I am not Trayvon. But I AM the woman in the elevator.

The whole country seems to be unsettled now that the trial is over and George Zimmerman has received zero punishment for the undisputed fact that he provoked a fight with and then shot and killed an unarmed teenager named Trayvon Martin. All I keep thinking is imagining myself in his parents’ shoes, my baby killed and getting no justice. But the truth is, despite all the folks saying “We are Trayvon,” I’m not, and my babies *aren’t either. We are *unlikely to be perceived as threats based on our race. We *are unlikely to be held to a higher standard of suspicion. We *likely won’t be required to moderate our clothes or behavior or whereabouts in order to make others feel safe and thus ensure our own safety.

And Questlove has written a great piece about what it feels like to be like Trayvon, to be black and male in this country, to constantly be worrying about how others perceptions of his danger level affect his own safety. And I think we should all read it, and I think we should all think hard about the way racism and segregation affect our own day to day lives, and the fact that a lot of us live in neighborhoods where seeing a black man walk down our street would be so unusual as to be perceived as a threat. My friend Kyran, for example, has been asking some great questions about the intersection of economic and racial injustice in our communities.

But at the same time, the central story Questlove tells, about how hurt he felt by a woman who lived in his building clearly perceiving him as a threat when she was alone with him on an elevator, well, I am that woman, and I can’t say I blame her. If Questlove wants us to all walk in his size 14 shoes, then he needs to know a thing or two about that woman’s high heels, about what it means to be a woman in rape culture.

We are told over and over again that rape is something that happens to girls who aren’t vigilant enough. Who walk down the wrong streets at the wrong time in the wrong company. Who have too much to drink. Who wear the wrong clothes. Who send out mixed signals. You are constantly on your guard or you “get raped,” a phrase that has always bothered me because it’s like “got milk?” As if I went and picked it up at the store or had some say in the matter.

I’m not often alone in public these days, but I chronicled lots of harassment and intimidation from the days when I used to be, which you can find under my Bus Stories tab. It was daily, and the general message I got was: to be female, alone, in public is to be at risk.

When I am alone in an isolated place, my keys are between my fingers in case I need to use them as a weapon, and I have my phone out and ready to dial 911 if I need to. I would certainly be wary to be on an elevator with a strange man of any race, because an elevator is an isolated place. And this vigilance is exhausting and numbing, and there were days I have come home and literally cried because one more man yelled something ugly and intimidating at me as he drove past.

To be a woman in public is ALSO to be told you “aren’t shit,” as Questlove says he’s learned. It’s to be told you are an object for the taking, a message made clear not just by words shouted out of moving cars like “HEY SUGARTITS,” but also in the looks, and in the ways people talk about those unvigilant girls who get themselves raped.

I think, somewhere, there’s a place where Questlove and that woman in the elevator have something in common: patriarchy tells them both they ain’t shit. They both have varying levels of privilege, him as a man, and her as a white woman. It’s only in taking down the patriarchy that they can both feel safe in public.

*Words changed slightly from original post in response to comments and in an effort to make clear that I am attempting to recognize the privilege afforded to women perceived as white in this country. I don’t want to leap to the assumption that we are never seen as threatening by others, simply recognizing the fact that we usually aren’t.

**Traffic and comments keep rolling in on this post, and while I’m really happy with the attention it’s received, I’m also busy chasing 16 month old twins, and don’t have time to reply to every comment. I would also urge you to check out this beautifully-written, painful post that’s another take on the woman in the elevator. The comments and responses to this post have been thought-provoking and inspiring. I’d say a great step toward dismantling the system I believe hurts both the “woman in the elevator” and Questlove is to think about our fears, confront and examine them. I believe there are reasonable steps toward self-preservation, but there are also walls and barriers that separate us from one another. I need to focus more on reaching out.

a busdriver’s birthday flashmob

In Denmark, Mukhtar the bus driver had a birthday, and his regular riders had a great idea to make it a special one.  I dare you not to mist up:

I haven’t ridden the bus in a month, because I need my extra minutes in the morning to keep our house clean enough for showings, but one thing I miss about it is the community riding the bus creates among the regulars and the drivers.  We were never all close enough to plan and execute a birthday flashmob for a driver, but we knew each other, knew each others’ stops, and chatted with each other each morning and evening.   I miss chatting with my bus friends and joking with my favorite drivers.

