AS A FEMALE WHO tends to move unaccompanied through the city by bike or on foot, I get harassed.
Several times a day.
As in, I often can’t make a move in public without someone reminding me I have lady parts and/or offering to service them.
The intrusions range from hilarious declarations of love and proposals of marriage to bizarre flashes of drive-by penis from masturbating motorists to more frightening threats of rape and associated mayhem from those whose advances I spurn. Sometimes the intrusions are physical — a smack on the behind while I’m riding from a passing motorist or an opportunistic grope in a crowd — and sometimes I am offered cash for services I do not provide.
The less obvious but more frequent kind of harassment often comes in the form of that guy.
That guy on the street that decides to walk with me while I’m trying to do unobtrusive street photography. That guy that thinks he’s the only one that has ever asked me whether the bike I am riding is actually mine, how far I go on a daily basis, where I am coming from, where I am going, and can he ride with me. Or, as happened yesterday, that guy on the train that loudly decided to make me his new best friend and involve the whole train car in the process.
I heard him as soon as I stepped onto the Blue Line at Imperial-Wilmington. He was loudly talking at a woman sitting across from him about things that seemed to make no sense.
Catching her eye, I gave her a questioning look, silently asking whether she needed some help. In that moment, he spotted me standing at the front of the car and it was all over.
“Amiga!” he shouted, gesturing to the seat next to him. “Siéntese aquí!” (Sit here, friend!)
No, thanks, I told him in Spanish. I’m fine where I am.
And, I was. I had just come in from the airport and had a small suitcase with me, giving me an excuse to stay right where I was.
But he wouldn’t take no for an answer.
You’re going to get tired standing up like that, he shouted. I can see you are already falling asleep. Come here so I can talk to you.
Although that is kind of you to be concerned about my welfare, if I come over there you are going to talk to me more than you already are, I volleyed, So, I would prefer to stay over here.
Several of the Latina passengers began giggling to themselves.
Unfortunately, as most women know, the beauty of that guy is that he generally reads outright rejection as a sign of interest.
I like the way you look, he shouted and began offering other passengers a blow-by-blow description of me as he looked me up and down.
Instead of realizing he’d now gone too far and calling him out on him it, a couple of passengers looked up from their reading or phones and checked me out.
Chivalry is indeed dead, I thought.
So, this is your thing, no? I asked. This is how you spend your time? Harassing women on the train?
He was undeterred.
The guy sitting in front of me looked at me sympathetically but said nothing.
Four more stops til the 7th St. Metro Station.
The attention continued.
What is your name?
Where are you going?
Where are you from?
You sound like you might be from Argentina. I think you are from Argentina.
I think you look very nice.
Why don’t you come sit here?
I looked out the window as he prattled on loudly. I’ve been through worse.
When I lived in Spain, I was physically assaulted four or five times a day, on average. The worst incident entailed being painfully groped while surrounded by 10 guys on 5 mopeds. They had caught up to me as I rode my bike along a stretch of country road outside Sevilla, encircled my bike, and assaulted me as we sped along at almost 20 miles an hour. I genuinely thought I was going to die.
The assault went on for what seemed like forever. People in the small towns we passed through watched placidly from their yards, confused (as they often were) as to why I was on a bicycle and probably thinking (as even my own roommates did) that I had purposely invited that kind of attention by virtue of having been on the bike in the first place. Nobody called out to the boys to stop and nobody called the police.
It only ended because I caught one guy by the collar and threatened to yank him off the back of the moped. At that point, half an hour into the attack, I am guessing I looked crazed enough to be serious about potentially killing one of them. They freaked out and took off.
An annoying guy on a train, therefore, did not faze me.
Until he grabbed my suitcase as I was exiting the train.
“Come on, amiga!” he said, pulling at my things. “Let’s go!”
Now he’d really crossed the line. I gave him a shove and a few choice words.
People looked at me like I was the aggressive weirdo.
“What ever happened to ‘see something, say something’?” I muttered to myself as passengers crushed by me, eager to get off the train.
“Shouldn’t this qualify as ‘something’?”
Women, do you have stories of harassment on public transit? Please share them with me at sahra(at)streetsblog.org.