Me, Metro, Men and a Giant Interrobang
There’s a post going around, especially in LA, (but it’s made it to Captain Awkward, too, where it is mis-cited in the mouseover as being about BART.) Because it is getting so much action/attention, it’s also seemingly taken as rather truthy about what it’s like on the Metro.
I disagree so viscerally with nearly everything the author says in it. Her experience? I disagree with that, too. I’m saying that upfront. Fuck it. I don’t buy it.
Yes, I’m biased as an extensive mass transit passenger. I have neutral or good experiences, day in and out. In the following I take apart the author’s account of her “terrifying experience” and the conclusions she has drawn about half of humanity (except well dressed ones.) and I counter with my own perspective. (I get bitchier as I kept on, and I’m not really sorry about it, or I’d rewrite.)
“And then I debated whether or not to put it on Tumblr…but I decided it was important. Because in my own way, I can (unfortunately) point out exactly what is wrong with men when they don’t realize how hard it is to be a woman. How we do not have equal opportunities and freedoms in everyday life. How most men, even good caring men, have no clue what we go through on a daily basis just trying to live our lives.”
I do not know what this is supposed to mean. This seems at the outset like she’s blanketing her fearspeech/pityplea as though it has a fuck to do with feminism. It doesn’t. Men don’t have a clue what it’s like to be a woman because they are men. Women, similarly, do not have any idea what it is like to deal with malestuff. This means only this: we are not the same. Please note that I am not suggesting anyone is better here. I am saying “we are not the same.” I am bound by my skin so I have no idea what is like to be inside of anyone else’s skin. No one’s. Doesn’t matter. I’m a woman but I do not know all women’s experiences. Nor do I place any claim upon them.
So here goes.
I often ride the Metro when I commute from North Hollywood to Long Beach in order to save money. I bring a book, pointedly wear a ring on my ring finger to imply I’m married (I’m not) and keep to myself.
Without fail, I am aggressively approached by men on at least half of these commutes. The most common approach is to walk up to where I am sitting with body language that practically screams LEAVE ME ALONE and sit down next to me or as close to me as possible, when the train is not crowded and there are many empty rows. Sometimes an overly friendly arm is draped over the railing behind me, or they attempt to lean in close to talk to me as if we are old friends. Without fail, the man or boy in question will lean to close and ask me
What are you reading?
Is that a good book?
What’s that book about?
Let me take this statement:
“Without fail, I am aggressively approached by men on at least half of these commutes.”
Without fail/on at least half. If it’s one of those, it’s every single commute bar-fucking-none. If it’s the other, it fails at least 50% of the time.
This kind of carelessness with the language of argument pisses me off. It also cheapens anything she might say.
[A Moment for Snark: If you’re publishing something this incendiary for the purpose of getting more followers to your tumblr, could you hash out the logic just a bit more fully? KTHX]
In real life, “what are you reading?” is not an “aggressive” approach. Unless every approach is aggressive, and if that’s the case you might need a bubble. Or some fucking tinfoil.
I am not an occasional Metro rider. I take buses and trains and subways everywhere. In nine months, I’ve been a car fewer than ten times. I walk a lot, too. I did the math on how many different routes and trips I’ve taken since January. It’s a bunch. Without any extras, I take 18 different routes in a week, just in life-doing. (That’s 648 rides.) Not beach- or museum-going, just the usuals, the expecteds.
Not once has anyone asked me what I was reading, though I usually read. No one has asked me if I’m cooking for them, though I carry my groceries in a satchel. Occasionally pleasantries are exchanged and generally, zero conversation develops. I have started conversations with people (usually men) when it feels like there’s tension (like, beside me is the last seat available, or whatev). Because, you know? Some guys are on guard really nearly palpably about being perceived as creepy or threatening or rapey. And I don’t like the way that feels, so I seek to diffuse this. I know, it’s rather stunning, but I do not feel that every XY is going to rape me. Because logic. To wit: one fella had a skateboard with like 18 wheels. When I said, “that’s some skateboard, eh?” he visibly relaxed, smiled, and happily we chatted for three stops on the 720EB about how his board worked. Then he waved when I disembarked and said have a good night. There was no hint of “we’re fucking later, right? I mean, I talked to you so I get sex now, yeah?” It was just two people chatting and making the bus a little more of a shared experience instead of a solo stare into a book I’m not reading while wearing a ring that doesn’t mean anything or some other bullshit thing.
The author then explains everyone’s motive for ever saying anything, because she knows:
This serves the double purpose of getting my attention and trapping me in a conversation. If I stop reading the book I enjoy to talk to you, random stranger, you hit on me or just stay way too close to me. If I tell you to leave me alone, you get mad at me. Because I somehow, as a woman, owe you conversation.
