwit meant was that she wanted to help people in this situation, but didn’t want to make the rescuing All About Her, which is something I’ve worried about too when I tried to help. When I see a possible Creepy Dude situation cropping up near me, I get very paranoid that maybe this guy is not actually creepy. The one time I did step in, I had the confidence to do so only because the evidence was OVERWHELMINGLY in favor of This Dude Doesn’t Know Her And She’s Freaked Out.

        The really weird thing about the one time I tried to help was that after I stepped in and the creepy guy left — probably not my doing, he just happened to be getting off at that stop, I think — three or four of the people surrounding me and the victim congratulated me for being ~*so brave,*~ which annoyed me at the time — why hadn’t they stepped in? But they were probably having the same doubtful thoughts I was, especially since anyone bothered by Creepy Dude Harassment is probably thoroughly socially conditioned to NOT butt in on conversations/demand attention.

        Thinking about it as a victim of Creepy Dude Harassment, I’d really like to have had a rescuer, preferably someone who is unlikely to turn around and creepily harass me some more. As a bystander, though, I tend to worry I’m doing something terribly wrong if I step in.

  22. Seriously, I just. I hate it. I have only been living in a city with mass transit for about a year, but seriously: FUCK THOSE GUYS. I am not on the train to make conversation. I am on the train to either go to work, where I am paid to be polite to people, or on my way home, where I can relax after what was probably a long day of dealing with aggravation at work, or to see friends that I am CHOOSING to spend my time with. I am not on the train for the Red Line meeting of book club. I am not on the train to have an involved conversation about why I love the color pink so much. The train is a means to an end and I am not there to chat.

  23. Sometimes it feels like a certain type of harasser goes out of [his] way to pursue women when it is most inconvenient and they are least likely to be interested. Last night I (woman) went to the gay night at a local club and I had to pick up and remove countless men’s hands. Many of these men immediately tried again (!!) or told me not to be rude (!!!!!!!!!). The underlying message being there is no sanctuary, there is no escape, no privacy, there is nothing you are doing that cannot be interrupted in order to revert your to your function as decorative and sexual property.

    I can’t always tell how conscious the power play is, but sometimes I’m like HOLY CRAP YOU ARE REALLY UPSET THAT I GET TO MAKE ANY DECISIONS FOR MYSELF UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES.

    1. “a certain type of harasser goes out of [his] way to pursue women when it is most inconvenient and they are least likely to be interested.”

      Yep, it’s got nothing at all to do with attraction. It’s a power play.

      For the Painfully Literal Dudes there is a very simple rule they need to memorize. It applies when chatting at strangers on the el and in many other situations.

      The Rule of Two

      You can make one friendly (or “friendly”) remark without going over the line. If you do not get a friendly reply (that is, you get silence, a glare, or a short answer cutting off communication) then you have a choice. Do you go for the second friendly remark? OK, if you want to be a little bit of a jerk but might possibly have misunderstood the first response.

      Now for the rule of two: Two overtures of friendship that are spurned are the absolute maximum before you cross over into harassment. Stop at one: Excellent. Stop at two: OK. Continue after two: Harassment. Stop it right now.

      It’s a simple rule that even a Painfully Literal Dude can understand and implement. If he wants to.

      (Jedi hugs to CA from another el traveller.)

        1. Wouldn’t it be awesome if there were Public Service posters with the Rule of Two on all public transit!?!

      1. I was once told by a guy I was alone with in an elevator that he was going to rape me. When I immediately pressed all the buttons so that the elevator would stop at the next floor so I could get out, he said “Godddddd…. Don’t you know I’m *GAY*”

        Fun fact: gay men can be misogynistic assholes too. Sigh.

  24. I care not one hit if the Painfully Awkward Dude feels bad over my complete disinterest in talking to him. Because his feelings? Are so not my monkey.

  25. a few summers ago I got a really cool gig through my temp agency. I got paid to ride around on Metra trains on the weekend and count how many passengers got on and off at different stops. When you’re a short chick in a neon yellow vest standing in a train vestibule, people talk to you. Some people assume you work for the train and can answer questions about ticket prices and what stop is coming up next, some people just want to chat. Most people are totally awesome! Some are creepy creepers.

    Two experiences really stand out, both involving dudes who asked where I live.

    One was a guy who’d just moved to Chicago from a small town in another state. We talked about the town he was from and about Chicago and fun things to see and do in Chicago. He asked me where I lived in a general “what neighborhood” kind of way, compared it to where he lived, asked some questions about grocery stores and rent. It was conversation. He would have had a similar conversation with another dude or with an old woman. We both asked questions and gave answers. There was no power imbalance, no demands made. I would have liked to have continued the conversation, maybe made plans to get together for board games etc because he seemed like a cool dude, and he was looking for friends and social stuff, but I was working so I didn’t.

    Another guy was part of a group of guys who were drunk and rowdy. The leader of the guys kept staring at my chest and demanding to know my name, my marital status, and where I lived. He didn’t ask, he DEMANDED. While I was trying to do passenger count, he waved his hands in front of my face and screamed random numbers out. He asked if I was a dyke, then asked if he could watch. It was an imposition. There was no give and take. He was in a position where he had, or felt he had, power and I was stuck.

    Later, on our break, I (and other workers) were told that we could totally report this shit to the train conductor. One worker, empowered by this, reported a passenger later for calling her a n– b– and the passenger was ejected from the train. Not surprisingly, it was women workers who were bothered and harassed by passengers. Male workers were NOT. Because, again, the power thing. The status thing.

    I take public transit a LOT, and I read on the train. I’ve had really good conversations with people, including dudes, over what I’m reading. But those conversations always start out respectfully, sometimes even apologetically. “I’m sorry, I know it’s rude to interrupt, but I saw you were reading X. How do you like it?” IE, they acknowledge that they are potentially being rude, and will back off if I’m not interested, but are gambling that I want to discuss a thing I’m showing interest in. It’s an overture, not a demand for my time.

    And that’s what I always want to tell Nice Guys Who Just Don’t UNDERSTAND Why Women Don’t Talk To Them. It’s not about your face, it’s about your approach. You aren’t making overtures, you’re making DEMANDS. You aren’t saying “hi,” you’re saying “LOOK AT ME, I’M MORE IMPORTANT THAN WHATEVER YOU’RE DOING.” And that’s tedious and irritating and, often, threatening. Because seriously, I don’t want to tell you where I live because I don’t want to see you again. And when I don’t respond to you, and you keep badgering me, that tells me that you have no clear sense of boundaries and don’t know what “no” looks like, and baby, I do not need that in my life.

    1. I think those “how not to be a creep” posts would be a lot more constructive if they had more comments like this in them rather than just telling men nobody owes them an explanation for how not to wrong-foot people. I mean, duh, but men are going to keep hitting on women, might as well channel that into something healthier and more productive via constructive advice.

      1. “Women, be more constructive! Men can’t control their urges, so you have to “channel” it in constructive ways.”

        Bull fucking shit, Drew.

        1. I get what you’re saying in the dynamic of “men are all rapists and can’t control their urges and so women have to dress like mennonites.” But I don’t think men are going to stop asking women out on dates in public any time soon – why not tell them how to do it in ways that don’t put women in fear for their safety?

          I think with this kind of thing pointing out how not to make people threatened is especially important because it is very gendered – men don’t fear for their safety in public and would be quite flattered were women to hit on them on a bus. A man who hasn’t thought through implications of gendered privilege, may not realize what an imposition he was making on somebody.

          Me personally I don’t see how you could ask somebody out on a bus without it putting someone on the defensive for all the reasons in the thread – stranger who is a captive audience. But it seems like an unequivocally good thing to teach people to not make demands of people’s time or attention in public.

          I’m not arguing with Alphakitty’s point that one is not at fault for failing to educate people – as all the posts on the topic have pointed out one doesn’t “owe” any particular creep anything.

          But from a practical, pragmatic stance, if you actually want to curb creeping behavior by the well intentioned but inept or clueless, it probably helps to use vignettes like these to “operationalize” the broader principle that “women don’t owe you . . . time, attention” etc. by raising the concept of “demand” versus “overture.” Does trying to educate men automatically require the underlying assumption to be something as problematic as “men are brutes who will prey on women unless we educate them?”

          1. You need to read more of the archives. We, collectively, have covered this issue up one side and down the other. We shouldn’t have to cover it all AGAIN every time someone wants to vent their frustration and some relatively well-meaning guy like yourself happens across the thread and starts thinking about the issue like it’s brand new (and all about what men need to be good). That’s part of the pissed-offed-ness about it being Women’s job to educate Men. We DO have other things to do with our lives, you know.

          2. People have done that. Then they had to moderate the comments like woah because apparently nothing pisses off cis men like helpfully explaining how to ask women out in a respectful manner that doesn’t scare them.

          3. We’ve covered this a lot. Here. On feminist blogs elsewhere.

            As I said in the OP, I don’t give a shit if I made you feel bad, and I don’t give a shit about educating you or these theoretical men in a way that feels sufficiently “constructive.” I also think your habit of “being friendly” on the train probably makes you a giant nuisance, and many people are just too polite to tell you to your face.

            You should leave this website and go here. You are being like, 10 of these people right now.

          4. I’m well aware of that site from reading comment threads on a variety of sites, but I certainly didn’t mean to embody any of them, so will zip up on this thread.

          5. ‘men don’t fear for their safety in public and would be quite flattered were women to hit on them on a bus. ‘

            You know, I hear/read that from men every now and then (‘I’d love it if women hit on me!’) and I wonder what they’re thinking. Imagine the most ugly/old/fat/unattractive/smelly woman you can–whatever characteristics squick you, personally, out…and then imagine her hitting on you on a bus. How flattered are you?

          6. Yeah. I had to go into “imagine it was a *dude*, one who was bigger than you are,” and “remember that time J(female) pantsed your boxers when you were wearing a kilt?” to get across to my boyfriend just how icky it was.

          7. Unfortunately even asking them to imagine a huge gay guy doesn’t get across exactly how terrifying it is because in many places in the Western world a straight guy can literally get away with killing a gay guy who hits on him. 😦 Imagine if a woman reached the end of her rope and brutally murdered a guy who’d been harassing her. *That* would go well.

          8. Perfectly ordinary people of whatever gender have started conversations with me on the bus, and it creeps me the hell out because I don’t want to talk to anyone then but don’t know how to disengage without feeling like I’m the one who’s being the jerk.

            Not once have I felt flattered.

          9. The other issue I have with your posts is your determination to engage in terms of “what Women need to do to teach the poor clueless Men who are not all evil bees, just misguided.”. It’s a classic: a woman just wants to vent to some friends in a safe soace about a few crappy experiences she’s had. It’s all about “aaaaaagh! This sucks! I am so fucking sick of feeling like going out in public while female makes creepy guys consider me fair game!!!!”. Her goal, the goal of venters, is to release the pressure in her chest before she explodes. She wants to commiserate with other women out here about it, because she KNOWS it is not anything she’s doing that’s bringing this on, just being female on public transit. She even said specifically that she wasn’t opening a brainstorming session on how to deal with it, because (Jenna Marble aside) she knows full well there is no magic combination of words or expressions that will proactively prevent these incidents or make them end swiftly without further escalation. She just wanted to vent, and by sharing her story, to support other women experiencing this because it does help to be reminded “this is universal experience, not something you’ve brought on yourself by stepping on a crack, wearing the wrong clothes, or shopping at the wrong store.”

            So what does she get from WIG (well-intentioned guy)? A white horse experience from some guy who thinks he comes bearing news that not all men are like that, with some Helpful Suggestions about how Women can handle these things and Teach Men to do Better. In short, a lovely spot of Mansplaining about how guys are just clueless, not brutes. “let me show you how to fix that, Ladies.”

            Which just leads to a whole ‘nother round of aaaaugh!

            If you were listening, you’d get that we know guys can be awesome. That we’ve done our best to train up the clueless. But a lot of those men are not so much clueless as entitled and some of them are really scary and it is not our job to take them by the hand and lead them into the light.

            If you’re so well-intentioned, and any combination of words will change ManUnkind, how about YOU take up the baton for a few laps?

            Oh, and by they way if you read StreetLuv (there’s a link from a post) you’ll see teaching guys to hit on women on the street in a non-scary way is not the point. EVERY way that involves expectation of a pleased response (and many that don’t) just serves to remind women of their status as prey. So if you want to Teach Good Men to Do Better, teach them to knock it off.

          10. But I don’t think men are going to stop asking women out on dates in public any time soon


          11. Because then nobody will ever meet a romantic partner ever and then the species will die off and it will all be because of those man-hating feminists!

          12. You think men don’t get this? How many of them are annoyed by overzealous charity workers, religious proselytizers and panhandlers? It doesn’t take a genius to realize these are similar behaviors– but it does take someone who doesn’t assume women existing in public aren’t there for other people’s benefit.

            And yes, there are bitch sessions and there is constructive criticism. They both exist, in spades, for people who honestly want them.



            Short-answer takeaway, watch for body language and be as respectful of it as you would of your boss’s body language. Do not approach women under conditions in which they might feel endangered. Do not assume anyone owes you anything. Bear in mind that your failure to respect a woman’s nonverbal response is red flag for her.

            You’re welcome.

      2. How Not to Be a Creep Lessons 1-125, all rolled into one: Don’t act like women owe you any damned thing (e.g., time, attention, smiles, dates, sex, or lessons on how to be a decent human being) and that your bad behavior is their fault for failing to educate or manage men better.

      3. You’re assuming that this conversation is (or should be) for the benefit of educating men. The Captain can correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe this thread was for the purpose of women letting off steam and trying to get the wrong, disgusting ideas out of their heads.

        You haven’t learned that it’s not all about teh menz yet, have you?

        1. I wasn’t saying -this- thread should be about teh menz, I was saying in threads ABOUT teh menz, i.e. advice threads re how to/to not be creepers, this stuff should be raised as concrete examples of ways to behave better. I also think that if men read all of these stories they would have a better understanding of what the other sex experiences on a bus ride, which could only improve behavior.

          I would think a stereotypical “about the men” post would include some explanation that “not all men are like that” and an admonishment to the person sharing the story that they should have done something different/better, in order to blame the woman for the harassment she undeservedly received.

          1. That still boils down to “you shouldn’t say what you want to say, you should say something that is good for teh menz.” Which is exactly the attitude that this thread is about, if subtler.

          2. On further reflection, let me try saying it another way. (And again, Captain, please correct me if I’m misrepresenting anything.)

            If your first comment had been “As a guy who’s trying to figure this stuff out, your explanation of ‘demand’ vs. ‘overture’ is really useful. Thanks!” it would have been well received. You’d possibly even get a “good to know, I’ll try to do that more often then” in reply.

            Instead you informed us that We’re Doing It Wrong, and you were here to tell us How It Should Be Done. It’s a textbook example of mansplaining and hits more than a few nerves, as you’ve doubtlessly noticed by now. A woman giving prescriptive How To Handle The Patriarchy advice would also get a similar telling-off, but it’s more irritating coming from a guy who is trying to be feminist but still showing patriarchal attitudes. So that’s why you got a big dose of eye rolling and STFU. Your opinion of what’s effective when trying to explain this stuff to men is welcome. Expressing that opinion in a way that implies you know better than we do and what we should be doing with this space, not so much.

            Hope that helps clarify a bit. Examining yourself for unconscious biases is really, really cringe inducing, but it does make us better people.

      4. Women do not exist solely to be Public Service Educators for Socially Awkward Guys and Creepers. We are not obliged to educate them as to why they should just leave us the fuck alone already.

        Here’s an idea; you’re a guy and you’re taking time to educate yourself. so how about YOU start educating your fellow brethren how to be decent people instead of creeps and harassers, instead of victim-blaming and insisting it’s up to us to persuade them to stop harassing us? That’s like telling a woman she’s obliged to inform her rapist why what he did was Bad and Wrong. It doesn’t work that way.

  26. Great post. I am sorry you had such bad encounters. Your post did inspire me though to add the complete silence non-response in my repertoire of possible responses the next time this stuff happens.

  27. One of the few “pros” of living in a small town is that street harassment is pretty unlikely. Though that means that the few times it has happened really really threw me off guard.
    One time that I’ll never forget: I was 8 1/2 months pregnant (so clearly, REALLY showing, especially in my tank top and sweats) and went to the grocery store with my boyfriend. We split up inside, and I got out to the car first so I pulled out my phone to call him and some guy who was driving down that aisle slowed down right next to me and shouted “No need to call, I’m right here, sweetie” and winked before driving off.
    Seriously, how was that ‘okay’? Thanks for making the pregnant lady feel uncomfortable going to the fucking grocery store, asshole.

    1. Ugh. So sorry that happened to you.

      Once, when standing in line to pick my eldest up at jr. high, pregnant and with two little ones in tow, a guy in line behind us gave me the up-and-down leering eyeball grope and then commented, “Welllllllll, looks like you’re been busy, figured out how that happens yet?” Cue letcherous sneer.

      I stared right at him and demanded how the hell dare he talk to me like that, he didn’t know me, and he had no right to act like that to a woman he doesn’t even know. The whole line went silent and uncomfortable. I chose to believe that they were embarrassed for him for being such an arse, rather than uncomfortable with me for sticking up for myself. (even though experience has taught me better)

    2. Ugh, that really sucks. What is it with these guys? I’m convinced it has to be strictly a power thing with them. ? I’m currently in my 5th month with a pretty clear bump and a wedding ring. Last week, I stopped a guy from walking in front of a bus in London that he didn’t see coming. (it’s an awkward street corner) Anyway, he thanked me, then told me he loved my accent, where was I from? When I said America, he all of a sudden started talking about how he never ‘made it’ with an American woman, you know just once with an American woman before he dies, etc etc etc, how about you baby?If I hadn’t been between Horse Guards Parade (where there’s guards on horses) and Downing Street (where there’s cops with machine guns) I would have been terrified. I just saved this guy’s life and all he wants to do is creep me out? Wtf?

    3. How is it that every pregnant woman I know has gotten the most disgusting street harassment (and sometimes assault) of her life? Someone should do a big expose, because it’s disgusting. It’s bad enough street harassment is something we’re supposed to either put up with (or even be flattered by) from, oh, age 9-90, but while we’re physically vulnerable? Ugrhhrh.