Even though I’m not a bus rider right now, this sweet video has inspired me. What a great way to show someone you appreciate that they do their job! I’m going to try to make a point to thank someone just for doing a great job at their job, no matter how “menial” it may be considered in society.  Why don’t you do the same?

Note: I originally found the video via Andrew Sullivan.

clean me up before you go go

our adorable house. don't you want to buy it so i can stop cleaning?

Because this blog has a whole section called “Tales from the Bus,” I feel like I have to confess something: I’m not riding the bus much right now.  Because our house is on the market, it has to look ready for a showing all the time. Because we still live there, this means someone has to remove all traces of our presence every morning before leaving the house. Because my poor husband has to leave to be at work at 6:30 am these days, this means I’m the one to do it, because it’s hard to sweep the floors in the dark.  Because if I drive instead of riding the bus, I have an extra hour at home, I’m not riding the bus these days.

Someone please please please buy my house so I can stop cleaning it! We’re no slobs, but making the bed, sweeping the floors (with two dogs, this is a daily necessity), rounding up the clutter, wiping down the kitchen counters, scrubbing the kitchen sink, and doing a quick dusting of the living room every single morning is seriously getting annoying.

give a hoot

Give a hoot, don't pollute.

Today, after work, I was standing in a chilly drizzle at my bus stop, hands in my pockets, wishing I were wearing some sort of shoe with socks instead of ballet flats, when I saw an appalling display of poor parenting.  Near me, also waiting at the stop were two other young women, one with a baby on her hip, and the other with a toddler in tow.  The mom-of-toddler was juggling a couple of plastic grocery bags and talking on her cell phone. Toddler was guzzling a little plastic bottle of Kool Aid and eating Chex Mix.

Then I heard it. The kid finished the Kool Aid and didn’t just drop the bottle, she threw it on the ground, with gusto. Of course, I expected to hear the immediate “Pick that up, we don’t do that!” But no. Instead, MOT stomped on the bottle to smash it and then did the craziest thing.  She kicked it about half a block, walking, and kicking, and walking, and kicking, until she was several feet away.  Then she left the plastic bottle on the sidewalk and walked back to the stop. It was the most effort I’ve ever seen someone put into littering. I can’t understand why it wouldn’t have been easier to just reach down and pick up the bottle and put it in the plastic grocery sack, while telling the child that it’s not OK to throw trash on the street. But what do I know. I thought about going and picking up the bottle, as I’ve been known to come home with my messenger bag stuffed with the cans and bottles I find near the stop and toss them in the recycling, but I thought it might cause some sort of altercation. Some days I just don’t get people.

Southern Gentlemen?

Image via the Google Life Photo Archive.

The scene: my bus, around 8 am this morning. I am wedged between two other women in the front-area seats that face each other. To my right, the resident “church lady” is chatting about her revival, which was “awesome” in case you were wondering, and to my left, my neighbor is listening to head phones.  I’m just watching everyone, wondering if I should have brought a scarf, wishing I were still in bed. We stop at two or three more stops. Two men get on the bus, shaking hands with the bus driver and saying “Good Morning” to each of us in the front aisle-facing seats individually as they pass.  Clearly these two painters should have been politicians. Their paint-covered pants and shoes betray their real profession.  The bus moves on. We stop again. A young woman gets on. The bus is now full.  We stop again. A mom who often has her daughter with her but doesn’t this morning gets on, finds no place to sit, and takes a standing space.