Positing that every man has the same intention is the same as saying “all women should not vote.” Also stating that everyone who asks what you’re reading thinks you owe them a conversation because of your sex is a lot like presuming everything has to do with sex. (Only sometimes does everything have to do with sex.)
Tonight when I boarded the train in Long Beach at 10:30pm,
I must interrupt here. I am not sure which train she caught. There are no trains from Long Beach at 10.30 p.m. This sets up the rest of the post for serious criticism, up to and including discrediting the whole lot of it.
When you say you’re telling a thing that happened to you in real life for real, and then you write things that aren’t true, you impeach the whole memoir.
it started up right away. I was not on the train more than three minutes before three boys who looked eighteen sat in the row behind me and leaned over the seats into my personal space, close enough to breathe on me. The one with his arm draped over onto the back of my seat asked me—surprise— “what are you reading?” I went through my usual routine. I told them loudly and firmly that I wanted to be left alone to read my book. They got angry. I was told “Why are you going to be like that? I just wanted to talk!” His friends start laughing at me and they don’t move, telling me come on! andwhy are you gonna be like that? until I tell them to leave me the fuck alone, stand up, and move to the front of the car near the three other people on the train, a couple and a business man in a suit. They spend the next two stops shouting at me from the back of the car, alternating between trying to sound flirtatious and making fun of me, shouting “I bet she’s reading Stephanie Meyer! I bet she’s reading Twilight or some shit! You reading Twilight or some shit?”
They exit the train at the next stop, and I’m relieved. The train is going out of service at the next station, so we all exit to board a new train to Los Angeles. As we board, the business man steps aside to let me go through the door first and asks me if those guys were bothering me. I say yes, that it happens all the time, and he tells he’ll beat them up for me if they come back. He is a nice person who talks to me like I’m a human being instead of a walking pair of tits, and I make a mental note: This is how a real man talks to a woman on a train.
The business man and the couple exit our new Blue Line train an exit or so later, and I think my night is ending on a good note. A seemingly normal man enters the train with his bicycle. At this point I am three rows from the front of the car, another man was sitting near the back of the car, and the rest of the car is empty. Bicycle Man walks halfway down the row, and settles into the seat directly opposite me. Perfect, I think. Twice in one night.
It’s not the first time I’ve been bothered multiple times. As such, I’m still amped from the teenagers on the first train.
I didn’t cut into a lot of that. But here’s some thoughts.
The flow is lost for me when this line:
It’s not the first time I’ve been bothered multiple times. As such, I’m still amped from the teenagers on the first train.
Comes AFTER this line:
The business man and the couple exit our new Blue Line train an exit or so later, and I think my night is ending on a good note. (emphasis mine.)
Is she ending on a good note, (even though there is most of the Blue Line and nearly all of the Red Line yet to travel so when she says “ending the night”, what does that mean? is she going to sleep the rest of the way or um. Huh?). Or is she still amped from the teenagers? These do not seem too well able to mingle. I don’t know what to believe, either. (I choose nothing.)
So, how come the businessman only offers unwinona his
sexist chivalrous aid after the harassing kids have gone on their way — and why is it OK for a businessman (well dressed men are real men?) to talk to her? And if he was going to beat up those kids for bothering her — and he couldn’t fucking figure out for himself they were screaming at her from the other end of the train?– why didn’t he speak up when it was plain and there may have been any danger (not just static) and why after they’ve moved on to be noisy somewhere else? And there’s no problem any longer.
In short, the author is OK with guys who are sexist if she picks them, but the other guys aren’t allowed to make any overture, however bland, because it’s an obvious affront to her femaleness, except –
I really really do not like unlogic. A lot.
And whilst we’re on this point, unwinona, how dare you intimate feminism and then predicate expectations and make decrees about what a “real man” is/does. That is as fucked up as it being your fault you’re pretty. Let us review this bit:
He is a nice person who talks to me like I’m a human being instead of a walking pair of tits, and I make a mental note: This is how a real man talks to a woman on a train.
Actually, he is talking to you like you are incapable, and exactly as if you are a walking pair of tits. The presumption that you are unable to defend yourself because you’re a girl is not “real man.” Applying the same motive as she had done to men who are not so well appointed and/or pleasingly haberdashed: this Real Man says he’d defend the girl and that is because he wants to fuck her.
We return to Bicycle Man:
So when this man leans across the aisle into my personal space and asks me, yes, what are you reading, I assertively but calmly tell him to please leave me alone, I am reading.
What is the line of demarcation for her personal space? Does she say anything about it to him? (She did not report she said anything of the sort.)