      1. My theory is that when Dudebro is walking along and sees a pregnant woman, it’s like this neon sign that a “female” (god I hate when people use that term to talk about people) had sex. With another guy. Who isn’t him. And that just really pisses him off, because all the hot women in the world are for him. But he can’t take it out on who he’s actually mad at because that’s just wrong, and also he might get his arse beat, so instead he tries to bring down that harlot who dared sleep with someone else even though she’d never even met him and also he’s a complete douche, and lauding his sexual power over her is both the easiest and, to Dudebro, the most apropos/poetic way to do that – her crime was having sex so he’ll treat her like a whore. It took me a while to work through that line of reasoning, because it’s gross and requires you to accept that there are people who honestly feel that entitled, but I feel like it might be at least partly true. :-/

  28. Arrrgh, my blood boils with rage on your behalf! I don’t have anything helpful to say. Just, arrrgh!!!

  29. Me: “By ‘good book,’ do you mean the kind where you get so immersed in the story that you shut out everything that’s happening around you because you want to find out what happens next?“

    Him: “Yeah.“

    Me: :stares at him for a good while, watching it slowly sink in:

    Me: :goes back to reading:

    Please enjoy the complimentary 10,000 of your internet babies I just had.

  30. Ick. I had one of these happen yesterday night: I was in the liquor store with my husband shopping for beer, and this dude came up behind me, touched my back, and made some comment about how I must be cold in my jacket. I moved away from him, chatting cheerfully about the weather, and dodging his creepy questions. Him: “You must get hot in the summer.” Me: “The weather does change between the winter and the summer. Isn’t that something?” My husband gave him the you-are-an-idiot look (I have seen it stop entitled students dead in their tracks) but this was all apparently too subtle for him. We were paying and leaving anyway, but we got out the door without this dude realizing that his attention was unwanted.

    Captain, I love your response of stony silence. I’m going to practice that.

    Also, I cannot believe that fucker touched me.

    Also, while I agree that advice to victims of sexual harassment is a load of pointless victim-blaming, I would like to see more discussion of what bystanders can do to intervene. A lot of this crap happens directly in front of other people. On that note: MIT’s “Active Bystanders” program. (I’m not affiliated; it’s just a good idea that deserves a signal boost.)

    1. Although hmm, the Active Bystanders site seems not to have been kept up much since 2004, when I heard about it. Oh well. Still a good idea.

  31. Now see, I can almost imagine this situation playing out as part of a quirky rom-com featuring Awkward but Ultimately Good Guy and Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

    AUGG -”Excuse me, I said: ‘Is that a good book?’“

    MPDG: “By ‘good book,’ do you mean the kind where you get so immersed in the story that you shut out everything that’s happening around you because you want to find out what happens next?“

    AUGG: “Yeah.“

    MPDG: :stares at him for a good while, watching it slowly sink in:

    MPDG: :goes back to reading:

    AUGG: “……Sorry.” (sarcastic)

    MPDG instantly realized that AUGG has just been beaten down by a lifetime of dissapointments and responsibilities. She takes his cell phone and her book and throws them both out the window of the subway car. Then she grabs his hand, takes the next stop, and leads him on a whirlwind adventure through a strange part of the city. They make Teh Sexytimes. There is a Comical Misunderstanding. There is a Friend’s Party where AUGG realizes how he can fix everything. AUGG apologizes, and MPDG forgives instantly. Happily Ever After! ::cue poppy-folk music::

    1. Or alternatively, MPDG forgives and then reveals her terminal illness and they have a fated last date where he shows her something beautiful to remind her of how wonderful life is and then she dies because we know the whole purpose of a MPDG is to save the AUGG.

      1. The best part of this exchange is that AUGG is exactly the noise my heart makes when I encounter one.

  32. I had this on a train home from a gig once. I’d developed a crippling migraine so was sitting as still as possible, sunglasses on (at night, yes – artificial lights were agony), trying to focus on not throwing up before I got to my stop. A couple of guys sitting opposite tried to strike up a conversation and when they only got a couple of grunts in reply one of them started KICKING MY BOOT to get me to pay attention.

    I was wearing New Rocks. He’s lucky I didn’t kick back.

    1. UGH. I’m sorry that happened to you.

      I’m thinking “Can’t talk. Trying not to throw up on you” might be a really effective unwanted-conversation-killer, tho.

      1. Luckily, his mate finally got the message and told him to stop being a twat. But honestly, he was drunk enough that it could’ve gone:

        “Can’t talk, trying not to puke.”
        “Oh, really? What’s wrong? Do you want some water? I once drank so much that I threw up purple… Oh hey, babes, I’ve got something that’ll take your mind off it.” blah blah blah

        I think I might reserve “Can’t talk, trying not to puke” for special occasions, though!

  33. So much solidarity. This is part of the reason I don’t leave the house much to begin with. It gets exhausting navigating strangers’ emotions. It also makes me angry that every time I step out the door, I wonder what’s going to happen to me today. Even though, most of the time, nothing happens. It has just happened enough in the past that now I involuntarily associate going outside with unwelcome attention that occasionally turns threatening or violent.

  34. I also want to add that the first time I read you say “I’m comfortable with you feeling bad” on this blog, it completely changed something for me. I remind myself of it often: I can choose to be okay with other people feeling bad when warranted. It is not my job to take on all the bad feelings in the world in other to take care of others’ (most often, perfect strangers’) emotions. I so wish this was something I had known as a teen or in my 20s.

    1. Yes. The “but you’ll make people feel bad” argument elevates the other person’s emotions over all other considerations, including my comfort, my physical safety, and my goddamn book. Why the hell are their feelings the most important thing in this equation? Especially when they’re the one being rude and entitled?

      My book > your feelings.

      1. WORD.

        Especially when you have been moving around the bus for the last fifteen minutes, what, looking at me from different angles? “Trying to read the title of your book” my ass. *shudder*

      2. Right! Related: one of my favorite responses to people saying you’re “oversensitive” to something bothersome is to say “No, you’re undersensitive to this” and let them parse it out.

        Fuck everyone, man.

      3. Can we make bookmarks that have “My book > Your feelings” printed at the top in big, bold letters?

        It wouldn’t stop every asshat out there, but it would certainly help cultivate that “Fuck right the fuck off” feeling. 🙂

    2. This so very, very much.

      I am not a feelings babysitter. It is my job to manage my emotions. I do not have to manage those of a random stranger on the bus. If RS feels bad because I don’t want to talk to him, that is officially not my problem.

  35. I swear, late spring and early fall, those are the seasonal peaks of public transit entitlement bingo. I coud go on, but I have a feeling that the entire Army knows what I am talking about.
    (looks at comment thread)
    Yup, yup, you do.

  36. Yesterday, on the Blue Line, towards Logan Square: Guy sees I got Piece Pizza to go, and asks me if it’s pepperoni. I’m in a very good mood — as I said, Piece Pizza!! — so I good-naturedly make a face — ew, not pepperoni. (I’m a vegetarian)

    Dude freaks out at me. “So what, we can’t even talk to each other? LORD FORBID WE ACT LIKE HUMAN BEINGS!” starts shaking his head.

    Public ownership of women. We’re alive so we can make them feel loved and wanted, remember? :/

    1. I saw a comment on Metafilter once that described this attitude as a perception of women as an “ATM for attention.” I laughed out loud at that, it was so perfect. And at that time, the owner of the company I worked for was a complete narcissist, so he was 100x worse than your average guy about this. One time I was trying to go home at the end of the day and he kept me there for an extra 20 minutes telling me about some stupid reality TV show; I made sure to put down that time on my time card because it certainly was work on my part to pretend to be interested (and if he hadn’t been my boss, I wouldn’t have listened).

  37. It’s not just public transit, as has been pointed out.

    I hate shopping at Wal Mart any time of day (and it’s one of two choices for the things we buy, and my last resort if Other Store doesn’t have what I want), but I REALLY hate shopping at Wal Mart by myself late at night. I swear to God, the creepers come out of the woodwork, and they are trying on “nice” like it’s a disguise to cover their creepy selves.

    It doesn’t work.

    The creepy always comes out. Last week, I had to make an emergency run to Wal Hell, and some guy who had to be the same age as my DAD (Dad is 68, I’m 37) started trying to hit on me…..after several rounds of creepy staring.

    Him: So, you come here often?
    Me: Are you fucking kidding me? This is fucking WAL MART, at 2AM, and you’re going to fucking HIT ON ME? How old do you think I am, hmmm?
    Him: *caught off guard by my attack stance* Uh, uh, like, twenty-one?
    Me: Point of fact, I’m THIRTY FUCKING SEVEN. I’m old enough to know what the fuck you’re doing, and even if I was twenty-one, you’re too fucking old to be hitting on me. Either way, you’re old enough to be my FATHER, plus you are being a creepy motherfucker. Why don’t you just fuck right off then, hmm?
    Him: I could make you do what I want, you know. (Oh look, the REAL intent comes out)
    Me: And I can whip out my pepper spray, make you cry like a little baby, and then have you arrested for sexually assaulting me….where you will meet my husband, who will be your booking officer, and my brother, who will arrange your home incarceration should you be lucky enough to get that. Like I said, why don’t you just fuck right off, then?

    He left me alone after that, but I was PISSED. Who the fuck did he think he was? And why did I have to let him know that I would not allow him to hurt me, and let him know that I had people in law enforcement watching my back? Why was it okay for this asshat to hit on me? In Wal Mart? At 2AM?

    1. Holy cats, I feel your pain. Being sent to Wal-Mart by myself at 2 am was actually used as a punishment when I was married. I’m still terrified of that place.

      1. Wow, that’s horrible on a lot of levels–not just the sexual harassment, but the idea of a spouse who thinks it’s OK to punish you by sending you somewhere where you’re not safe from harassment. It’s awesome that you’re out of that marriage and in a safer situation.

        1. Yeah, the punishment was supposed to make me remember how much I needed and valued his protection the rest of the time, and how he could (and did) revoke his protection whenever I did something bad. Nice to not be in that situation any more.

          1. Oh god, reading this and thinking wtf??? Because seriously, that is HORRIBLE. I’m so glad you don’t have to put up with it anymore.

    2. Him: I could make you do what I want, you know.

      Holy shit! That is actually a threat, isn’t it? What an entitled, hateful creep.

      1. That was definitely an actual threat. Somehow, I felt less than threatened, probably because I knew that I had enough stuff around me that I could take care of myself if need be. I shouldn’t have had to be in that position, though. Asshole.

    3. I’ve heard lots of horrible creepy stuff about that place. Fortunately I have never been in one, I guess.

      He SERIOUSLY directly threatened to coerce you in a public wall mart???!!! Is he stupid? Mpst of these guys are just being harrassing, not coercive! Although if he were smart, he would have at LEAST had a little more tact at first.

      1. *snort*

        Yeah, I know it’s stupid. But you know what? The older I get, the more I realize that Mama Gump was right. Stupid is as stupid does.

    4. I avoid Walmart like the plague. After working there as a teenager, I’ve had my fair share of creepy old men, stalkers and men cornering me while I’m trying to do my job. I’ll never step foot in that place until I have to… there’s plenty of other stores but Walmart takes the cake on creepy customers.

  38. I’m also a transit user. I’ve been propositioned as a prostitute and a couple of people have tried to get me jazzed on Jesus, but I’ve never encountered anything so awful as this.

    Not only are you being asked very personal questions (What’s in the bag? Where do you do your shopping? Are you a student?), these men are demanding that you engage them in a very aggressive manner. I’m pretty sure I’d lose my collective shit. I’d definitely use my words, but they’d be some creatively blue words.

    If someone if feeling friendly and wants to be annoying and chit chat about the weather or how late the bus is or something, fine. If someone’s coming onto you by suggesting that you perform a domestic chore for him or asking you about other locations you frequent so he might stalk you at a later date? Not fine!

  39. Seriously fuck this noise. The apartment building where I live has balconies; one day when I was walking up the sidewalk to my balcony, I noticed that some dudebros on the fourth floor were yelling c*nt and throwing ice cubes at every woman who walked by, because I guess its fun for them to watch us duck and try not to get hit? Fuck them.

    1. I keep pausing on this comment because the fact that they’re doing it from the place where at least one of them lives just REALLY shows how brazen guys are about this sort of behaviour. They know they face exactly no negative consequences for it.

  40. I had just got on the commuter bus from Santa Fe to Albuquerque. I got a seat in the back. This guy sits down next to me and talks to me for 45 minutes. He was mentioned that he was married. Since I’m a guy I assume he wasn’t trying to pick me up. But I spent half an hour wishing he would shut up. I put my ear buds in my ears and turned on my iPod and he kept on talking. The bus only makes one stop so I knew he was getting off where I was getting off. For the next several months every time we waited for the same bus he would talk to me. He wasn’t that bad of a guy he was just effin’ annoying.

    1. From your description, it sounds like he didn’t make you feel physically threatened or treat you as a piece of meat that he had certain rights to. That’s the difference between your story and the Captain’s.

      1. It’s all a continuum, eh? My area hasn’t got much in the way of Creepy Dudes, but now I know the Intrusive Boundary-Crossing Talkers in my neighbourhood, and they’re all older women who will do their level best to draw you into an unpleasant conversation where they grab you with weirdly strong hands and talk at you about their former career in the army/how awful Chinese people are/why Israel should wipe Muslims off the face of the earth.

        It’s a behaviour that can happen from any gender, to any gender. It’s just that in one configuration, it’s hella lot nastier, and ties into scary-dangerous dynamics about behaviour and safety.

        I guess I just see people in my own life who discount dangerous, manipulative, or creepy situations as “not a big deal” because it’s not male-perpetrator/female-victim.

        1. Yes, definitely a continuum. Though I suspect a lot of guys don’t realize that – most guys I know have rarely if ever been afraid for their safety, they haven’t been propositioned by someone bigger and stronger and unpleasant whom they’re expected to be nice to. And it certainly doesn’t happen on a regular basis. So a subset of those guys apparently think that their experiences at the low end of the obnoxious spectrum are representative of everyone’s, and can’t understand why we make such a big deal about it. They deal with it quite easily, after all.

          File this under “yet another definition of privilege”.

          That’s worrying that people in your life write stuff off because the genders don’t match the expected stereotypes. I’ve seen some ‘hey, abuse and DV take lots of forms’ messages outside the blogosphere, but not a whole lot. Society will get there… some day…

  41. I’m so glad you’re talking about this Captain Awkward. I actually haven’t had many experiences with really pushy guys luckily but I have had experiences with guys being weirdly chivalrous at me.

    One time, I was at the bank walking out and approaching the automatic door at the same time a guy about my age was walking out. It looked like we’d get to the door at the same time so I slowed down slightly just to get a bit more space between us so we didn’t collide at the door. But instead of just going through the doorway the dude stopped, said “No, ladies first” and waited till I walked through. This was all fine and I said a quick thanks and was continuing to walk in the opposite direction from him and he yells out “No worries, there should be more guys like me around!” and looked at me expectantly, like I was supposed to thank him again, or agree, or something? He acted like he had just done me this big favor and I was supposed to…be really grateful, I guess? I think I just looked at him strangely and said “yeah…” and walked away because this dude was actually far enough away from me that he was yelling all this at me on the street. It’s not like a guy has never let me go first through a door but usually after I thank him he just walks off, or maybe if he’s feeling really communicative says “no worries” and walks away.

    Another time I was waiting to cross a busy road and was standing pretty close to the road on the footpath when this guy behind me said “You know, it really worries me, you standing so close to the road”. And at first I didn’t realise he was talking to me but he said it again so I turned around and said “sorry, what?”. He went, “It really worries me, you standing so close the road, there’s so many cars and there’s crazy drivers around” all the while looking at me expectantly like I’m supposed to…do what, again? I said something like “Yeah well, I live on the edge I guess” and turned around as the walk sign came on and I crossed the road.

    Both of these times the guys just had this weird, expectant expression on their faces. I’ve second guessed myself and think maybe I’m the crazy one, that I’m some feminazi who can’t accept guys doing favours for her. But in neither of these cases were the guys really doing me a favor, to my mind, and it seemed more like they were trying to turn a totally neutral situation into a situation where they are helping me and I’m supposed to then reciprocate with… something.

    Anyway I guess I was just wondering if this happens to other people as well when you are out and about.

    1. Curb guy=WHAT A WEIRDO. That is legit treating you like a child. Not even chivalrous. Just weird.

      As for door guy, I hate it when people do that. I’ve never had someone beg for attention afterwards (which was BIZARRE and you are not overreacting, I would have felt the same way), but letting me go through the door first when you had plenty of time to go? Enough time that you were awkwardly standing there? Are you TRYING to get where I can’t see you? I always walk half-turned for a while just so I can keep them in my line-of-sight. I don’t usually think they’ll actually do anything, I just feel icky and don’t want to let Icky Feeling out of my sight. Like spiders that aren’t even poisonous, probably. I don’t really feel threatened, I just want to know where they are.

        1. This happens to me at work a lot. If I’m not in a hurry, I’ll do the “no you first” exchange until they give up. My record is to four exchanges before they finally went through.

          The thing that bugs me especially is I hold the door open whenever someone is walking behind me at work. And not like, toss it open, I stand there and hold it and come through afterward. So by the time a man is insisting I go first, I’m already holding the door. You’re not saving me anything. In fact, if you make me go first, you’re making me do more work by walking through and then doing the toss which I wouldn’t have had to do otherwise.

          Once this guy said, “My mother would kill me if I didn’t hold the door for you,” and I really wish I’d replied, “So would mine.” Politeness! Anyone can do it to anyone!

    2. I get the over-gallant thing too sometimes. In my neighborhood it gets mixed up with race and class as well as gender. I find when a man graciously offers me a seat on public transportation that 1) It’s always a black or Hispanic man (I’m white) and 2) he gets really annoyed if I say ‘no, thanks’. Sometimes I prefer to stand up and I’ll be damned if I’m obligated to accept a favor I didn’t ask for and don’t want.

      1. Read “Gift of Fear” and you’ll understand what they are doing, the explanation is more than a single step. I highly recommend this book to everyone.

        1. Oh, me too! I’ve read it twice and it should be read by every woman — “The Gift of Fear” by Gavin deBecker. Fantastic book!

