sexism, safety, and the bus

Photo via Googles Life Photo Archive.

Photo via Google's Life Photo Archive.

I ride the bus to work every day, as I’ve mentioned.  And more than any other consideration, where to sit on the bus occupies a lot of my thoughts.  In general, I think of the seats at the front of the bus, the two rows of 6 seats facing each other across the aisle, as a place for older people, or people with strollers and small children to sit, or for people hopping on who plan to hop off in just a few spots.  I also admit that I was raised by people with Good Southern Manners and occasionally have to resist the urge to give side-eye to able-bodied men who sit in these seats, because of some sort of vague “women and children first” idea.  I’m generally able bodied, and generally, I would think someone like me should not sit in these seats unless no other seats were available.

BUT.  That was before my now several experiences of male creepiness on the bus.  First there was the time a man who had been sitting behind me ran up to me as I walked down the aisle to get off the bus one evening and handed me what I thought was a piece of trash.  It was his phone number.  Freddy C. ###-####, CALL ME! Uh, no. Then there was the time a strange man sat down directly next to me, even though there were plenty of other open seats in which he would not have had to be directly next to anyone, and proceeded to talk loudly and explicitly about sex on his cell phone the entire ride.  And there was the time an old man stared at me and then, when the person sitting closest to me got off the bus, moved to sit next to me and attempted to hit on me until I finally got off the bus.  Add to that numerous instances of just general uncomfortable staring, and you’ve got me, feeling rather uncomfortable when usually riding the bus alone.

As a result, I’ve come to feel most comfortable when sitting as close to the driver as possible.  I know those ladies (generally- there’s one bus driver who is male) won’t let anything bad happen to me.  I’m sure this is partially irrational.  Maybe I don’t have to sit right up next to the driver.  Sometimes I even wonder if sitting so close to the driver might make me appear racist, as I’m often the only white person on the bus, and the idea of Rosa Parks isn’t far from my mind in this former Confederate town.  (And yes, I know my more conservative friends are now saying, “uh, your liberal guilt is showing.”)

And then there is the part of me that is just plain mad.  I should not have to wonder about which seat on the bus is the “safest” just because I am female.  I should not have to endure creepy, degrading stares on my way to work, just because I’m female.  I should not be honked and whistled and hollered at as I wait for my bus, just because I’m female.  I should not have to wonder if it’s my outfit that is causing people to behave so rudely to me, to wonder if I shouldn’t be wearing a knee length skirt on a hot summer day, to think maybe pants would invite less staring, even though I’d be less comfortable.  I should not have to wish that my husband were accompanying me when I’m out in public, to keep people from staring and making comments and honking, etc.  These things happen so often that sometimes it just builds and I want to yell at the man sitting nearby, staring at me for the 20 minutes or so that I’m on the bus.  I want to flip him off.  But I don’t.  So, these days, I sit very very close to the front.  And sometimes I give the side-eye to able bodied men who sit in that area and encroach on my safe space.  And it makes me sad that I have to live this way.

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3 thoughts on “sexism, safety, and the bus

  1. I make a point of sitting closest to the driver as possible, or at the least, snagging an aisle seat. I know it’s not always possible, but that way you’re not trapped between creepaziod and the window and if creepaziod squeezes in next to you, you can make a quick escape when I seat opens up.
    However, you’re way nicer than I am- I would have shoved that phone down idiots throat or gotten on my cell to loudly complain about my yeast infection or something.

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  2. CrabbyAlissa is right that you should not be friendly about it. Hold your ground and stare them down (unless you feel that you are in actual danger). They are counting on you to be demure–to look away and avoid confrontation. That’s what women do–we smooth over all the rough, jaggedy parts so nobody feels uncomfortable.

    Creepy guys have some kind of radar. They know that they are putting you off balance.

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  3. mundanejane, although I would love to say, “stand your ground,” in public transportation U-bahn and S-bahn in Berlin, making eye-contact or any duration with someone, (e.g. staring back at them) is interpreted as flirting or inviting the person to continue. I found this out because some creepy 60-yr-old man was “checking me out” and I decided to give him an evil glare so he would stop. It actually only encouraged him. He then started making mouth gestures at me.

    Unfortunately, sometimes for safety, you just have to play it demure, because otherwise you will “incite” more horrible behavior as if it is your fault. Confrontation can unfortunately be dangerous, especially if you are a 20 yr old female traveling alone an a public transit train at night in a foreign country, because I know that if I get attacked or something, there is nothing I can do. I am not strong enough.

    It should not be that way, but sometimes it is.

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