If I do not want to talk to anyone, I don’t. I might nodsmile if someone says something to me to which I have no desire to reply, as if they do not speak whatever language I’m inventing in my head. But really, I’ve been on the last train leaving Union Station on a Saturday at midnight and I was the Only XX on the train and felt nothing like hardness or fear.
Admittedly, I am an open girl. And I am rather sensitive. I am, as a decent, thoughtful, human, being, possessed of the ability to ameliorate weird situations. Here’s how:
I say something reasonable.
Unwinona said she said firmly and loudly to leave her alone she’s reading.
To someone who is chatty at a pretty girl, this is not any where near an expected response. She met an innocuous question with a declaration that she was offended and then made a demand. (Whether or not it was an overture to sex her is not at issue here.)
I think what gets to me is the concept that women mustneeds always be on the defensive. I am not entirely advocating blitheness. There are people who are not well-intended, I get that. I carry pepper spray and I have a wicked left hook. I have used neither.
Here’s some more of her tale:
The man stands up, moving to the front and muttering angrily over his shoulderthat it isn’t his fault I’m pretty.
Yes. Exactly that. I am the bad person in this situation because somehow this is all my fault. I started this by being attractive. I am making a mental note to bitch about this to my friends later. I go so far as to write it down so I know I’m remembering it properly.
It is at this exact moment I realize Bicycle Man is not taking it well. The seemingly annoying but normal man a moment before is now talking to himself, becoming agitated. In my years of being bothered by total strangers, I have learned how to hold a book and seem to be reading while taking in everything around me. He is glaring at me, and says out loud in an angry baby talk voice “PLEASELEAVEMEALONEI’MREADING. PLEASE LEAVE ME ALOOOONE.”
Then he’s up out of his seat and things go from bad to worse. He begins pacing back and forth in front of his bike, alternating between screaming something about his mother being dead and calling me a slut, a hoe, a bitch. I am frozen in place. There is one other person in the car, and I’m not sure if trying to change seats will draw more attention to me or less. I trust my instincts and show no fear, doing my best to appear to be calmly reading my book, never once looking up to acknowledge the abuse he’s hurling at me. There are four stops left until we reach the main downtown station where there are lights and security officers. Those four stops are virtually abandoned, and I have no guarantee that leaving to wait for another train won’t motivate him to leave the train as well, leaving us potentially alone at a metro station platform just outside of Compton. I’m frozen in place, trying to plan what I’m going to do if he decides to take all this rage directly to me. I’m ready to kick him, scream, make enough noise that he panics and flees.
At this point he’s punching the walls and doors of the train, screaming at me. He stares me full in the face and screams
SUCK MY DICK, BITCH
YOU STUPID BITCH
YOU GODDAMN HO
IF I HAD A GUN I’D SHOOT YOU
I WOULD FUCKING KILL YOU BITCH
This went on for two stops. No one came to see what was happening. The man in the last row was as frozen as I was. I’m not angry he didn’t come to my defense. He was smaller, older, and frailer-looking than I was. Again, I was worried if I got up, I would be turning my back on him to walk down the aisle. In the state he was in, I had no guarantee it wouldn’t get physical, and I had more physical strength with my back to the window and feet in kicking position where I was. If he had chosen to assault me, I would only be making it easier for him by standing up and putting myself directly in his path. On and on, over and over, he screamed at me, screamed at his dead mother, screamed at me again.
There are emergency call buttons in the trains that unwinona says she takes. One of the commenters on some reproduction of her post decried the lack of them. They’re there. There’s announcements and really big posters for them, even.
On the trains I take, whatever the time of day or night, people who make noise and draw negative attention are shunned. But, as I said, I must just ride the polite routes. There have been people who tell a rider who is bitching about something or another that they should shhh or get off if they don’t like it. But nothing has ever escalated. No one has punched any doors or walls. I don’t get this. I don’t think Mr Nobody is all the company she has.
It is notable that she throws in the dig at the mentally ill, too! She didn’t quote what he said about/to his dead mother directly the way she did what he said to her. It was probably just all too much for her to keep track of that part. (I’m getting more frustrated the more I pull this apart.)
One Saturday afternoon I was a bit far away from a bus stop as the bus came, I expected it 2 minutes later; I ran for it but tripped and fell so magnificently that my netbook flew out of my bag, my pens were all over the sidewalk and I went splat on Olympic at Fairfax, all asunder. Three people gathered my things that went afield and two people got the driver to wait while I collected myself and my stuff. No one was in danger, and all that help ensued. No one walked past me, no one spit at me, no one laughed at me. I got on the bus pretty quickly after all of that and managed to laugh at the driver. “You’re early.”