    3. I’m from the south, so I’m used to guys holding doors, letting me go first, offering seats etc. (not pulling me off curbs though. That shit was straight-up weird!). I don’t expect it, but it doesn’t bother me in and of itself.

      BUT, it’s when it gets to that next step of “I just did you a favor, please recognize my awesomeness and chivalry and APPRECIATE MEEEEEE”, that it gets weird. I had a really weird experience when I was driving the other day. My front bumper is missing some paint (bad paint job before I got the car that I don’t care enough about to pay to fix) and car with 4 guys in it pulled up next to me and one of them leans out his window and goes “Hey, I just did a job just like your bumper and I could fix it for you” in a way that was just creepy to me. What am I supposed to do, invite you to my house to fix my car? Freaking weird. And so I gave the guy the side eye, shook my head, and rolled up my window. And then he started yelling at me that I was a bitch and all kinds of nasty stuff. I could not get away from that intersection quickly enough. I felt really imposed upon. Like, dude, why are you yelling at me in my car? Do you not think I could seek out a professional to fix my car if I wanted? Do you even do this kind of work or are you just some creeper who tries to lure in women with promises of cheap auto body work? ICK.

      Anyway, it all comes down to the idea that it’s that creeper posing as a nice guy thing. I don’t know what they want you or me or any woman to do. Maybe they don’t either. But they do get to feel good about themselves when they complain that they did (or offered) something nice and some bitch didn’t appreciate it and woe is them. It lets them go around the world thinking that they’ve done nothing wrong and carrying a chip on their shoulder.

      So I have definitely had that expereince before and know what you mean, Eau de Zazoom. It’s irritating as hell and I wish people would cut it out already.

    4. Oh, my hero! You have saved me from traffic! What, was their last crush on their kindergarten teacher? Never again will I fail to look both ways!

      And yes. I had a stalker once, and the whole thing started when he held the door open for me.

    5. I always get pissed when people (ok, men) go out of their way to let me through a door first, because aside from them being a moving obstacle, I am paying ZERO attention to them. So not only do I have to stop walking and stare at them before I figure out what they want, I have to engage with them emotionally. DO NOT WANT.

      1. My favorite thing once was when this young guy opened a door for me and two other women coming through- but he did so with his whole body, so that his backpack was sticking right out into where we would ostensibly be walking. When none of us went through, he actually had the gall to mutter something about how he was “trying to be nice.” I actually said something like, “No chivalry until you develop spatial awareness.”

      2. Or the dudes that yell “YOU’RE WELCOME” after you walk through. Dang, its not like I stood there expectantly waiting for someone to open the damn thing for me. When it first happened, I seriously though I was being an ass before I realized I hold the doors open for folks a LOT (NYC crowds, sometimes it just makes things easier) and never gave it a second thought if anyone would thank me. Still don’t.

        1. Neither. Holding doors open is just what you do so it doesn’t hit someone in the face. I don’t really think twice if I say hi or nod or smile or whatever to someone I’m passing on the street and they don’t respond either, let alone turn around and start yelling threats at them.

    6. Can we agree that there’s a right way and a wrong way to hold/open a door for somebody? I’m in the habit of holding a door if there’s someone (doesn’t matter who) coming through it right after me, on the understanding that failing to hold a door for someone (doesn’t matter who) under such circumstances is rude. It’s all the more true if the person coming through the door doesn’t have enough available hands; I recall holding the door of a coffee shop for a delivery driver, for example.

      Yesterday I spent much of the day pushing my daughter around in a stroller, and more than a few people, men and women, opened and/or held doors for me as I was going in and out of shops. I’m a guy, so I don’t think they were trying to pick me up. I sincerely doubt they were trying to pick up my daughter.

      Then again, nobody did anything seriously creepy. I understand that weird stuff sometimes happens in the door-opening scenario, and I’m probably just avoiding the creepy incidents because I’m a guy. I guess the point I’m trying to make is that not everyone holding a door is being creepy.

      1. Yes there is absolutely a right and wrong way to hold doors for people, just as there’s right and wrong ways to strike up conversations with people one doesn’t know. There is a huge difference between being generally polite to everyone, being polite because you expect cookies or something from the other person, and pushing a woman out of your way (or elbowing in front of her, or taking the half open door from her hands) to get to the door first so you can hold it for her and then calling her a b*tch because she gets miffed with you. Which I have had happen more than thrice in my life, probably a dozen or more times. I call that “Chivalry, You’re Doin It Rong.” LOL.

      2. Absolutely. Honestly I get doors held open for me a LOT, and hold doors open for others a LOT, and most of those times I never bring up on threads like this, because they’re just normal human interaction and neither of us continue to think about it after we’ve walked off.

  42. I’m lucky enough to get a relatively low amount of this sort of harassment, be it because I live in a city where it doesn’t happen so much, I look boring (neither very conventionally attractive or un, no standout features) or have an evil eye I don’t even mean to give, I couldn’t say. ‘Low’ doesn’t mean ‘none’ though, and I tend to do the ‘noncommital answers’ for a bit, then go to straight out ignoring.

    Also, gotta love the exchange that goes something like this,
    “Hey, that’s a nice shirt…what are you reading?”
    “Sorry, I don’t feel like chatting right now.”
    “What??? I wasn’t *hitting on you*!”

    I didn’t say you were, buddy. Even if you weren’t, I still *don’t want to talk right now*. What is *with* guys who get all upset about things like ‘treating all guys like rapists’ when what they are upset about is women not wanting to chat with them?

    Me not wanting to talk to you is not treating you like a rapist. Me telling you to go away is not treating you like a rapist. Me taking out bear spray, or screaming at the top of my lungs for help, would be treating you like a rapist. But this is not what actually happens when guys talk to random women who aren’t interested.

    1. Seriously, the whole “I wasn’t hitting on you!” defense needs to die. You know what, asshole? I don’t care. I don’t care whether you were hitting on me or not. What I care about is the fact that you’re pissing me off, that you won’t leave me alone, that nothing I do will guarantee that I will be able to get where I’m going in peace. I think my favorite example of this is the time I was on the bus, listening to my MP3 player and grading homework assignments.

      Mr. Clever, loudly enough to be heard over my music: So, you’re a teacher, huh?
      Me, sarcastically, and giving him a “just how stupid are you?” look: Um, yeah. And I’m kinda busy. (indicating red pen and stack of assignments)
      Him: usual bullshit litany of “I wasn’t hitting on you, I was just being friendly!” crap. (Riiiiiight. So why exactly did you decide to make friendly conversation with a youngish woman who is very clearly working on something, rather than any of the men sitting nearby who aren’t reading or working or listening to music?)

      What the fuck? Do guys like that hate their own thoughts so much that they can’t stand to be alone with them?

      What I’d like, rather than Tokyo-style women-only cars, is “introverts and busy people” cars, where everyone leaves everyone else the fuck alone.

        1. Gotta laugh! I go to the Stilte coupe and what happens a lot is there’s a large loud family that appears oblivious to the Silence sign – until the children start fighting, and then the parents point to the sign and tell them to be quiet!

          Never have I experienced or witnessed harassment on the trains here. I do recall a time I saw an incident that made the national news… Perhaps it is rare enough to be news when it does happen?

      1. I remember when Hollaback NYC participated in a hearing addressing street harassment as an actual public issue, where city councilmembers and activists all spoke. There was some press coverage of it, as well as some interviews with laypeople about what they thought. Some construction workers were saying that they didn’t realize what they were doing was “harassment,” and one of them said something like, “We see a friendly face, we say hello,” and I remember thinking OH BULLSHIT YOU FUCKING SIMPLETON ASSHOLE. Apparently not one man or woman over the age of 50 in New York City has a “friendly face.”

      2. Ah! In other words: Scandinavian cars. (Or certainly Norwegian cars, but I’ve heard that the Swedes are known for this too.)

        Seriously, it’s considered really weird to start a conversation with a stranger on public transportation here. Whenever someone I don’t know has talked to me on a train or whatever, they’ve either a) been asking a question of the “sorry, is this the train to xyz”-variety, b) been begging for money, or c) been foreign.
        (Actually – full disclosure- there might be a category d) for “Been drunk on a Saturday night with a crowd of people.” But not in getting-home-from-work hours.)

        It honestly took me a while to believe the stories I see posted online, because to me it’s just so strange that anyone behaves like that.

        (And, just as an aside: In case someone reading the Captain’s post really worries about their social life if they never try to pick up women on public transport? Good News! It will not end the social lives of an entire nation if everyone just decides not to chat on the bus. Society lives on! Friendships happen! Romances happen! Entirely unrelated to trains, trams or buses!)

        1. Indeedy-do, talk to a stranger on pubilc transportation that is not “Is this the train to” or not-from-here in Sweden and you are at risk of getting side-eyed and people silently wondering if you are as strange as you seem.
          Interestingly, also, is that you don’t sit next to a stranger if there are free rows in the cart, and usually, if someone does decide to sit down next to you and there are free rows elsewhere, it’s okay and acknowledged that you are likely to feel creeped upon.

          1. Oh, *yes*. Absolutely. Again – this is so ingrained that I don’t even think about saying it. Of course you wouldn’t sit next to someone if it’s possible to sit by yourself.

            What was that comment in the other thread about realizing ways you’ve been privileged? I’m having a lot of those moments here. 🙂

        2. But… but… what are your rom-coms about? And aren’t you supposed to be a crumbling socialist hellhole run by lesbian feminazis, anyway? Because if these American MRAs and conservatives are lying to me…

        1. I’m pretty sure that Kate Harding once came up with an idea for a combination gym/hair salon/spa/gynecologist that was a NO CHITCHAT space. I would join that thing in a hot second.

          1. We just have to consolidate those services on a series of bus chassis, or trains, or ferries. (Ferries would work best because then there could be hot tubs.)

          2. Hot tubs where people just sit and relax in companionable silence and don’t have to make effing small talk to each other.

            I think I just saw what heaven looks like.

      3. “I wasn’t hitting on you!” is the doucheloaf equivalent of “I totally meant to do that!!!”

        1. Good response to “I wasn’t hitting on you” is “Well, you were annoying the shit out of me, so that’s a relief.”

    2. Yeah, one of my few quibbles with the famous ‘Schrodinger’s Rapist’ post is that to some extent it directs attention away from the fact that, actually, even if you look like you are definitely not a rapist, women still don’t have to talk to you if they don’t want to. (Admittedly, one of the points of the whole post is that as soon as you look like you’re rejecting the “women don’t have to talk to you if they don’t want to” proposition, you’re edging into ‘possibly rapey’ anyway).

      Yes, women feel afraid of men in ways that men don’t always understand. Yes, this is a very good reason why we shouldn’t have to talk to you if we don’t want to. Yes, it’s important for men to understand both these things, especially if they want to talk to strange women in public places! But actually, even if we’re not feeling threatened at all, we can still choose not to engage in conversation, and men should respect that, without needing “you might be a rapist” as an excuse.

      1. A few jobs back, there was this one coworker who made it clear that if I happened to take a smoke break at the same time he did, I owed him my attention for the duration of the break. It was NOT OK for me to stand near the outdoor ashtray and read a book. Nope, he’d make a very pointed point of letting me know that he was affronted by the way I’d gone back to my book after acknowleging his greeting. Dude was gay, and in a relationship, so it’s not like he was trying to get into my pants. It was 100% about my failure to privilege his desire for conversation over my own desire to read my my damn book in peace.

        1. Wow that reminds me of my abusive ex. We lived together, but (his excuse was) he’d been raised to believe that if someone else was around you were responsible for entertaining them so it was rude to sit quietly and read for more than, say, 15-20 minutes. Accordingly I would be interrupted whenever I sat down with a book. I would provide a picture of my floor-to-ceiling bookcase to indicate exactly how fucking annoying this was but I don’t have time.

        2. I have a co-worker much like this, and it’s taken me up till right now to realise what irks me so much. I’ve just been thinking “well he’s gay, he can’t be hitting on me, so why am I so annoyed by his constant badgering for attention and conversation in the face of my monosyllabic grunted non-replies as I refuse to take my eyes off my work and he still won’t stop demanding an exact description of the lunch I just ate?” Even without any sexual interest, it’s still just an older guy believing that his inane small-talk is more important than what I’m actually doing. Grr.

        3. Because it’s not about the conversation or the hitting on. It’s the entitlement and the fact that mostly, men who feel entitled to women’s attention and conversation in public or quasi-public places do not usually feel entitled to the attention of men in public.

          Some of them do — some people are equal opportunity jerks. And some people are going to talk to those not listening and overshare to whomever happens to be nearby. And those things are annoying, but, to me, at a very different level. A man who doesn’t acknowledge verbal and non-verbal cues of “No, I don’t want to talk to you,” seems unlikely to acknowledge other “no” statements, too.

          1. A man who doesn’t acknowledge verbal and non-verbal cues of “No, I don’t want to talk to you,” seems unlikely to acknowledge other “no” statements, too.

            I recently dropped someone from my Twitter (one of the people I actually talked to – I try to keep a high ratio of noise) for something relatively minor along those lines, after explaining why, and I was super pleased not only that I did it and didn’t feel bad but that my other friends were like “yeah dude trust your instincts, it’s cool, no overreaction.” Policing boundaries feels awesome.

        4. Ugh. I’m sorry that you had to deal with that – Isn’t a book a universal sign for “Occupied”?!

          Good story: I once had a moment on the subway where a Nice Young Man walked on reading the exact same book I was and we made eye contact. We exchanged “Oh no way! Isn’t it so good? What part are you on?” pleasantries and then READ QUIETLY NEXT TO EACH OTHER until we got off on our respective stops.

          I’d like to thank his mother or whatever person(s) raised him right.

    3. I always figure that they were totally about to hit on me when they get all defensive about not hitting on me….

    4. During the times that I have been harassed on the bus, my fear of the “I wasn’t hitting on you!” defense has always kept me placatingly smiling and nodding for the harasser. In the moment, I am always terrified that if I rebuff the creep, he will use that line to rally support against me from bystanders. Something like this scenario:

      Me: “Sorry, I don’t feel like talking.”
      Him: “What?! You think I’m hitting on you or something?! Hey everyone, this ugly, stuck-up bitch thinks I’m hitting on her! As if! Just look at her! Can you imagine?!”
      Everyone else (for the entire rest of the bus ride): “What is your fucking problem, bitch?!!!”

  43. I used to live about a block from the bus stop, which was conveniently located directly at the alley that led right behind my garage. I always went into my house through the back door, so hey. It was a poor, violent neighborhood with crime but also with real neighbors and block parties and stuff. So one day it’s winter, I have four bags of groceries, two in each hand, I’m wearing a black coat to my ankles, hair up in a bun, trudging through the slush and a van pulls up beside me and the driver leers at me and says, “Wanna make twenty bucks?”

    “Wanna lose key parts of your body?”

    So he pulls off and I shake my head. Unmistakable van, too: brown all over, except for the back doors, which were light tan. Had ladders on top, too, tied with ropes and bungee cords and stuff.

    Then he pulls up again. I’ll spare you the repartee, such as it was. (The neighborhood had lots of prostitutes, and guys—-almost always white guys——would take this as an excuse to assume every woman or female child they saw was a prostitute.)

    So he finally buggers off and I go into my house without him seeing, because that’s the kind of thing you have to worry about.

    A few weeks later I’m walking down that alley again and I see there’s crime scene tape around the house across the alley from my house. I almost fell over when I heard them relay the description of the SHOOTING suspect (!)—–the same dude who harassed me. And as I go to tell the cop this, along with his license plate, the fucker goes zooming down the street behind the cop’s back and I started pointing and making an idiot of myself.

    He shot a guy twice in that house. He was hired to renovate it and the guy was his partner. So….yeah, I wonder how close I came to getting shot, but yeah……these guys are not ignorant, they’re picking on people they think can’t fight back. I’m not saying every one of these scumbags would shoot a woman, but once your boundaries are stepped over, they’ve indicated they don’t give a shit about you. I think the aggressive approach in response, like the letter writer’s, scares them off. I’ve been pretty aggressive about stepping in when I see some asshole cornering a woman who can’t or isn’t aggressive by nature, because why in hell should a woman have to be? Hope that made sense.

    1. It is absolutely not the fault of the target if they can’t be or don’t want to be aggressive in response (especially since yeah, some of the creepsters will escalate in response). I have super-aggressive boundary policing, which I have occasionally channeled into snarling at dudes on the bus who won’t leave someone else alone. I figure if my Tazmanian devil boundary policing can eff up my personal life, it can at least have its uses elsewhere.

      1. Yupppp, I was riding the CTA reading a book and a guy started bothering me, and when i countered him aggressively/firmly he AMPED UP including hitting me. So, you know, people have said that women need to be more “aggressive” in standing up for themselves/shutting dudes down. I did exactly that, and a stranger struck me and tried to follow me home while shouting threats at me. FUN TIMES. (the BEST PART was how everyone on the train ignored us, except the one dude who got up, walked toward me, and then… sat next to the much-more-attractive woman who was by herself. Maybe he was “protecting” her from the guy’s attention? maybe he was marking his territory? I do not know.)

  44. Ugh ugh ugh. I am invisible to a lot of One Sided Conversationalists on the train (I have actually been knocked over twice by dudes rushing to offer the comfort of their manly compliments to more conventionally attractive women on the other side of the train car. CHIVALRY!) but there have been a couple of incidents I can remember:

    1. I’m riding home on the Red Line at sevenish, reading Bitch. (You know, the magazine.) Two dudes roughly my dad’s age start pointing and laughing. Then one of them says to me, “Hey, can you get that magazine at, like, regular stores? I oughta buy that for my wife. Because she’s a bitch. Get it?” I kind of hope he did, she read it, and realized she was married to an asshole.