The bus driver glances in the rear view mirror and sees her standing. “What, can’t none of you guys give her a seat?” He hollers this, apparently to the men of the bus. Some people shuffle around, suddenly remembering their manners. A seat materializes where two men had been taking up 3 seats between them. The mother sits down. Her face says she doesn’t want anyone making a fuss. I wonder if I’d rather be standing or wedged in between two guys who really take up 3 seats between the two of them. The bus driver, apparently satisfied that everyone is now acting like a gentleman, closes the doors and merges back into traffic.

thanks for proving my point

Come to think of it, using THIS sort of mace would probably be more satisfying.  Image via Flicr user hyku.

Come to think of it, using THIS sort of mace would probably be more satisfying. Image via Flicr user hyku.

This is just a quick follow-up to yesterday’s post about men who approach women in public places.  I had a lovely day on the bus today.  This morning, the bus was very crowded.  I had to wedge in between two people in one of the few remaining empty spaces, and the space was really about half the size of a “seat.”  And yet, perhaps because it was such a gorgeous golden morning, everyone on the bus was in a good mood.  At least everyone in the first half of the bus with the two long rows of seats that face each other.  We were all chatting, one lady talking about her upcoming two weeks of vacation, another about her daughter’s first birthday, another guy about his sister’s birthday party this weekend.  I got off the bus with a smile and a spring in my step.  Even this afternoon, the bus arrived on time (something it rarely seems to do on Fridays), it wasn’t crowded, I chatted with the 2-weeks vacation lady about her plans and our busy Fridays.

And then I got off the bus.

As I was crossing an intersection, a car slowed down as it got close to me.  It was an Acura, full of “bro” looking dudes.  They were hanging out the windows of the car, waving their arms, screaming loudly at me.  It seriously startled me.  I jumped and recoiled.  I think I half expected them to throw something at me.  I have no idea what they were screaming.  It shook me up.

I have no idea why this happens to me so often.  I have no idea why these men do things like this, though my theory is that they get off on intimidating women on the street.  I think I’m going to get some mace or pepper spray for my keychain.

wish i could pass this out like candy

Shapely Prose has a particularly wonderful guest post up by someone with the handle Starling on the subject of men who approach women in public.  You should go read it right now. It’s seriously so good I wish I could print out about 50 copies to carry in my bus-riding-tote and hand to every man I see on the bus.  I’ve written about my experiences being harassed both waiting for and riding public transportation.  Sometimes I wish I could wear a t-shirt with the words PLEASE LEAVE ME ALONE emblazoned across the chest, but it’s probably not work appropriate.

One particularly wonderful thing about this post is the way it makes clear something I’m not sure male friends or even my husband fully understand: as a female in public, I’m constantly evaluating the threat level from others.  Starling puts it this way:

The first thing you need to understand is that women are dealing with a set of challenges and concerns that are strange to you, a man. To begin with, we would rather not be killed or otherwise violently assaulted.“But wait! I don’t want that, either!”

Well, no. But do you think about it all the time? Is preventing violent assault or murder part of your daily routine, rather than merely something you do when you venture into war zones? Because, for women, it is.

Starling notes that this may sound crazy, but she sites the statistical likelihood that 1 in 6 women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime as a major cause for concern. She also notes that based on rape statistics, 1 in 60 men is a rapist, and they don’t all look like creeps. She puts it much funnier:

These rapes are not all committed by Phillip Garrido, Brian David Mitchell, or other members of the Brotherhood of Scary Hair and Homemade Religion.

In fact, most rapists don’t look like mug shots of serial killers. They look like normal guys. Maybe even like friends, or boyfriends, or coworkers, or just someone you chat with in line at the grocery store. They look like “nice guys.” And so, women in public are on their guard, looking for signs that the guy approaching them in public might be approaching them in order to do them harm, and at the same time, women are sending out signs that let those who approach them know when to back off, if the approach-er is paying attention. Continue reading