The moment we reached the downtown station, I was out the door and down the stairs.
How? Did she race by him? Did she finally decide to show him her back? How did she get out the door, I thought she was virtually pinned to the window? What the fuck happened, and how? This is a vital moment in the narrative. Did she levitate? Teleport?
I still had to catch a connecting train to North Hollywood, and made sure there was no sign of Bicycle Man before I entered the car. That’s when I finally starting shaking, and almost threw up. By the time I exited the Red Line and reached my car I could barely breathe and my heart was pounding out of my chest. Even now, in my own home, my hands are still shaking and for some reason the stress has made my back muscles feel cold and numb. From all the tension, I can only assume. I can’t eat anything, I still feel like I’m going to vomit, and I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t cried so much, so hard I still have the headache.
The striking bit about this part is the unsubtle assertion she has a car. I know, she’s doing good green and/or economical works by taking the train but she separates herself from the great hordes of those of us who for whatever reason, only use mass transpo. Oh? she was so scared she couldn’t eat, you say? Funny, I was busy getting my feelings hurt so I couldn’t quite get in on her crap coping skills. Maybe I should blame her since she’s OK blaming everyone with a penis (except if they have on a suit.)
Unwinona wants to wrap her tale up by plastering some principle all over the drama. I think her conclusion is utterly misfit. She tries to make her singular experience into how all men do by all women all the time. Or even if stupid Republican men are all she’s talking about, it’s just a lame tack-on attempt. Vilifying all men is such bad form. Yeah. Give men the benefit of the doubt and treat people like they’re not going to hurt you and guess what? They fucking come through.
So when people (men) want to talk about “legitimate” forms of assault, tell girls they should be nice to strangers and give men the benefit of a doubt, tell them to consider it a compliment, tell them to ignore the bad behavior of men, I want them to be forced to feel, for even one minute, what it feels like to have so much verbal hatred and physical intimidation thrown at them for nothing more than being female and not wanting to share.
I just wanted to read my book.
It’s not my fault I’m pretty.”
Let me restate what is most problematic for me:
“I want them to be forced to feel, for even one minute, what it feels like to have so much verbal hatred and physical intimidation thrown at them for nothing more than being female and not wanting to share.”
This statement is horrifying.
Essentially, she wants anyone who doesn’t feel sorry for her to get raped. How in the fuck does this have any merit.
I do not want to force anyone to feel anything. (Part of this stems from having been forced to feel things for a long time and now really really being a-ok doing my own stewardship of my feelings.)
“Force” is not cool with me. I’m not at all interested in making anyone feel what it was like to be raped. I would not wish that on fucking anyone. What I want is people who have not been raped to understand. Not for them to experience it. Everyone becoming a victim/survivor/whatdoicallit will not make the world rapeless. You’d have to perpetuate it in order to teach the un-raped, by raping them. This is not gainful. The solution she has offered untenable and tasteless.
Fighting force with force is not always productive. Meeting the energy that comes your way and redirecting it so as to render it positive or extinguishing it are infinitely more useful methods. I have a friend who practices Chinese Medicine. There are times you add heat to heat. There are more times that heat is treated by cooling it.
Further, it is particularly sad to me that the Bicycle Man is in his own terrifying place. Tipped right over into delusion and threatened by her dismissal of him, and there is no place where she has the grace, concern or humanity to say that there has to be something awry in his psyche. The unwinona post has one purpose: to evoke pity for the author because she was scared of someone who was crazy and it happened on public transportation. He did not say nice things to her, I know, and that isn’t cool. But neither is thinking that the fucking Metro Universe has to revolve around a pretty girl who doesn’t know how to cope. If she gets so hassled about her book reading, “without fail” on “at least half” of her commutes, she should find some other fake thing to do.
[Snarky bit: I suggest wearing some kind of cloak and heavy veil and/or talking to yourself.]
It sucks to be scared witless.
I hope that this whole thing didn’t happen to the author.
I don’t like saying this, but I don’t believe it did. (In case that wasn’t readily evident.)
My point is not that I have to be nice to strangers. It’s that I have no desire to walk around thinking every stranger deserves discourtesy by the sole virtue of their unknown-ness. (By which unwinona effectively means “male”.)
One experience with a frightening individual who probably does not have enough food or adequate medical care (or, I’m willing to wager, a place to live) does not mean that every man is the same. One violent outburst does not mean that every man riding the train is going to react this way to a pretty girl establishing her boundaries. (Except the author did not do that.)
I am not about to live in this City as a slave to fear. That isn’t feminism. That’s the precise opposite of feminism.