    2. Again, riding home on the Red Line at sevenish, reading The Fifth Elephant. I must have been totally wrapped up in the book (I don’t want to spoil it, but it was near the end, the really epic chase scene) and then, as I was reading, I became gradually aware that the man next to me was screaming about bitches. And then I became aware, even more gradually, that I was the bitch he was screaming about. By now I was pretty much not concentrating on my book, so I heard the specifics: he had apparently tried to hit on me earlier, but I hadn’t responded, so the solution was to rant and rave about how bitchy I was, and how I was “ready to call the National Guard if a man even talk[ed] to [me]!” The worst part, to me, was that this other guy got on later, and sat across from me, and he nodded at Screamy Guy the whole time. (I think he was just trying to go along with a scary screamy guy, but it made me feel like shit to know Other Guy was apparently too terrified of Screamy Guy to ignore him. Or maybe he agreed I was a bitch for not talking to this scary fucker?) The second-worst part is that at some point Screamy Guy calmed down slightly, and tried to woo me again, with things like “You sure are a pretty little girl. How old are you? Are you over eighteen, pretty girl?” JESUS FUCK GET AWAY FROM ME YOU SCARY ASSHOLE. I JUST WANNA READ ABOUT WEREWOLVES AND DWARF GENDER ISSUES, IS THAT SO MUCH TO ASK.

    1. If you were under eighteen, he would have gotten so excited. I used to tell people I was 16, hoping “jail bait” would act as a more effective “fuck off” than silence. Really. I actually thought that once.

    2. It confuses and depresses me how prevalent these “jokes” are about how men hate their wives. Especially because for a lot of them you can tell they’re not really jokes. I don’t know why you’d marry someone you don’t like – but I guess it’s hard not to when you simultaneously hate women and feel like you deserve to have sex with them (and thus hate them for all the times they don’t let you).

      1. This. I left a volunteer job after one shift specifically because of this one guy there who spent the whole evening making jokes about murdering his wife and disposing of her body. But don’t worry, they’ve been married for decades, so it’s totally not threatening of him to make those jokes to someone he doesn’t even know.

      2. Why, you marry someone you don’t like so they can spend their days covered in the spew of your chickenshit self-hatred that you refuse to address!!! I thought everyone knew that (end of sarcasm directed at abusive asshole men). The flip side of that coin is the patronizingly jokey ‘she’s the boss and I’m in trouuuuuuuble’ bullshit that they break out to supposedly mitigate their contempt for the woman whose only mistake would be in trying to care about them. My bitter, is it showing?

        1. Ugh, I hate the “the wife’s the BOSS LOL” type comments. It’s like… part making fun of the idea that it would be at all normal for women to be in charge, part pretending to be oppressed because your wife is displaying any agency whatsoever, and part making the same joke about your human wife that other people make about THEIR CATS. So many levels of creepy!

  45. I’m okay with you missing out on talking to a potential “prospect.” I’m okay if you feel weird and like maybe you shouldn’t talk to women on the bus or the train ever. I’m okay with you being worried that if you do you’ll be accidentally creepy. Can you spread that anxiety around to the general population? It might make the world a better place.

    Sing it, sister.

  46. Ooooooh I have a story! So I lived in a fairly small college town once, and I went out one cold winter day to buy groceries so I could make dinner for myself, and I was walking back to my apartment and I passed a bus station on the way, and a guy waiting there said “Hello!” as I was walking by, and I was walking fast, because it was cold, and I was thinking about what I was going to make for dinner, so I didn’t really have time to answer unless I was going to stop in my tracks and turn around and go “OH HELLO” to this guy I had never met before, so I kept going. And then as I was walking away he said to the guy next to him “Geez, the women in this town!” and I was like, “The women in this town” what? Don’t like to be bothered when it’s fucking freezing outside? Won’t stop and give you their full attention when they’ve got shit to do? Asshole.”

    Anyway the moral of the story is don’t bother women (or anyone, in general) unless they are open to it. And I have been open to it! When it is warm and I don’t have much to do and I am just wandering around outside. And it is not difficult to figure out when that is the case, because it is warm and I am not carrying armfuls of groceries then. Ugh.

    1. Funny you should mention “the women in this town”…my partner and I currently live/work in a Big Metro City, and prior to that, we’ve lived in about 10 other cities of various sizes and locations. My partner relates repeated amusement/horror by the fact that in all of these places, some guys that he works with will tell him that he’s lucky he moved here with woman already in tow because “the women in this town/city are just awful/bitch/unfriendly/etc”, thus implying that those Other Women in Those Other Towns just give it up for men all the damn time!

  47. Oooh, my favorite are always religulous dudes in suits who always want to give you “something to read” when you clearly have a fucking novel in your lap and your headphones on. They’re always SO HURT that you can’t be civil and take whatever crap they hand you, and they have to let you know.

    My very fav came upon a sunny autumn morning where I was standing at a busy stop(no shady spots left on the bench) and this old Jehovah’s Witness hoves into view from behind me while simultaneously touching my shoulder. I understandably jump and go “GAAH” and he apologizes for startling me….and asks if I want to take his fucking pamplet. Really. I back away and say nothing, just give him the old wtf look and he goes “WELL THERE’S NO NEED TO BE LIKE THAT.”

    He then of course turns to the young dude next to me and asks if he wants a pamplet, the guy says no, and old JW leaves while calling “thanks for being so polite!” at the young guy while looking pointedly at me. Because I owe a man who goes out of his way to bother complete strangers (replete with unwarranted AND unwanted touching) my full attention and manners. And it’s only ever the dudes who get all butthurt or press the issue and ask “are you suuuure?” to me. What few women approached me took my no and backed the fuck off, what a concept!

    1. I actually had a guy do that right a week ago–we were sitting in seats facing each other. I read in silence for the whole trip, until I pulled the stop request cord. Then he asked if I liked to read and pulled out The Book of Mormon, but I had a built-in exit because then it was my stop!

  48. I’ve always used the “Complete Silence and No Eye Contact” method and it’s worked very well for me. They give up after a few sentences, usually they just mutter “bitch” and move on. A few weeks after I started college I was walking across the campus parking lot and a guy tried to make me get into his car. Ignoring him led to the typical muttered “bitch” and him squealing his tires as he drove off. Looking back on it a few years later I can’t believe I was so cavalier about it! I was so oblivious to the danger, I was only annoyed instead of terrified.

    By the way, the “no eye contact” part is very important. I’ve developed the ability to recognize the instant a man comes into my personal space and deliberately avoid eye contact. Otherwise, it’s kind of automatic and hard to avoid. And once you’ve made that eye contact, you might as well have agreed to talk to them from their point of view.

  49. My sympathies, hurts having what for years seemed safe routine disturbed by this all too common thuggery.

    I’d say a bro should gauge the mood even before trying to spark a conversation with an offhand comment. Lack of eye contact and closed body language are pretty good indicators that a dudette is just sitting the ride out. For some semblance of how to do it right, if one still feels like one should be doing it all, take this as a jumping point(of course not a definitive guide):

  50. My only problem with the article is the unnecessary demonization of baseball hats. They are the perfect accessory for gentlemen like myself who want nothing more than to avoid all human contact when on public transit.

    1. Well, yes, but if you’re avoiding all human contact then you’re by definition not there to pick up on/harass ladies, correct? It’s not the baseball hat that’s creepy…. it’s the creepy dude under it. 🙂

      (Meaning the creepy dudes in the article… not you. /probably unnecessary clarification)

    2. Too true. Just don’t wear them in a nice restaurant. I witnessed that last week and I almost told the dude to get off my lawn.

  51. A couple of similar stories are going around Tumblr right now – well, and frankly, these situations are happening just every minute of every day. IIRC, Japan even has women-only trains because of the number of men raping/molesting/doing other horrible things to women – but I digress.

    Instincts are instincts for a reason. “We only have 5 senses!” – LIES! Gaydar is real (to a certain extent) and so is a Bullshit Detector, but also people can make pretty good overall choices at who is actually someone they want to talk to. And when they reject that person and have it followed up with “well, I guess you’re just some stuck-up bitch!” and the like… well, that just proves the point.

    1. Sorry to derail a bit, but the ‘only 5 senses’ thing.. We actually have 20+ senses- things like inner ear balance and ‘sensing’ how full your bladder is, etc. But as a kid, you’re taught the ‘big 5’ because those are really the only ones that involve you interacting with the world around you.
      Otherwise, EXACTLY. They just proved to you that you rejected their attention for a good reason

  52. Every morning I have a non-stop hour-long bus commute. Being short, cute, young, fat, perpetually happy looking, white, and a woman means I am the magnet for all kinds of problem people. The two types that are most predominant are

    The God Botherers:
    These people are usually uncomfortable to deal with (if fascinating to watch and analyze) but ultimately harmless. They always start with a non-religious topic and then after a few minutes they switch to God/Jesus/Bible. The latest one of these started off with a conversation about computers and technical managers, then segued into how he and his son are healers who get their power from God, how God is multi-dimensional and that’s why we can’t perceive him, and then asked if he could pray for me. I said yes as it would harm no one and saying no would have potentially involved explanations I’m not comfortable talking to strangers about. He got off at his stop with a cheery smile and a wave back at me. Pretty harmless.

    The Angry Ones:
    These are the dangerous people. At the beginning of summer I had an encounter with one of these that left me riding an earlier bus all summer to avoid him. Young black kid who was constantly picking fights, getting in people’s faces, and generally acting as if the world was out to get him and he was going to kick it first before it got the chance. He got violent (chest bumping in preparation for punching) with one commuter who dared to ask him to stop rapping out loud and if I hadn’t whipped out my camera and started visibly taking video the kid probably would have been even more violent.

    This kid was thrown off several buses for his behavior, so when the kid sat down one seat over from me on the bus one morning I got up and moved. For that I was called “fat white bitch”, “fat slut”, yelled at about how I was moving because I was racist and didn’t want to sit next to a black person, and so on by the kid. I reported it to the bus driver and sat down next to one of my commuter friends at the front of the bus. Thank goodness the bus was still at the stop because the supervisor stepped on board about a minute later to kick the kid off. I didn’t find out until after all this happened that the kid had been coming up fast behind me (“with blood in his eyes” as my friend termed it) when the supervisor got on. The next week I found out that the kid had also screamed at and threatened a woman for refusing to let him use her cell phone and had been kicked off other buses for unruly behavior.

    And then there’s last week when I was deep in a book and a construction guy sat down next to me and asked if it was a good book. I responded that I didn’t know yet, but it was starting to get really interesting. He grinned, said “I hope it gets better!” and then left me alone for the entire rest of the ride. 😀

    1. The bus top I often use on the way home from work is one of the ones where they swap drivers at the end of shifts. I got there once and there was a driver sitting in the company car waiting and another passenger sitting at the stop. He visibly had some kind of mental illness/neurological disorder (not trying to diagnose what of course, just that his behaviour even at rest was noticeably “off” – I’m in the mental health system myself as a patient and also one of my tasks at work at the moment is following up with people applying for our disability support grant so I’m very used to people like this) but didn’t strike me as much to worry about so I just stopped and stood leaning against the shelter a couple of metres from him to wait. He was muttering something that I didn’t pay much attention to until the driver got up and wandered a bit closer then casually called me over. Apparently the guy is a known disturbance who frequently makes threatening comments to himself about people nearby.

      Then my bus turned up and the driver and I both headed over, I assumed he was taking over but instead he just told the one already there not to charge me, which was nice. I still didn’t particularly feel unsafe about the guy but on the chance I was wrong it was really good to see the drivers were paying attention to what was happening, especially since I’m on the small side for a woman and really small the few times I manage to pass as a guy. That stop is across a carpark from all the nearby shops too and it’s industrial on the other side of the road so while the traffic is busy, there’s not many people.

    2. Actually, (based on anecdata, but really quite a lot of it), you would get worse harassment if you were all those things except white.

      1. Huh, in my experience, the white ladies seem to get it more than the Asian ones (the two largest ethnicities among the people I know). I don’t know how that stands against other women of color, though, as my acquaintance circle tends to be fairly homogeneous.

    3. Re: The God Botherers

      I have a friend who is a minister. He always tells the door-to-door evangelists that he’s more than willing to listen to their “presentation” but that they have to give him equal time to tell them about his faith. Not one has ever taken him up on it. Something to think about. 🙂

      1. I did that once! Long spiel about Jesus doing Jesusy things was the perfect opening for my “You know, Buddhism and Christianity are SO similar! Let me tell you why!”

        The conversation ended in a pretty big hurry after that. Which is hilarious, because a lot of the basic concepts (Harm no one, do unto others, etc.) really are remarkably similar.

  53. Ooof. I’m de-lurking because it strikes such a chord in me – I work tons, have a bajillion things on my mind – so usually when I’m in transit from Point A to B, that is my time to do a mental shift – whether its reading, or music or simply being lost in thought. It doesn’t mean that I’m not polite and can’t give other people simple human decency, but it does NOT mean everyone is entitled to much more than space and common courtesy on the train car. (I live in NYC). Don’t have much more to add to the above Awkward Army commentariat (you guys are Awesomesauce), but there’s one story that sticks out for me:

    I was carrying a box of chocolates and was offering some to a couple co-workers who I was taking the train with. We were laughing about something when I hear “Ooh, I’d like to get me a bite of that” behind me. We turn and find the source to be a Young Dude in his business casual clothes leering at us a couple feet away. I don’t know, but something inside me snapped made me start guffawing and cackling at the ridiculousness of it. Which of course brought out my inner 2nd grader – I shrieked “EWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW!!!! GROSSSSS!!! OH MAH GAH DID YOU HEAR WHAT THAT GUY SAID??? EWWWWWWW! OH MAH GAH THAT IS SOOOOO GROSSSSS! EWWWWWW! WHAT WAS HE THINKING??” Punctuated by my very loudass laugh and initiating folks who clearly saw into the convo.

    Thankfully I was with people so it worked. But I remember that time specifically because it felt so damn good to laugh and react differently for once. I don’t know why it happened that way amidst all the other times stuff like that has happened and happened since, but I did love how he slunk away to the other end of the car after that. I’m much less polite about making people feel uncomfortable when they come into my space uninvited now.

    1. Sounds like you needed a posse to make this work. 1 woman vs 1 man is often problematic, while even 2 women vs 1 man can ease my worries. It’s possible to make “common cause” with another woman on the bus/car.

  54. This evening I took a train to a show. I wasn’t going to talk to anyone on the train, but at the platform I ran into a co-worker, who introduced me to his wife, whom I hadn’t met before. The three of us chatted until it was time to switch trains. I see that as a special case of talking to strange women in a transit context, and really, I was talking to him much more than I was talking to her. Personal space became a bit constrained as the car became crowded, but I don’t think I ever touched her. I think my foot knocked against his a couple of times; he has much larger feet. Public transit can be like that.

    At the show, I was seated between two women I hadn’t met before. I had brief, perfunctory, pleasant conversation with each of them, not with any intent of pursuing anything, just friendly chit-chat with fellow fans about the show and the venue. There was some incidental physical contact — shoulder-bumping and elbow-brushing — but nothing more than one would expect in a theater. Personal space is constrained when you’re in an assigned seat next to someone. At the same time, your being there isn’t inherently creepy, since you have a good reason to be there: you bought your ticket. They have no reason to think of what you’re doing as crowding or boxing.

    On the way home, I resisted the temptation to talk to anyone on the train. There was an exceptionally pretty woman in headphones, but I took the headphones as a hint and left her in peace.

    Once I got off the train, I went to a neighborhood bar, where several female patrons I’d previously seen at that bar initiated conversations with me.

    Overall, I think it went pretty well. I’m sleeping alone, but I wasn’t really trying to change that fact tonight. I was just being social.

    Many years ago, when I was commuting by bus, a noticed a woman regularly reading on the same route I was on; I was also in the habit of reading on my commute. After a few weeks of this, with occasional eye contact and somewhat inviting body language, I struck up a conversation about what she was reading. Because I didn’t pounce on her at the first opportunity, she evidently concluded that I was less creepy than typical commuters, and she eventually got into the habit of sitting next to me, in part I suspect because it ensured that nobody creepier would take that opportunity; beyond the forwardness of the initial conversation, I’d been polite and respectful enough as not to register as a creep.

    I suspect the “Whatcha reading?” question comes across as marginally less creepy coming from a guy who’s also reading something; it has greater potential of being a sincere inquiry as to whether the book in question is any good. Coming from a guy who isn’t reading anything, it’s a much more transparent effort at starting a conversation.

      1. Part of my point with this account of my evening is that there are other, more appropriate contexts for being social, and there’s no need to resort to bothering people wearing headphones. Yeah, they’re cute, but there’s plenty of other, more appropriate cute out there.

  55. Try the response, ‘do these glasses make me look girly enough? Or did you still spot that I’m a man?

      1. As a trans I’m not trading on anything babe 🙂

        But I did make it as a throwaway line. So sorry.

        I guess the un-cool aspect is that I could kick his arse while a lady might not be able to.

        1. Oops! Sorry; didn’t realize you were trans. I was just a little surprised to see that kind of thing in this sort of space, and wanted to make sure I said something.

          1. I’m going to unlike that particular blog – too many people taking it waaay too seriously. Political correctness gone mad, it doesn’t matter what i post someone (American usually) takes issue on an ‘ism’

          2. The irony being that American privilege is freaking huge (assuming the US invented racism and using those particular dynamics to examine every other culture; the hegemony of English and so on).

          3. If I could stop one thing it would be the massive presence of American movies and TV shows around the world.
            After a while you forget that other countries have a story to tell every bit as much, and maybe more interesting stories, as Hollywood.

            I was on a cruise ship that docked at Vietnam. The ship ran ‘Good Morning Vietnam’ 24 hours that day and there was a lot of whooping and hollering. At the bar that night I talked to a group of men at the bar (or course all of them were Vietnam vets, yea right) I asked if they did understand they lost that war? It was explained to me how they won. I just laughed, the depth of ignorance and self-delusion was too funny for words.

    1. Um… Yeah, I would not use that later response. Chris is right. You obviously don’t know or have a firm grasp on how cis, hetero, et cetera privileged men treat trans women. That is a bad, bad response. Please, please, please don’t ever use that response. I would rather die dressed as a Teletuby (which is the worst death I can imagine) than use that as a response. There is nothing a cis, hetero, et cetera privilege dude hates more than a woman who won’t respond to his privilege, and that is to have his privilege, and sexuality challenged in his likely transphobic and homophobic world view.

      Also, I find it just a wee bit transmisogynistic, but hey that’s not the point.

      1. as a trans myself I’ve used that phrase but i did make it asa throwaway line. Thanks for responding to my comment

        1. Yeah, both this reply and the one to Lizzie above are is especially relevant to me. I went from opening the jars, to asking other people to open them for me… I was shocked when I realized that happenstance had transpired. I used to lift weights a lot, but I lost all that the first 6 months to a year. Certainly, having once been male “might” have been an advantage were it not for my disabilities, and the fact that I didn’t continue to lift weights afterwards. Use it or lose it comes to mind, and in my case ‘use it’ would cripple me. As much as it pains me to admit, were I to be in trouble, I’d need someone stronger than I to bust me out.

  56. ‘I’m okay if you feel weird and like maybe you shouldn’t talk to women on the bus or the train ever. ‘ Yeah. If in doubt, just don’t. Your balls won’t fall off.

    I am very pleased to see how much blogosphere attention this kind of behaviour has been getting–I’d like to think making it so visible will reduce it, though I don’t know. At least it gives us some kind of context to put it in, and keeps us from saying ‘what’s wrong with me that men do this to me?’ and ‘what can I do to keep it from happening to me?’ ‘Get older’ is my advice, but I don’t want to trivialise it–as the Captain said, the issue is not anything to do with us. Having said that, though, I’ll share a tip from a friend–I’ve never used it, and now that I’m older I don’t think I’ll ever need to, but I’ll pass it on anyway–pick your nose.

    1. Haha! Yes, this is similar to what I was going to post. A few years ago I travelled a lot by Greyhound, and being a young, solo female traveller I was Instant Creep Magnet. My solution? Kinda gross (actually really gross) but as I was wearing sandals most of the time, I took to ostentatiously picking at my feet, especially when a new batch of people were getting on the bus. Nothing is a surer guarantee of a double seat than a deep concentration in cleaning the gunk from your big toenail in public.

      1. Twirling one’s pinky in one’s ear also work, with the added plus of not accomplishing anything.

  57. My creepiest public transit experience was when I was coming home from shopping by bus in the SF east bay one day. I was just sitting on the little bench there, minding my own business, when this guy came and sat next to me. He, no doubt noting that I was wearing shorts, told me I had nice legs. I was weirded out by this, but I just said thanks. He then told me they were very clean. Baffled, I told him I showered regularly. He took one of my hands (which were extremely chapped at the time — winter does that to me) and asked me, in a tone of extreme concern, what had happened to them. I told him, “20 years in the northeast,” because it was true: I’ve had dry skin all my life, and living half of it in miserably cold, snowy conditions didn’t help much. I forget what happened then, but at this point I was getting really uncomfortable and embarrassed by all this so after another line or two of conversation, I made some really awkward excuse and moved away. Actually, I think what I said was, “Uhh, yeah, I’m just gonna go over there.” I wasn’t happy about doing this — I’d been on my feet all day, and they hurt, and I wanted to sit — but it seemed like the only way out. Except then — get this! — this guy *followed* me over there and took my hand again! I moved away a second time and he didn’t follow me then, but I was still kind of freaked out. (Plus, instead of getting to sit on a nice bench and listen to my music while I waited for the bus, I had to kind of wander around awkwardly without getting too far away, but also without getting too close to the dude. No fair!) Then he got on the same bus as me, and I was seriously sitting there coming up with a plan for if he tried to follow me home (mostly involving going anywhere *but* home, up to and including a police station). Fortunately he got off before I did, but it just goes to show how freaky this stuff can be. To all the men out there who pull this stuff: YOU ARE SCARING US. Okay, fine, so maybe many of you aren’t dangerous at all, and are in fact simply unable to detect basic social boundaries, but when you are approaching us in public places and we’ve never met before, WE DON’T KNOW THAT and you are SCARING US. STOP.

  58. I have had similar experiences and I’d say that they quite frankly scare me… My dress varies a lot. But something that I have noticed is that well, the more nicely, or feminine I dress the more attention I get. I kind of developed a tendency to plug in my ear buds and ignore them. Also I thoroughly dread dressing feminine on the bus, moreover, I avoid wearing skits on public transit unless there is good reason, or I am prepared from the obtrusive pseudo-friendly troll. But it is generally the assertion that because I dress a certain way means I want attention, or more to the point, attention from men. This would never actually happen, because as fate would have it, I don’t really swing that way. So there is never, under any circumstances that I would want ”male attention”. But with privilege and all that jazz, it\’s certainly assumed.

    When I dress androgynous (most of the time), and butch (randomly and less frequent) it seems that I get less attention, or at least that is what I thought for a while. So to a degree, I have used those as shields. But the more I actually analyzed it, the more I realized that it didn’t matter what I wore, though there was a slight incidental rise if I happened to be skirted. Every-time I\’d been groped or accosted (usually without another passenger saying a damned word, male or female) I wasn’t dressed feminine. I had blue jeans, some kind of random button up shirt, and thin soled walking shoes on. I guess in some way I wanted to believe that if I didn’t dress in a way that men liked that I\’d somehow become invisible. I later realized it didn’t work that way. I still do feel a little better not dressed feminine, but this is a real pain in the ass on the days I get that wild hair to do that.

    I just really wish being a woman, dressing a certain way, or not, and such didn’t suddenly mean my space must be violated by every dude who thinks I am approachable, that my voice is cute, that I am cute, or whatever makes them feel they have a right to approach me. Keep in mind that the best technique I found is to plug in my ear buds. I am not always that way on the bus, or public transit, but I usually don’t feel comfortable being ”chatty” in that space. But I agree it shouldn’t be on women do prevent these interactions, or responses but for men to realize ”captive audiences” may protest in a society that can be hostile, and dangerous for women.

  59. Hoo boy, I have several stories from when I lived in Tucson, and a couple from living on a small military post in Europe. I’ll tell my two on post ones and one Tucson one.

    The first one was me walking with my first baby over a year ago. The thing with on post housing on military installations is that they’re for soldiers with dependents, spouse and children and whatnot. Single soldiers live in the barracks.

    As I’m walking, pushing my stroller, I see a black Jeep Patriot pass me. Then come around and pass me again. Naturally I’m nervous, so I’m on high alert when it passes me again and the front window comes down and a guy in uniform says “You’re pretty. Are you married?”

    I resisted the urge to say “Nooooo, I stole this baby and I’m pushing it around for kicks.” and said “Yes. And by the way, passing a woman several times like that in your car is creepy, don’t do it.” He apologized and drove off.

    The second one was me in the Shoppette (a gas station basically) when a guy who I had noticed a bit earlier was staring at me came up and was awkwardly trying to make conversation. He asked about one of my tattoos, and we talked about them a bit, I showed off one on my lower leg, and when he asked where I got my chest ones I took that opportunity to slip in that I was married “I don’t remember the name of the place, my husband took me to it in the States where he got his first one, they were really good.”

    The thing that really got my attention was him uttering a disappointed “Ugh” and hanging his head, but then he quite obviously caught himself, and as I excused myself to do more shopping he said “I hope to see you around.” Then every time I walked by while he waited in line he kept staring at me. I ducked into a far corner until he left.

    Now for one of the Tucson ones that really annoyed me. See, I have a ridiculously large chest which made it impossible for me to wear a regular tank top without looking. . . indecent. I decided to try it again one day and was waiting for the bus to go to the mall when a guy who was quite a bit older than me drove by with the biggest shit-eating grin, flashing his lights. Then he went around the block and drove by again, this time honking his horn. I tried my best to ignore it. Then he went around AGAIN, stopped, and asked if I needed a ride. I told him to leave me alone. I didn’t wear a tank top again for about 5 years until I got one with a built-in actual bra, which I love.

    1. Yeah. It’s doubtful that he thought I was going to actually cook him pork chops and touch his penis later, so it was more about enjoying making me squirm in front of an entire train full of strangers. Awesome either way, right?

  60. I think the key thing is…

    Nobody, NOBODY, has the right to get arsey if a complete stranger doesn’t want to have a conversation with them. End of.

  61. It is lovely coming back to London from more sociable places in the world like the US, West Africa and so on, and being able to leave all that behind. Random creepy dudes just don’t have the confidence on a London bus or train to try more than one opening gambit. If you respond with just a chilly smile and ‘Mm’, they leave it. (Unless you’re in Hackney, where at least one person on any given bus will be having some kind of episode, but they’re not really talking to you anyway, and can be spotted from afar.)

    Sorry, not a very helpful contribution – but I do recommend a nice restful course of hanging out in London and enjoying the ‘personal privacy exclusion zone’ that most people carry with them on public transport.

    1. That’s nice for you, but when I was a foreigner living in London, every time I opened my mouth to talk my friends, random guys would hit on me (or us) and use our accents as an excuse to ask us all sorts of questions.

      My BFF is currently working in London and she gets hit on by random strangers more in London than in any other place she’s lived.

  62. The weirdest public transport creepy hitting on experience I had was when I was waiting for a bus, lost in thought and suddenly this very young guy aged maybe 20 came up to me looking very nervous. Oh god, here we go, I thought.

    I was expecting a silly chat up line. But he blurted out the immortal lines “You’re very pretty but your top doesn’t match your trousers”.

    Honestly? I was lost for words for a minute. Because on the one hand, what? And, how rude? But on the other hand, yes, my top was hideous. I hate shopping, so I tend to rush into a store with a sale on and grab something in my size. This top was a sort of t-shirt with a collar and a horrible paisley pattern, and it did clash with my trousers.

    “Er, yes, you’re right,” I told him.

    “Can I have your number,” he stammered out.

    “No,” I said.

    This weird exchange occurred at a time when PUA was in the news a lot and when there were even courses to help men have more success in picking up women, including the glorious art of “Negging”, where you insult a woman and she becomes irresistibly attracted to you. I think I was negged, or the guy was the loser of a really embarrassing dare.

    But really like so many of the stories here my experience of street harassment ranges from irritating to downright scary, like the recent incident where a couple of teens followed me screaming taht they would rape me after I refused to talk to them.

    1. Bless, it’s the first baby step in awkward negging!

      I say bless, because I find the really obvious, ineffectual attempts PUAs make quite amusing, but the fact that you pretty much witnessed the first, lurching attempts of a newly fledged PUA is also kinda depressing.

      Also UGH about the rape threats. What is it with teenage boys (I’ve only had it from teenagers) and wandering in packs threatening rape at the top of their lungs?

    2. Omg, I actually really love the negging story (as for the rape threats…ugh, I’m so sorry). Did he actually think that would work? Also, does negging actually work in real life, or is it just a theoretical thing? If someone insults me I don’t want to prove that I’m better than they think…I just want to kind of punch them.

      Okay, maybe now that I think about it, if someone called me stupid I’d want to prove that I was smart…but it sure wouldn’t make the person doing the negging any more attractive to me.

      1. I can think of two instances where I have seen “negging” or something like it is met with a positive response:

        1. Well-intentioned Person A teases Person B good-naturedly about something about B. For this to work, I think generally the two people need to know each other a little, at least enough for Person A to know that this isn’t Person B’s own personal berserk button, nor is whatever it is especially a sore spot for Person B. My (platonic) friends and I make fun of each other often, and while I could see it working in a flirty way, but it isn’t inherently flirty. It is, however, pretty hard to do right without knowing Person B at all. It comes across as slightly mean, but in context it tends to mean “Hey, I know you, you’re fun and have a good sense of humor, I like that about you.”

        2. I think the PUA “neg” is meant to be camouflaged as the above, but it’s actually supposed to make the lady (in this case, it is always presented as something a man does to a woman) feel kind of bad about herself, and it’s also a lot harder, because PUAs are all about approaching strange women, and you don’t know if this particular woman is especially sensitive about her outfit or whatever. So what is supposed to be happening in the woman’s mind is “Oh gosh, he’s right, my outfit doesn’t match! But he meant it in a nice, funny way, right? People do that, right? I have to have a sense of humor about it! I don’t want to be humorless. Besides, he said something flattering about me. Yeah, he probably meant it teasingly. I should react like it was funny and just be flattered and prove that I am a Cool Girl.” Basically, it is supposed to trade on women’s fear of being seen as egotistical and rocking the boat.

        Horribly, I have seen 2. above work on friends who are stuck in a really low-self-esteem rut, because they DO find it flattering that someone who spots their terrible terrible flaws (which are not actually that terrible) that make them undeserving of love (of course they are deserving of love! they are my friends!) might still want to talk to them, and think they are pretty. It’s a really awful, Darth Vader-y kind of dynamic. It’s really hard to pull this off, because you have to find someone vulnerable to try it on, and that makes it even more horrible. I’m not entirely sure the guys who do this realize how predatory and fucked up they are, but it is predatory and fucked up nonetheless.

        1. Well, I was actually skimming The Gift of Fear again and I got to the part about the kind of tactics dangerous people use to approach strange new victims, and among others (forced teaming, too much detail, etc.) one of them is to say something to the victim like, “You couldn’t possibly carry all that by yourself,” or “Well, you’re probably not that experienced” or something else negatory so that the victim automatically feels compelled to prove them wrong and continue engaging them.

  63. One day I was taking a bus home from work. It was a Sunday, and in my town the busses run a greatly reduced schedule on Sundays. I didn’t know when a bus might go by on the route from my office, it was a nice day, and it’s less tiring to walk than stand. So I walked the route from my office to the downtown bus depot, rather than walking there directly. I figured that if a bus came, I could get on it.

    About halfway to the bus depot, I noticed that a man was following me. Since I wasn’t taking a direct route, how could he not be following me? He followed me all the way to the downtown bus depot, and when we got there he stood near me. Not exactly making conversation. Instead, he seemed to be trying to catch my eye, and making weird sounds, like, “Hnnnnnngh! Hnnnnngh! Weeeee! Hngh! Tickticktick! Hnghhhh” There were a few people around but I was afraid to say anything. What if I was imagining things?

    When my bus arrived, he got on it as well. I sat down in one of the sideways facing seats at the front near the driver. Creepy guy sat at the back, in the middle seat with the view of the aisle. There was one other passenger on the bus, obviously someone the driver knew well – they chattered the whole way and never acknowledged me or creepy guy at all. Every time I peeked at creepy guy, he was looking at me, waving, and jinking his eyebrows.

    I didn’t dare get off the bus, out at the edge of town where I lived. What if he followed me there, where no one was around? So I stayed on the bus, huddled in my seat. Creepy guy stayed on the bus until about three block short of the bus depot, when he finally got off.

    Downtown at the bus depot, the bus driver’s friend got off. Apparently this was a purely social excursion for her. My plan was to simply stay on the bus until it came around to my house again. But the bus driver insisted I pay again if I wanted to do that. I asked her why I would have ridden the bus all the way around, if not for the creepy guy, but she denied that this had happened, and it was company policy, and just because *I* was imagining things didn’t mean I could ride the bus for free… I didn’t have another 75 cents (I was chronically broke in those days), so there I was back on the sidewalk downtown, four miles from home, having wasted an hour of my day. I ended up calling my boyfriend in tears, and he came to get me in his car.

    I saw creepy guy on the bus, many times after that. Just one of the local homeless population. He didn’t target me again, but then, this Sunday bus ride was a rare thing; the schedule was too inconvenient. During the week, there were a lot more people on the bus, and I was always able to keep others between me and him. I still wonder if I was overreacting or imagining things.

    But yeah, one huge advantage of private automobiles, is that they protect us from these incidents. And I think this is one of the biggest reasons that people resist using mass transit, even in situations where private cars are ridiculously impractical. Trying to convince people to pay taxes for transit, or ride it themselves? I think a lot of people (especially women, but some men as well) are terrified of it. They don’t want good mass transit because then they might have to take it, and to them mass transit looks like one long harassment incident. So another constituency that should be interested in fixing this, are the people who support mass transit. Urban planners, environmentalists, etc.

    1. I’ve had conversations to this effect with friends. Melbourne has an extensive, fairly reliable, good public transport system. There are busses, trams, and trains, so most of the city is accessible to me without a car if I have the time and inclination. My friends who own cars do so not because the transport is unreliable or anything, they just got sick of the bullshit having to deal with other people on public transport. I have a car share membership so I can do big grocery runs and stuff without lugging it home on the tram, but it is so, so much better in the car with only people I like and my music and no one hitting on us or shouting or spilling things on the seats. Questionable things. And it’s hard, because I believe in public transport as a social and environmental good and I don’t have a car more than 1 day a month, but…ugh.

      1. I read an article where researchers found that a lot of people choose cars mainly based on how safe they feel, and when they dug into what made people feel safest, they were things that have little to do with safety. For example, no one can see in, sitting up high, etc. The car is a burqa that actually works. And has similar drawbacks: in a society where the nice women travel in four-wheeled burqas, women who go out in public without them are considered fair game.

  64. I am a big fan of the “staring in silence” response, it just saves so much energy.
    I don’t have a lot of social energy so efficient ways of conserving it are important to me.

    Is it really socially unacceptable to do the blank face “Mmm” when a guy approaches you in a bar? I don’t really enjoy conversations with strangers so I like to shut them down as fast as possible even when I’m out, but some of my female friends think I’m too rude if I pretend not to hear or respond with monosyllables. I’m just talking in a bar situation here, I have no doubts about my rights to close down unwanted conversation by any means necessary on public transport. My general feeling is that I don’t want to be an asshole, but I don’t want conversations with random annoying strangers considerably more than I don’t want to be an asshole, so convenience and self interest and win out.

    (Weirdly, I’ve found I get harassed much more when I’m talking on the phone in public. I think because it makes me look deceptively friendly. I also get approached by people asking for directions if I’m walking down the street talking on the phone, which is weird and a bit annoying– like, can’t you ask any of the 200 other people on this street who are NOT in the middle of a phone call? But clearly my Phone Face self just looks like a very nice person.)

    1. This reminds me; a couple of weeks ago I was walking home while talking on the phone and as I pass three guys one of them asks what time it is. I remember being really confused/suspicious because seriously, three guys? None of them had a phone or a watch? It sort of ended up with me half-turning and backing away from the guys, checking my phone for the time (mid-conversation with my dad o.O) and replying before being able to continue walking. It definitely annoyed me, but because I was so thrown off I didn’t think to just ignore them.

      1. It has gotten to the point where I just don’t give men the time anymore (literally), which is sad because I would like to be a friendly person and treat others how I want to be treated. It’s just that the last five or so times this has happened, the man has followed up this request why asking what ethnicity I am, if I have a boyfriend, where I live, or whether or not I’d like to suck his dick.

    2. Absolutely not. I’ve found that men act even MORE entitled in bars because obviously no one goes to a bar for any reason except to sleep with them! Do anything you need to to shut them down because being nice about it they’ll often just take as an invitation to change your mind. If your friends think it’s rude they can deal with it.

  65. Misspiggy is right – For Londoners randomly talking to people on the tube is considered a heinous crime, especially during commuter times. Just making eye-contact is considered bad manners (unless something goes wrong, like signalling failure, at which point everyone is allowed to roll their eyes at each other). A state of affairs I have always enjoyed – it does catch American tourists out quite a lot.

    1. I saw a girl get harassed by this old guy while she was reading in the Tube a couple months ago. She was clearly very uncomfortable and he was really creepy. He was also British. She got off, and he got off RIGH AFTER HER. So a stop later I got off and informed security, who took it very seriously (Thank God).

      But the moral is, in London it happens all the time too. It’s happened to me several times, and I’ve lived here a year only, and I always dress really, really down and have a scowl on in public (so as to not attract attention). This one guy once tried to walk me home at 5 AM in the morning, just because I stopped to give him directions (which he didn’t use). I wasn’t scared because it was already daylight, but he even tried to get on the BUS with me. He also had a British accent.

    2. I find this very interesting, in the US there is wide variation on this issue it seems to me. I’m going with elevators since it’s where I’ve ended up talking to people who have divergent ideas about elevator etiquette…is that even a thing?

      In the Wash DC area people are generally not super friendly in the say hello and smile at strangers category. I happen to be a smile at people and say hi even tho or maybe because I’m rather an introvert. So if I get in an elevator I smile at whomever, if only 1 or 2 ppl are on board I mightl make some comment about long day or whatever. What’s amazing is that doing that I’ve had numerous people from southern or midwestern states tell me it was a relief not to stare at the elevator wall for fear of offending someone for a change. And several have asked me what they are doing wrong, everyone seems so cold here, why don’t people say hello? etc. I just tell them ppl here aren’t cold, they are friendly mostly if you say hi first. Course this thread is beginning to make me wonder….

      1. In DC and all points northeast as well as in Chicago, elevator etiquette calls for everyone to face the door and ride in silence unless they are acquainted somehow. A bland impersonal remark about the weather or something similar can be acceptable but is still a bit pushy. Never stand facing the back of the elevator (that, is facing the people who are standing in the conventional way). That freaks people right out.

        And watch it: not replying to importunate strangers on the street, in an elevator, or on a train is not “cold”. Nobody owes you their attention.

        1. Down here in the South, at least my neck of it, people are far more extroverted than I’m used to coming from the PNW, land of The Freeze. Here you typically give some sort of greeting when you pass people on the street, or when sharing an elevator with someone else. Striking up random conversations while in line at the grocery store, ice cream shop, doctor’s office, streetcar, wev, is also totally normal.

          But when I go back to the PNW and smile at or – Maud forbid – say hello to people on the street, I get strange looks and rarely get replies.

          While I’ve never thought of DC as Southern, it is south of the Mason-Dixon line, and when I lived there some locals would get offended when I referred to it as part of the Northeast. On the other hand, a lot of people move there from New York and other distinctly Northern cities (also, too, from the South or West). So I imagine you probably have quite a mix of etiquette standards there, depending on whether you’re talking to a local, a transplanted Southerner, or a transplanted Northerner/Westerner.

          1. G, basically you just told me there are “rules” that must be adhered to in a particular area which I find absurd. and then you ended with this: “And watch it: not replying to importunate strangers on the street, in an elevator, or on a train is not “cold”. Nobody owes you their attention.”

            You misunderstood my comment, the people I was talking to were not saying hi to people and being ignored. They told me they could not understand why people in elevators did not smile or say hello in this area. They were intimidated by the silence and the way most people carefully ensure they never make eye contact with a stranger and afraid to say hi at all. This is what felt cold to them, they were happy to have someone actually acknowledge they were in the same space. Maybe this thread has brought out some aggressiveness that really is not about being within your rights to not respond to strangers who make an attempt to engage you after you’ve made clear you do not wish to engage. What I’m talking about is simple human courtesy and how different it is in various areas.

            Obviously no one has to give a stranger attention, the point of my post is the cultural differences even within the US. My point was also that smiling as you pass someone or saying hello is not imposing on the other person, nor is reciprocating in that context necessarily going to lead to anything more than a nice smile and a hello between humans sharing the planet. I do this every day and yes, yikes! I actually say hi on the elevator. I do not engage further unless there is reciprocity, I’m damned if I’m going to stare at the wall because someone made a rule about that north of DC, oh wait, I live SOUTH of DC by a few miles so I don’t have to break the rule after all, sheesh.

          2. I think you’re still missing the point. You can greet or not greet people as you go by as much as you like. That’s fine. Expecting reciprocation is where it becomes rude. It doesn’t matter what it will or won’t lead to. Women do not have to talk to men to not be bitches, anywhere, ever. It doesn’t matter what the rule is, because the rule is already ‘women have to entertain men’ and I have no problem disregarding that, do you?

            I come from the ‘talkative’ half of my country, and from a rural area on top of that. If I go to the big city in the ‘quiet’ half, I’m still smiling and greeting people, holding doors, trying to make small talk, just like I do at home… and they look at me with big, weirded-out eyes. Then I remember where I am and realise that that’s not what they do around here, and even if it was, they don’t owe me a response. I’m not going to make a big effort to change my ways when I’m there, because, like you, I don’t believe it’s rude to say hi. But, unlike you, I don’t believe it’s rude to stare blankly or even look away when a stranger talks to you. It’s their right.

  66. The one time I was followed home, it was from the bus stop. I was maybe 19-20 years old, it was at night, and I made eye contact with a guy who was hanging out there on the corner. I might have smiled too, since that was my usual behavior around people: make eye contact and smile to acknowledge their existence. Anyway, my house was about 4 blocks away down a quiet residential street. I heard him behind me at first, which made me nervous, but then I didn’t hear footsteps, so I thought he turned back. When I got to my block, I glanced behind me and realized that he was still following me. It was my creepiest experience ever. I didn’t know what to do–the street was deserted, and I didn’t want to keep walking around to try to shake him, so I went inside. I didn’t turn on any lights and just huddled in the dark. He lingered around for a little bit before wandering away. At the time, I was living with 4 guys, 2 bikers and 2 weight lifters, but unfortunately, no one was around when I got into the house. I was freaked and hypervigilant for weeks afterward, but I never saw him again.

    It’s been a long time since I’ve had to deal with anyone. I mostly sit way in the back and work on proofreading, often with headphones, and I keep the seat next to me filled with my stuff until the bus is heading to standing room only. Plus I am middle aged and no longer have breasts, so I just don’t attract much attention. The peace that gives me is greatly appreciated. If only that’s the way it is when we’re young too.

  67. he London tube is indeed the last bastion of civilised silence. Only Acknowledged Creeps will creep on the tube. I did have one charming gentleman last week sidle up to me and hiss something about sex. This was at about half nine at night, in a busy station, as everyone boarded a busy tube. Enough people about that I felt no inhibition in my response which was an articulated \’urrghhhh\’ and a full body and facial distortion of revulsion. He went into one carriage, I went into another. I thought no more about it. I got out to change at the next station. Apparently he did too, because someone, who I assume was him, detoured back around to explain how he would fucking kill me, bitch. I had, it seems, offended his delicate sensibilities. He stormed off, headed up the stairs and turned around a few times to give me death glares while I walked very slowly, trying to make sure he wasn\’t coming back. And was still looking over my shoulder twenty minutes later.

    But that is *unusual*, certainly compared to the neverending joy that is encountering dickwads in the street.

  68. I had a little epiphany thinking about this: occasionally I’ll feel like striking up a conversation with a stranger, waiting for a bus or something, and we usually just say a few sentences to each other then lapse into silence and that’s fine.

    But if it ever happened like this, where I say something and they’re ignoring me and it’s obviously not that they simply didn’t hear me but that they don’t want to chat, I shut the hell up and feel a little embarrassed. Unlike these men, who feel angry and wronged. Because they were raised to believe they’re entitled have people, especially female people, pay attention to them whenever they want it, and I was raised to believe the opposite, that I should be “seen and not heard.” Not cool. I don’t know how we’re going to solve it. Short of smashing the patriarchy, I mean, which is the long-term goal of course, but in the shorter term, we’re facing the uphill battle of convincing men to go against their conditioning to believe they deserve all the attention they want, and if someone’s not giving it to them then that person is in the wrong.

    There’s some hope, though. The other day, I was putting gas in my car and when I was in my car and starting to drive away, a man said “hello!” I said hello back and he asked if I’d seen the car show in town (it’s a big annual event) and I said I hadn’t gotten over there but it looked good and he said “yeah, it was cool” and then I said “OK, have a good night!” and he said “have a good night!” and I drove off. And I thought “talking to a woman you don’t know in a public place, you’re doing it right!” He waited until I was in my car and spoke to me from several meters away rather than walking towards me, and he was polite and friendly the whole time and smiled and just said “have a good night!” when I ended the conversation.

    I suppose MRAs would consider that interaction a failure because it didn’t result in me giving the guy a blow job, but what they fail to understand is that wouldn’t have been the result ANYWAY: the possible outcomes are what did happen – a short, pleasant chat and me thinking “some faith in humanity has been restored!” – or me still leaving, only pissed off. What I don’t get is: when has it ever worked the way they think it should? where a woman does go home with a total stranger because he said “nice glasses”? It makes no sense, if that’s their motive then they must recognize that it fails >99.99% of the time. And yet when we say their real motive is to feel powerful and put women in our place, they deny it.

    1. I talk to strangers, too. But the thing is, it’s usually a one-liner about something we’ve both just observed. It is said to someone who just happens to be standing/sitting near me when whatever-the-thing-is happens, and who happens to meet my eye wearing an expression that seems to reflect a similar reaction to my own. It does not involve me seeking them out for purposes of making a comment; I’ll say it regardless of age, gender, or attractiveness; I have no expectation of anything more than a rueful little smile, or “yeah, right?!” It’s more about acknowledging a moment of human connection — we both observed something and, I suspect, had a similar reaction — than trying to force a connection. And, of course, if the person doesn’t respond as expected I shrug and go back to my book — I don’t get all ill-used feeling because they deprived me of my bonding moment.

    2. The numbers thing is actually an explicit part of the PUA game: if you’re going to get turned down 95% of the time, but you ask 100 women, that’s 5 yeses! (What’s that you say? Human interactions don’t actually work like that? But STATISTICS! Probability! Math! LALALALALA I CAN’T HEAR YOU!)

  69. When I lived in Paris, my strategy for dealing with this on the Metro was to simply reply to every question no matter what it was with ‘No.’ This had the added advantage of sounding roughly the same in English and French, and it was interesting to watch some of them decide what nationality I was. I suppose it was technically rude, but frankly I didn’t care.

  70. A guy on the bus once leaned over and said, “D’you like Christmas carols?”, then played “Do you hear what I hear?” by inflating his cheeks and slapping them in rhythm. He was really good, too!

    Of course, I’ve been harassed multiple times on public transit, from the inevitable “What are you reading?” to the creepy and invasive “Cute baby! Do breastfeed him?” to the guy who tried to lick my face (I hit him with a book), but I thought a positive story might make for a nice change.

  71. Yeah, I have a story too. Doesn’t everyone?!

    Although I’ve had a fair number of “awkward conversations with guys I was too nice to get out of” I’m lucky enough that I have never felt seriously threatened – just annoyed and wanting to get back to my book or whatever.

    On encounter stands out – this must have been when I was in my first or second year at uni (a decade or so ago), since I was waiting to take the ferry home to my parents’ place. I don’t think I would have been cutting a very fine picture: I was a student in my late teens, so jeans and a backpack, and I think I was slightly akward – I didn’t really develop my panache until my mid-twenties!

    The ferry’s wharf was a really nice area – close to a bunch of shops, open and bright, and there were a few other commuters waiting for the ferry to arrive. The wharf was also, well, a wharf, and there were several commerical fishing boats and ships moored nearby.

    An older sailor (in the dictionary next to “grizzled”) decided to sit next to me and strike up a converstaion. I can’t remember what it was about – from what I recall he had an accent and mumbled and I couldn’t understand him very well. But I was polite and tried to listen and didn’t move away. I think just asked me general questions about what I did and things, and at the end took my hand and told me several times I was pretty.

    What stood out for me, though, was that he tried to give me money. As the ferry arrived and I (thank god!) had an excuse to leave, he pressed a $5 in my hand. I think he just wanted me to have it for listening to him or something? I didn’t feel threatened (although that might be different now, since I have a better appreciation for What Might Have Happened), but it was hella akward. I managed to give the money back, although he tried to press it on me until I refused and just left.

  72. I was involved with a big live-action Zombie event, about 110 people, mostly guys. It was a cool event in a lot of respects (I may be 49 but I can still hide in the woods and sleep under a tree!) but one thing I wasn’t expecting was how well the guys treated me. Not in the sense of chivalry–I had (Nerf) guns pointed at me, I got yelled at, I got grilled about which faction I was supporting, I got left for dead in the next-to-last fight. But there was NO sexual harassment. I don’t know if it’s the gray hair, or that this is a group with a heavily female leadership who’ve encouraged a no-harassment atmosphere, or what. (I should ask other female players what their experiences were, if I get a chance.)

    I had a hidden camp way out in the woods. At 6:30 am I woke up in a panic because I heard someone approaching. It was a guy I didn’t know, come to tell me that the camp had been overrun by zombies. Once I knew he wasn’t a zombie I wasn’t scared anymore. Only later did I register what an unusual and precious thing that was.

    If this is what being 50 will be like, I like it. If this is just a great group of people, I like that too–wish it could be the rule rather than the exception.

    Many years ago I was playing in a chess tournament sponsored by a hotel. Late one evening another female player grabbed me and said, “The hotel manager wants company. I did an hour and I’m DONE, so it’s your turn.” So I sat and chatted with the drunk hotel manager for an hour, ’cause he dropped some threats about cancelling the tournament, and somehow I thought it was my turn to take one for the team. I don’t know that I’d do that nowadays; I think I’d get balky and say, “Why pander to this asshole?”

    The other thing I’d like to say on this thread is to tell the story of the guy who saw me on a bus and said, “Are you okay? You look kind of down.”

    I said, “I just got diagnosed with a breast lump and it might be cancer.”

    He told me what it was like to get tested for HIV, and we had an awesome confess-to-a-stranger kind of conversation. I felt a lot better at the end of it. But the difference I want to highlight is that he was actually trying to help me. He talked only half the time. He didn’t get aggressive when I rejected some of his advice. He didn’t act entitled. So you *can* talk to someone on the bus, if the someone wants to talk. Just don’t be an asshole.

    1. ^This. A couple of people I know think I’m touchy about being exhorted to smile by strangers in public, and they try to argue that people are just trying to be nice/cheer you up/etc and I always respond, “Then what’s so hard about asking ‘Are you okay’, first?” I have chronic bitch-face, so I usually AM okay despite appearances, but it seems like massive empathy-fail to prescribe forced cheer before getting an accurate diagnosis. Hence why I believe exhortations to smile are predominantly about making others feel better about looking at you, not make you feel better at all.

      1. Hah! “bitch-face”, I have chronic “stern-face” (also immunizes against cheer exhortations). in public groups my gf sometimes tells me to smile so people don’t think i’m stewing at them. if we meet you’ll be sure to know me by the way I avoid all communication. it’s a pact.

        1. Ah yes, “stern-face” would be the masculine equivalent, which if coupled with height can give the Frankenstein/Boo Radley effect, causing everything from unease to outright intimidation. “Bitch-face”, depending on the woman’s age and attractiveness and probably other factors I can’t weigh in on personally, may cause avoidance, but based on my experience mostly draws the smile-police, who mostly wear the uniform of straight white men 20 to 30 years my senior. 😛

          A handy cartoon someone wrote on the “affliction” of chronic bitch-face, which I like to share:

  73. I cycle rather than take public transport as much as I can (going from unemployed student to unpaid intern, woo!) which means I usually get a single shouted comment/insult rather than people trying to strike up conversation. I have had people in cars try to get my attention at lights when I’m stopped beside them though. In theory you can have a nice, fulfilling conversation with someone on public transport for your ten or twenty minutes together, but when we’re going to have twenty seconds of interaction even if I respond, it kind of highlights the weird sense of entitlement.

    Those situations put me on edge if it’s a group in the car because if it goes the wrong way, they’re in a car, and I’m on a bike, and if it’s funny to make me uncomfortable, it might be hilarious to make me think I’m going to get run over!

    On a happier note, a few weeks ago I was on the DART (Dublin’s equivalent of a metro, and yeah, the name is ripped off from the BART) and sat opposite a man who looked uncannily like John Hammond. White beard, cream suit, hat – he didn’t have a walking stick, but he was holding a long black umbrella, which could do in a pinch. I sat down without making eye-contact – not pointedly, it’s just DART etiquette – and took out my knitting. After a few minutes I realised he was watching me, and when he saw I had noticed he smiled and said something like, “That’s fantastic, I can’t understand how you’re doing it.” So I said thanks, and showed him how it was working (for knitting people, I was using double-pointed needles, which always seem to baffle people), and he asked what I was making, so I put it on to show him that it was a glove, and he told me about his mother knitting. The conversation lulled before I reached my stop, but he kept watching and occasionally complimenting what I was doing. He wasn’t doing it in a way that demanded a response, though I think if I hadn’t smiled a thanks when I did it he would have stopped. It was a pleasant interaction because 1. There wasn’t anything to the conversation other than the conversation we were actually having. 2. He didn’t push conversation once it stopped happening and 3. JOHN HAMMOND LIKED MY KNITTING. (So, dear nice guys, you don’t have to be beautiful for women to be more inclined to have a conversation with you, you can also look like a beloved character from their childhood.)

    Also, apparently there’s a real person named John Hammond who is a musician. The man on the DART looked like the Jurassic Park version. What a magical fifteen minutes that was.

  74. About a week and a half ago, I was walking across new-to-me campus on my way somewhere. Group of undergrad guys comes up behind me (I have arthritis in both knees, so I don’t walk so fast, especially uphill). I shifted to the side to let them by, but I still tensed up, completely expecting some sort of comment, probably of the “move your ass fattie” variety.

    They kept talking about whatever they were talking about. Went around me. Never said boo or even looked in my direction.

    It was only after they’d gone on and I’d started breathing again I realized that I was expecting to be treated like shit. And that really, really fucking sucks. I should be able to walk across campus without bracing myself. EVERYONE should. Everyone should be able to go on public transportation or simply exist in public spaces without having to brace themselves for horrible treatment from random strangers. Ugh.

  75. ALSO – wtf is up with the horn honkers? i am a regular runner, on public streets, and at least once a week someone honks at me. scares the shit out of me every time.

    seriously – what kind of asshole thing is that? are they trying to scare runners into tripping and falling into traffic? because there is no way to actually make contact/hit on me/etc – it’s not like they’re stopping.

  76. My strategy of never talking to women I don’t know has worked for me. Sure it’s possible it’s made me self-conscious and awkward, but that would be all the more reason to never start. Now on the one hand, I should feel a bit bitter and resentful about that. Apparently awkward and charming is reserved solely to geeky guys in romantic comedies (i.e. fiction, fantasy), not for me. But on the other hand, I’m sure the constant suspicion and the tireless vigil against being fucked with, breeds a stale disappointment and resentment with humanity in general. And those are feelings I can at least identify with.

    1. I think that takes things a bit far. There are contexts in which it’s entirely reasonable to talk to women you don’t know. Trivial examples include waitresses; just because you don’t know her doesn’t mean you don’t get to place your order, though you shouldn’t assume she wants to talk about anything beyond your order. Another example is a woman who’s being introduced to you by a mutual acquaintance; you’re only a stranger temporarily, and the mutual acquaintance is effectively vouching for you. There are also contexts in which it’s not inherently reasonable to talk to people; public transit is a big one. Body language is often a useful cue. If a woman wants to be left alone, she’s typically dropping hints (e.g. headphones, nose in book) before she even notices you. If she specifically wants to be left alone by you, there are other nonverbal hints (e.g. closed-off body language, reluctance to make eye contact).

    2. I am habitually cheerful and talk to strangers without compunction. I live in an unfriendly city and try to make it friendlier, including *gasp* talking to people on public transit. That doesn’t mean you buttonhole people, of course – the trick is just knowing when somebody isn’t interested in talking. Basically you just need to keep in mind is that our culture views people who are friendly to strangers with suspicion and you have a semi-captive audience so make conversation in a way that gives people a way to gracefully decline. See this above comment on making overtures versus demands:

      One of the common threads of everyone’s anecdotes is that people hassling them on public transit declined to heed the clear social cues they were given.

      1. Drew, what you say about paying attention to body language is right on, but I have a request for you.

        1) Audit how often you talk to men vs. women in public places. If you find yourself talking more to women, ask yourself why? Would you strike up the same conversations with other men/the driver? Do you think the women just seem friendlier?

        2) Maybe take a break from talking to strange women for a while. Even when the behavior is unwelcome, women can be afraid to really show that because they are afraid of making it worse. They don’t know that you are well-intentioned and just trying to make conversation. And as you can see from the OP and multiple stories here, you may be perfectly charming and great, but if you’re the 4th person just “making conversation” with me in 3 days I’m going to tell you to fuck right off. Think about how much unwelcome social attention women attract when they’re traveling alone, and consider putting a sock in it. Other people aren’t riding the bus to be your entertainment, and maybe you are finding your city to be relatively unfriendly for a reason.

        1. Jennifer:
          (1) Upon reflection, it tends to split fairly evenly on a gender axis. I skew young – i’m 20-30 and tend to only talk to people in the 20-30 range. I do find that I tend to talk to people seated across from me more than people seated immediately next to me, probably because it feels strange to talk to somebody as you violate their personal space.

          (2) Well taken – even if somebody isn’t afraid, per se, people, especially women in some contexts, are conditioned to be “nice” and keep talking to somebody else and appear as if they want to be in the conversation even if they don’t.

          Certainly some people will not want to talk. I tried to caveat that one should always give people an open an obvious “out”, and to pay attention to verbal and nonverbal cues in order to let someone give a “fuck off” response without being made to feel rude. if people don’t want to engage – e.g. are just responding to questions with short answers and not asking any of their own questions – to take the hint and not bother somebody.

          I live in LA – I find the city to be generally unfriendly because people drive like assholes and treat pedestrians and cyclists like garbage, and because people are so car-bound they are confused by pedestrian etiquette on a regular basis (walking on the correct side of a street with traffic going both ways, standing on the right side of an escalator and walking on the left, standing back to let people disembark from elevators or metro doors before boarding). In actual conversation, either at bars, brunch, public transit, whatever, I find people are generally quite friendly.

          It strikes me that the rule you are articulating is that strangers should not talk to strangers on public transit, at least strangers of the opposite sex, because some of them can’t convey verbally or nonverbally they don’t want to talk. I will think about that. Certainly it keeps that class of people from having an unpleasant experience in public.

          I think I hold an “everyone should be better socialized” model – I tend to speak out about things – twice when people haven’t moved out of their bus seat to allow an elderly person to sit down and once on a train when somebody obviously drunk or crazy was hassling a woman. It strikes me that a culture of silence and benign neglect bleeds over into letting bad things happen to other people.

          In all of the anecdotes about negative interactions, I don’t remember one where anybody else on the bus/train ever helped the hapless victim out. Seems like even talking to the person so they can talk to somebody else /instead/ of the harasser would help.

  77. I found this app: “Not Your Baby”. This app aims to help victims of unwanted sexual attention report problems, get help, and band together to fight for change. It suggests a response based on who is harassing us (stranger, family, boss, co-worker, teacher, etc.) and where the harassment happens (street, home, social situation, office, etc.). Thought this might help all of us.

  78. I had one of these experiences on a coach in the UK last week – a guy moved his coat off the seat next to him at the bus station so I could sit (I’m on crutches) then tried to strike up a conversation. I talked to him a bit, tried to give the impression that I wasn’t really in a chatty mood, then got a seat away from him on the coach so I could sit and work.

    Halfway through the journey home the coach empties out enough for him to come and look for me – I asked him not to take my bag off the seat (it had my pet rat in, in his carrier) and he did it anyway and sat next to me. There were only about four people on the coach at the time, so it wasn’t a space issue at all. Talked at me for a few minutes, then I picked up my phone to answer a text, and he took it out of my hand – seriously – and dialled his number from it so my phone number would come up on his phone. I kept trying to go back to my laptop and he kept closing the lid and asking me questions.

    I wasn’t exactly scared for my safety at any point, he was offering a lot of information about himself so I knew he’d be getting off the coach before me (although I did have to try, repeatedly, to convince him to get off the coach at his own town, not to ‘keep me company’ all the way to the end of the line) but he was driving me crazy, and I think this post & comment thread have hit on why – the entitlement. The willingness to ignore “I’ve got work to do.” And the phone-grabbing-number-stealing. I’ve set his phone number to go straight to voicemail, but I’m still getting calls from him using his friends’ phones, which is again really annoying.

    I don’t think there is a good way to deal with these people, but gack.

    Sorry, that post didn’t really have a point to it, it was just a rant. D’oh! Hope you have some more peaceful journeys ahead, everyone!

    1. Your story is nuts all around, but even the first bit is so sad.

      ‘I talked to him a bit, tried to give the impression that I wasn’t really in a chatty mood, then got a seat away from him on the coach so I could sit and work.’

      This seems like normal behavior. Polite, but not some herculean feat for a well socialized person of any gender, right? Except… would this guy have done it to a man in a business suit? Would he have grabbed his Blackberry out of his hand? Maybe he wouldn’t have given up the seat as readily (doubt it. If it had been his own seat, maybe), but in terms of treating strangers with a basic level of respect, men definitely have one up on women.

    2. What the frak? He stole your phone number and repeatedly closed your computer? What an asshat! Because his need for your attention is SOOOO much more important than any work you have to do.

      I suggest answering next his call long enough to tell him to leave you alone or you will call the cops. Then systematically block his number and his friends’ numbers from your phone, or consider getting a new number. Seriously. His entitlement, it burns.

      1. It’s not verging on criminal harrassment, it is. Stealing your number and then calling it repeatedly is stalking. Just because you didn’t have the sense to scream bloody murder when he first touched your phone doesn’t mean you can’t now go to the police. After all, you have his number too..
        And you should stop answering your phone, at all, ever, when you don’t recognize the number. They can leave a message if they want to talk to you.

        1. Just because you didn’t have the sense to scream bloody murder when he first touched your phone…

          This phrasing, right here? This is victim blaming. You weren’t there. You aren’t this person. You don’t know if screaming was possible, would have been helpful, was better than the alternatives.

        2. And also, even if screaming may have been the best thing she could have done, nobody is helped by you shaming her for not having done it.

        3. What’s with the “didn’t have the sense,” crap? I was just reading the other day about how stress can freeze people up; it’s part of why the military, police, etc. have such intensive training, to condition them to push through that and respond proactively. It’s why so many of us, *after* either a verbal or a physical attack, wind up berating ourselves for our reaction with all kinds of I-should’ve’s and why-didn’t-I’s. She doesn’t need it from you. Lay off.

    3. Sweet Jeebus on a Breadstick. I really really want to hit this guy with one of your crutches so very hard. Talking to you is annoying enough – touching your stuff? While you’re trying to work? And you’re on crutches?

      What. An. Asshole.

    4. Ugh, what a jerk! IDK if this is totally irrelevant 4 days later, but I found it ridiculously painless changing my phone number with Three (it cost £10 a year or so ago and the new number was functional pretty much straight away) – maybe your network provider offers a similar service 🙂

  79. I haven’t read the comments, but I just wanted to say that that is awful, creepy, and just generally sucky. frown-y face!
    Sending you good vibes, CA.

  80. For whatever reason, I rarely (though not never) get bothered in public. There was a great piece over at Shakesville (that I wish I could recall enough keywords to search out again) about how conflicting it can be that because women are so conditioned to be acceptable to the male gaze, if you *aren’t* routinely harassed, you wonder what’s actually wrong with you. I’ve often felt that way, to the point that when I was out at a pub last fall watching Monday Night Football, and some guy got all up in my personal space, even though I actively did *not* want anything to do with him, there was a not insignificant part of me that still felt rather validated (while simultaneously sort of creeped out and wondering how to extricate myself from the situation) by the whole experience. That one took some real unpacking later.

  81. This really spoke to me, hit a nerve in a reassuring kind of way that I’m not alone. I’m one of those girls who had a 13 year old kinda underdeveloped body until recently when I did 10 years of puberty over night and I’m just not used to being under the public eye for being attractive. Recently I’ve been getting so much attention from creeps I just want to snap, I’m suspicious about anyone who even talks to me in public, which is upsetting because I’m usually such an out going person. I just want to wear a t-shirt that says ‘I’m engaged, not interested’, but then I’d need to make like 7 for every day of the week, and that would be expensive, and in all honestly, why should I have to? Shouldn’t I be able to be friendly without harassment? You pretty much have to learn to shut people down instantly, and I hate being so cold, but what other choice is there? I’m still learning the routine, how to have walls when you need them and when to bring them down, if anyone has tips I’m all ears. 😛

    1. Sorry to hear that, Peach 😦 Unfortunately there is nothing you can do to stop yourselfbeing harassed. Personally I keep my headphones in pretty much all the time (listen to podcasts! They’re free and you can learn all sorts of cool things) and try to ignore it. I don’t have the personal badassery to do like the captain did in the OP unless I’m being physically threatened.

      I remember when I was about 20 and had been living in the city for about a year, I suddenly realized how guarded I had gotten when I pointedly ignored a man trying to get my attention on the street for a few minutes, only to realize it was my friend Chad. Without realizing it I had learned that whenever a strange man spoke to me DO NOT RESPOND AND DO NOT LET HIM KNOW YOU SEE HIM. Chad is a swell guy and was not offended, BTW.

      Over time you will come up with the strategies you need to feel safer and to deal with it when you don’t feel safe. It sucks that you have to, but it’ll happen 🙂

    2. Yeah I was an ugly duckling at first, then when I grew up suddenly I was very curvy and not beautiful but not, like, completely unattractive, which now sucks because I just want to look like a booooooooy 😦

      It’s sort of getting to the point where part of the reason I wish I could afford all hormones and surgery and stuff is so I can smack down other guys with more credibility.

  82. I made a comment earlier that hasn’t shown up, but it was about a piece from Shakesville that I thought fit it and I now have a link to what I was talking about, so here it is:

    On Harassment and Marking of Visible Womanhood

    It talks about how women in general are so socialized to expect at least a baseline minimum of public harassment/objectification, that when that is NOT one’s experience for whatever reason, it actually feeds into your own perception of your attractiveness/self-worth/etc. Not that you’d be happy to be harassed instead, but that being outside of that experience in a way renders you invisible.

    I saw this touched on in quite a few comments, thought it might be interesting further reading for some.

    1. So true on so many levels, and this was an aspect that I never thought about before. The envy of being harassed and objectified goes even further into “envy for not fitting the patriarchal standards of beauty” in general, even though they are highly sexist, highly objectified, and usually cause you hell in the form of harassment from men and women. Harassment from men who feel entitled to your time, attention and/or body, or envy and scorn from women because you are seen that way, and/or you may envy women who are.

      As a trans person I get certain privileges (white privilege, able-bodied privilege (because I am not visibly disabled most of the time), and a reasonable degree of cis privilege (because of how I look), et cetera). I get harassed fairly regularly, but I have friends who get it less, or more than I. But one thing that does bother me are those “enviable” aspect that are part of that objectification. I have been there, and on both sides. Envy is a bad emotion, and it really is non-sense that we would envy one another for being treated less than human because of the system that rates us on a scale of sexual utility to males.

      I just really hate feeling like that because I don’t look good in the same things those women objectified more than I am wear, but being a lesbian does make it easier. I don’t want the “objectification” of men because I just don’t want men. But it is notable to mention that we do rate our “womanhood” on the degree to which we are oppressed because of the way the system works. It can even lead to exclusion and valuation on it’s basis within many communities. Who has or has not suffered enough to “join the club”, and who gets to decide that? It is a tough question.

  83. I’m 5’10”, not thin, physically confident and have a nice but “don’t eff with me” kind of demeanor which generally means that I get much milder varieties versions of the one-sided conversation on a train. Recently, though, I realized that the times when I’ve been harrassed in a more serious way are the exact times when I’ve probably given off a much less self-confident vibe than usual. Last week I was dealing with a break-up and the day afterward I was walking home from work trying to keep it together. Two blocks from home I realized that a creepy guy from my block was just ahead of me. He usually tries to strike up some kind of conversation and I’m aware that he’s fairly boundary-free (once he hugged me on the street) so I prepared myself to fend him off.

    He saw me coming and immediately begain to walk in step with me, chatted at me, offered a hand out to shake and then I literally had to pull mine back from him. I told him that I had to go and instead of leaving me alone, he trotted along after me saying things like, “that’s a nice combination, those gray yoga pants with that pink t-shirt. Pink and gray!” while I desperately tried to get across the street before the light turned. Sadly, a few people strayed in front of my path and I watched the longest light in the world turn red and realized I was trapped. Creepy neighborhood dude was just coming up on my tail again when I realized my very lovely gay neighbor and his boyfriend were having drinks at a restaurant right next to the corner. I literally ran over to them and gave them a “please help me, eyeroll in the direction of the offender” look and they had me sit at their table until the dude finally went away 5 minutes or so later.

    My neighbor was super sympathetic and sweet and happened to ask how long the creeper dude had been bothering me like that. I don’t see the dude very often, and I was treating it like no big deal until I realized it had been OVER A YEAR! That’s way too long to have to deal with that crap.

    Flashback to another break-up a few years ago–I was walking through the park across the street from my apartment and another creepy dude tried to talk to me and I ignored him. I ran into him again a little later, attempted to go around him, and he literally tried to block my way. Luckily, I drew myself up to my full 5’10” and gave him an agressive death glare and he backed down. In retrospect, I can’t imagine how much more horrible it would be if I were petite and really felt worried for my physical safety. It also struck me that these people really are predators fed off the fact that I wasn’t feeling as strong as usual.

  84. Still have to read the comments, but though I’d leave the first experience like this that came to mind first.

    A 20-something guy waiting in line for a play at a fancy theater called me a bitch because I was doing a crossword instead of talking to him (after I’d assured him that he was in the right line, then said ‘Yes’ after he asked ‘I guess you want to get back to your puzzle, huh?’).
    Actually, he said something like, ‘Does it make you happy, being such a bitch?’ I responded that he had no clue about me, my life, or even what kind of day I’d had. For all he knew I’d just lost someone I loved or been attacked or anything.
    Then, from him, ‘So, did you get raped or something?’
    I was too young and dumb to get him booted (assuming I even could have), but instead asked the security guard to wait inside (he let me) and, later, when I saw this guy with a woman (presumably his date or a family member), I told her she should be on her guard.
    Anyway, that was probably a decade ago and it still burns me up. I wasn’t a bitch to him (not that that should have mattered. Guess what, you force a conversation on strangers, they may not be who you want them to be!), I was really just very shy and excited to meet my friend to see this play. And he made me feel so angry right then, when I questioned my reaction in the days and weeks that followed, and even now, as I realize how it all boils down to the assumption that anyone Walking While Female is up for grabs. Attention must be paid. If you have breasts and/or a vagina, your time is worth less than a man’s. It doesn’t matter if you’re coming from a funeral or at a business lunch – if a man wants to take five minutes of your time or test out his new pick-up lines, you’d better smile politely. Maybe even laugh.

    The worst part? these are the same guys who complain about panhandlers and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

  85. I’m part Estonian, so I usually just start speaking to them in Estonian (clearly, this method won’t work in Estonia). There is a chance, of course, that they speak it, but the odds are WILDLY against it, and I’ve always had them look blankly back at me, then louder and with great enunciation, repeat their threats in English while I babble happily back at them in Estonian, then they give up. I would think any uncommon language (oooo – Dothraki?? 🙂 ) would work, too.

    1. Ha! As a fellow Estonian I have to say that I’ve also successfully done this. But also been yelled at for doing this (luckily when I was with a friend eating ice-cream in a cafe on a public square surrounded by lots of people, so we didn’t feel particularly threatened). It took me ages to figure out why that guy had annoyed me so much – he yelled at us for ignoring him, called us both racist bitches, etc.. I didn’t break character to tell him that I didn’t want to talk to him because he was drunk and because I wanted to talk to my friend whom I hadn’t seen in ages and because he’d started yelling at us. (Also, ice-cream?!) But I knew that would have accomplished absolutely nothing.

      1. Aproperjoke – YES! When it works, it can actually get kinda fun, watching their expressions go from “Hey! Someone I can terrorize!!” to “wait, what just happened??”

        Sorry about the time it didn’t work, though. (And btw, I’m pretty convinced that ice cream is the unofficial national Estonian food.)

    2. I am not bilingual, but I think next time I am drawn into an unwanted conversation I will just start babbling in a made up language. Awesome.

  86. I totally sympathize with your reaction to these interactions. Sucks to be pestered. I suppose I react a tiny bit more positively to these sorts of things, simply because I am southern, and friendly chatting with strangers is simply more common. Still, it really made me notice that not once did you mention explicitly telling any of these men that you didn’t want to talk to them. I was also trained by this environment growing up to “not be rude” etc., but I had an interaction with a Mary Kay saleswoman that made me realize that not clearly saying “No, I’m not interested” is actually disrespectful to both parties. Isn’t it strange that our culture teaches us that women aren’t allowed to say we’re not interested? Feel empowered! Say no clearly and explicitly.

    1. I think you may be underestimating the risk I take in saying no clearly and explicitly–anything from verbal abuse to physical harm. I speak from experience.

    2. Except that some of us have done that and have been harassed, threatened, or assaulted and lectured by the peanut gallery that we weren’t nice enough.

      Also, CA’s harassers knew perfectly well she wasn’t up for a conversation with them and they got aggressive in response. Waving your hand in front of someone’s face and saying “hellooooooo” and calling someone a “bitch” does not actually inspire anyone to talk to you.

      Perhaps you can cut out the lecturing, especially since a) people here have already posted how outright refusing can be dangerous and b) CA has made it clear that “explaining” what the laideez are doin rong is unwanted. Ahem.

      Seriously? You’re acting like a jerk.

      1. Right, and also when some guy invades my space to insist that I talk to him (and when experience tells me that the conversation he wants is designed to lead to a sexual encounter), why should I have to take a risk of further abuse by saying no to this unsolicited approach?

        This is what happened to me the last time I said no, and believe you me, I said no very clearly. I was sitting in a park reading a book in broad daylight and enjoying some alone time. A guy came over to me – it was a small park with trees blocking visibility from the road and I was the only person there. He sat on the bench close to me. He said “Hi, do you speak English?” I ignored him. He said “HI I ASKED IF YOU SPEAK ENGLISH”

        I said, “I don’t want to talk to you, sorry. I’m reading”.






        Me: Look leave me alone.


        Eventually I got up and walked away and HE FOLLOWED ME. All the time with WHAT’S THE MATTER BITCH UGLY BITCH FAT BITCH

        It was actually scary.

        So now? I ignore them until they fuck off.

    3. Saying no to a saleswoman (who is both a woman, so has much of the same socialisation, and on the job, so must act professionally) is really, really, REALLY not the same thing as saying no to a strange man who’s already disrespecting your boundaries.

      1. Well OF COURSE it didn’t work, you didn’t put it in iambic pentameter! Plus it’s a Wednesday. EVERYONE knows entitled assholes only listen to polite requests on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.

        1. PLUS it’s Talk Like a Pirate day, so the request should have been also in pirate speak. And Elvish (because why not?). Yes. Elvish pirates, that ought to do it.

    4. You are grossly overestimating how effective that can be. I’m a pretty direct person, but I’ve had any number of experiences where me saying directly, “I’d like to be left alone right now” or “please don’t yell at me” has lead exactly nowhere. One guy walked along with me for SEVERAL BLOCKS, chatting and chatting at me, trying to get me to go home with him. Every time he stopped for breath I would say, “actually, I’d really rather be left alone right now” and he would just blithely ignore it and keep yammering.

      He didn’t turn violent, but that’s not because of anything I did or didn’t do. He could have. Maybe if I had ignored him he would have. If he had been another guy, maybe me asking him to leave me alone would have set him off. I had no way of knowing. Each person has to deal with these situations in their own way.

  87. I don’t think it’s fine to generalize and say it’s OK to treat any guy with contempt as a first reaction, although the guys described in this article were asses. I have seen those kinds of guys hitting on uninterested girls before but one girl had the best reaction I have seen: She addressed them assertively and politely and said she’s had a bad day and isn’t interested in conversing with anyone. She used a volume loud enough (not too loud) for people in her immediate vicinity to hear her and turn to look at the guy, the guy nodded and backed off. If your very first reaction is with contempt it will create agitation in people who are unstable and WILL incite a negative reaction. I’m not casting blame on you but rather saying that everyone should take responsibility for the verbal and non-verbal communication they consciously choose to exhibit, everyone knows people react to how they’re treated so it should be done with intelligence and strategy, ESPECIALLY if you think you could be harmed. A little effort to take a few seconds to read an individual and adapt one’s reaction will not only create an opportunity for them to reflect on their actions but it may also inspire respect in other witnesses, as well as practice for self control. I’m not being self righteous here, it does not help society at all to justify spreading negativity without discrimination as your article’s conclusion does. People start to act negatively when they stop looking at people as individuals, that goes for guys acting like douches as much as anyone else.

    1. There are several fallacies in here (and other comments) that I want to respond to.

      1) The idea that my response can make/prevent someone from doing anything. Assaulters gonna assault. Annoyers gonna annoy. A verbal response might escalate or de-escalate the situation depending on what’s in the mind of the individual.

      2) I don’t think any of the people in the OP really wanted a date with me, even the second guy. They wanted to talk to me. They wanted my attention. They wanted to chat with someone on the train. The second guy (Pork chops later?) was enjoying my discomfort, which is why he kept talking to me even when I didn’t respond.

      3)People seem very sure that saying “I don’t want to talk to you” clearly enough will magically make annoying people go away. This is not the case.

      4) The idea that not chatting and being friendly with a guy = contempt.

      Here is the conversations with my annoying train buddy of the day.

      Him: “Is that a good book?”

      Me: “Yes.”

      Him: “What’s it about?”

      Me: “I’m sorry, I don’t want to chat, I just want to read my book.”

      Him: “OH MY GOD I was JUST asking you a QUESTION.”

      Me: …

      Him: “I can’t even TALK to you?”

      Me: …

      Him: “Why are you so RUDE?”

      Me: “I don’t want to chat. I just want to read my book.”

      Him: “What, do you think I was hitting on you? I wasn’t. Believe me. I have standards.”

      Me: …

      Him: “You think I want to fuck a fat bitch like you? Really? Get over yourself.”

      Me: ….

      Him: “Fucking bitch.”

      So yeah, asking the guy to stop talking to me totally prevented him from talking to me. It wasn’t about at total stranger feeling entitled to my attention and losing his shit when a woman is anything but enthusiastic comforting smiles AT ALL.

      All of this was in broad daylight in front of other customers who said/did nothing.

      1. I was not referring to not chatting or not being friendly with a guy as contempt, I was referring to staring and your conclusion that everyone should leave everyone alone. I understand the discomfort and fear but most guys are not like that and nobody can dictate the way they want others to behave, that’s just complaining and wishful thinking without any helpful solution. One option mentioned already to try to prevent any interaction at all is by making yourself appear more unavailable by wearing headphones/earbuds aside from/in addition to reading. If you don’t feel like chatting that’s your right (I prefer solitude myself), but if there’s any opening to a conversation followed by nothing but staring, anyone regardless of gender would be annoyed. In the end I think it’s worth it to try to find a solution that could spread more positivity whenever possible because North-American society is seriously lacking in that respect, that’s my wishful thinking.

        1. Avi, you’re done here.

          I’m letting your posts through so people can see that you think that people are responsible for their own victimization and that you can’t follow directions (to not tell victims of harassment how to be better victims).

        2. It’d be handy if the ones who are like that would get a big PVH for Potentially Violent Harasser branded on their foreheads, wouldn’t it?

          And then there’s the whole idea that individual women have to do something to change the default assumption that they are available to be chatted up… which is our whole fucking point: that should not be the default assumption. The default assumption should be that a woman would rather be left alone, feeling safe, than have some guy poke into her personal space with his toddler-like demand that she interrupt whatever she’s doing to give him some attention, for no better reason than that he wants it.

    2. Oh good, thanks for dropping by… I’d hate to have NEVER thought of “How I react to this creep could dramatically alter whether I just get hit on for three stops then go home, checking over my shoulder every thirty seconds to make sure I’m not being followed or if I end up murdered on the tube while everyone quietly reads their papers.”


      And this – the smile-nicely-and-maybe-I-won’t-get-raped – the say-no-in-the-right-way-or-it-doesn’t-count – is exactly the socialisation that allows shitbags to keep harassing women publicly. It’s called rape culture.

      If someone assaults you after you tell them to fuck off; it’s NOT your fault for ‘agitating’ them.
      If someone assaults you when you smile politely and tell them ‘no thanks’, it’s NOT your fault for not being assertive enough.
      If someone assaults you… It’s NOT your fault.

      1. If the situation was one unstable guy trying to start a conversation with another guy and the second told him to fuck off, what would you expect to happen? The attacker is at fault for attacking but I think it’s safe to say that despite it being a person’s right to say “fuck off” it’s not the best choice to avoid conflict. As an argument, Rachel, jumping from an early stage in the situation to one of the worst possible outcomes to avoid any responsibility is childish, I’m talking about addressing stages in the situation. If you can see a positive alternative why would you choose an action that could potentially lead to a result you want to avoid? If that doesn’t work and the situation escalates, your responsibility is absolved, you tried and the attacker made a choice they are responsible for and help from others should be sought. Myself included, I know many people who would help a woman in that situation and I’m an advocate of women learning self defense.

        1. Avi, I deleted what I was going to say to you, as I would like to refrain from engaging trolls, but I guarantee you that if you continue your finger-wagging lecture about What You Ladieez Should Do I will show you in full technicolor glory what contempt actually looks like.

  88. I would be really appreciative of suggestions about how/whether to intervene when you are another female passenger on the train and see a man conversation-harassing a woman who clearly doesn’t want anything to do with him. I’ve been in this situation many times, often with the complicating factor that 1) the man seemed mentally ill or 2) both man and woman were black, and I’m white, which amps up the “This isn’t your business!” reaction quite a bit.

    1. I think one possible step is letting the other person know that you see what’s going on and they’re not alone – which can be done nonverbally – is one way to handle it.

      It so depends on the situation. Is speaking up going to get you included in whatever crap is going on? Are you going to get harassed/assaulted if you say something? But eye contact that says “I see what’s happening, are you ok?” or even interrupting to ask her for directions or the time or something might throw off the person’s flow.

    2. You can start with a meaningful eye roll when she’s looking at you. If she seems to respond well, you can interject yourself into the conversation and lead it to how universal the female experience of public-transport harassment is.

    3. When I see stuff like this, I just stare at them in a way that would make a normal person uncomfortable. You can express “I know what you’re doing and it’s not okay” without saying it directly or stepping in. I have a wide variety of Disapproving/Concerned Citizen Assessing the Situation looks. I have occasionally whipped out my phone and taken a photo of the guy when I need to up the ante. If you’re just watching something… odd… The Stare can be a little ambiguous, but you haven’t said “Go away meanie!” If there isn’t anything happening, you can shrug and move on. I was on a train when a bum got on and did this weird thing. It took me a while to catch on, but I was pretty sure he was masturbating, so I just stared directly at him. He stopped doing the weird thing and got off at the next stop — or at least went to the next train (which is not really as much of a victory). The minute someone noticed him, he didn’t want to be noticed.

  89. Sigh. Being both multiracial (but obviously non-white) and disabled, I get an awful lot of “What /are/ you?” and “What’s wrong with you?” when I’m out on public transport.

    People – male and female – who use this as an opening gambit can be remarkably huffy/aggressive no matter how politely I demur. Apparently I missed the memo, but being visibly Other means that my medical history and ethnic heritage should be available to anyone who asks. *eyeroll*

    (It only gets better when I speak, since my accent is distinctly non-American, and I’m living in the US. Though I do sometimes find it quaintly endearing when people try to discreetly follow my partner and I around the shops so they can listen to the accent – usually they’ll ask after about 5 minutes of trailing us with a shopping cart, and they’ve always been very polite about it. I am glad that it only seems to happen when we’re together, so I/we have backup…)

    1. I am no stranger to “visible otherness”, or other forms of othering which usually result in what you are defining. I get them for different reasons, and for some similar ones, but I do relate. That does happen. And people do act with entitlement (in a hierarchical sense) from privilege when it comes to the histories and private lives of “others”. It’s the reality of life for many of us.

    2. This brings up an interesting question:

      I love meeting people from other places. I’ve always wanted to travel more, and I love hearing about other countries and cultures. Is there a polite and non-Stupid-American way to ask someone about their accent? Or is it just insulting no matter what and I should stop asking? :p

      (I feel like even “Omigawd I LOVE your accent, where are you from?” comes across as ignorant and sort of dumb. And guessing is even worse! “Oh, are you from Country X?” “Country Y actually, and we hate Country X” …. “Well, shit.”)

      1. There is one way: You become good enough friends with somebody that talking about your respective accents (yes, you have one, too) is OK. Otherwise, yes, it’s ignorant, and someday you will end up saying “Omigawd I *love* your accent!” to somebody with a physical speech impediment.

        1. I’ll confess I’ve been amused by the number of people who earnestly tell me that they don’t have an accent – and a little sad for the ones who follow that up with saying that’s why they envy mine. That’s hardly limited to the USA, mind you.

          Though the chap who ranted at me about how the prevalence of High Midwestern(?) accents on TV meant that the glorious range of American accents had been diluted and then disappeared… well, I guess it’s telling that I’m still bringing that story out… *grin*

      2. Long comment is long, I fear…

        As with the other scenarios in this thread, I think there are definitely right ways and wrong ways to ask, but I don’t think there should be a moratorium on asking as long as you’re willing to accept the person with the awesome accent might not want to talk right then.

        While I don’t think anyone here is likely to try these, wrong ways include the aforementioned “What ARE you” (Er, human, last time I checked??), “You’re obviously not from around here…” (I am these days, but you’re making me nervous, well done!), and “You’re not one of THOSE [race/ethnicity/slur]” (Even if I’m not, you’ve just identified yourself as a racist fuckwad. Useful to know, but not endearing to me). And yes, I’ve heard all those.

        Right ways are usually variations on “Excuse me, your accent’s [lovely/intriguing/$adjective], can I ask where it’s from?” They acknowledge the imposition, however slight, and don’t come across as a demand for my history. And for those of us who don’t look white/local, knowing it’s about the accent reassures us that revealing that information is less likely to lead to hostility; “where are you from” seems more likely to be followed by “go back there.”

        Thinking about this, though, you’ve touched on something really interesting: for me, there’s a level of enthusiasm beyond which things become disconcerting. I respond more openly to the above “right way” and variations thereon, than I do to the way “Omigawd I LOVE your accent, where are you from?” sounds in my head – to be honest, the latter makes my stomach drop a little (Sorry! Nothing personal!), as I imagine that level of enthusiasm basically implying a fair chance I might get cornered in a conversation about how awesome $Former_Country is, when all I want to do is go about my day.

        I’m guessing that part of this is cultural; I’m socialised to be a lot less… effusive, I guess? Particularly when dealing with a total stranger. But I don’t want to presume that it would be the same for even everyone with my particular set of cultural influences. I’m hoping there isn’t a classist element in there – Partner points out correctly that restraint is often considered a sign of refinement – but I don’t /think/ that’s in play?

        As I poke at this, though, there’s also a bit of bewilderment underlying the idea that someone could be that excited about my accent – it seems to imply a level of emotional investment that doesn’t make sense to me. (Again, I imagine there’s a cultural slant here.) Plus there’s the bit where my accent wasn’t really something I had a choice about.* It’s like the people who get all effusive about my hair (and then want to touch it – really, WTF?) – there’s only so much credit I feel I can take for that?

        Anyway, this has gotten a bit self-indulgent, but I hope there’s something useful in there. You’ve given me something to ponder – thank you for that!

        * – Okay, I’m a performer so my diction is influenced by that, but you know what I mean.

        1. Long but informative comment is long, but informative. 🙂

          And yes – I purposely use the “omigawd” as an exaggerative example – because, I think, I’m worried that’s how I’ll come across. I usually do use the preface “Excuse me, but your accent is lovely – may I ask where you’re originally from?” or “So, I’m going to be the Stupid American for a sec, but i’m curious where your accent hails from,” etc… always, of course, doing my best to a) acknowledge and limit my imposition, and b) make it clear that Just Because You (to me!) Have An Accent Doesn’t Mean I Think You’re Not A Citizen.

          I think mythago brings up a fair point: you really should get to know someone at least a *little* before diving into the “where you from?” conversation; and yes, I know I have an accent too. However, I feel like (IF conversation is already happening between us, and IF it seems like a friendly conversation) just going “Hey, I like your accent, where ya from? Oh, [country/city/place]? That’s cool. I hear it’s [positive statement] there/ I’ve always wanted to go there” isn’t… or maybe just, shouldn’t be?… terribly offensive/ignorant. Then again, I don’t get that much – being in a position of majority and also being from a locale whose accent is very… undistinctive, and therefore not easily categorizable or summarized.

          However. I can understand the Schroedinger’s Asshole theory – that until proven one way or another, I am simultaneously an asshole and not an asshole, and therefore one must assume for one’s own protection that I will be That Guy. So, much like the whole Creepy Dude conversation, I guess it all depends on context of the conversation and paying attention to individual factors.

          Which means my question was more about “I’m sheltered and don’t travel much; how do other folks feel about this when it happens to you?” To which, I appreciate the responses! 🙂

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