A funny thing happened on the way to the Brown Line …

So I was on my way back home last night, after visiting my friend Kate Donovan (a fellow blogger, read her things!), and I was riding the El, minding my own business in the fairly crowded train car, when these two men sat down in the seats next to me.

They were talking boisterously, which was fine, but then they started cracking jokes about “the fattest woman in the world” whom one of them had heard about recently, and it started to make me feel uncomfortable.

I had already been having a pretty rough, anxiety-ridden day, and I knew that all this talk about weight was likely to trigger my eating disorder, so as soon as they began to muse about the kind of hideous porn that this woman would allegedly make, I got up abruptly (probably visibly perturbed) and moved to the other end of the car.

They laughed uproariously after me as I got up to leave.

That’s fine. They can laugh. Just like I can walk away.

 

When I finally got off at my stop to make my transfer, I stepped up to the platform just as my train was leaving, so I cursed the public transit gods as I realized I would have to wait for another 15 minutes.

I huddled over to the area under the heat lamps — where two other men were standing — to keep myself warm as I waited.

As I stood there and retrieved my cell phone from my pocket, I saw with my peripherals another man come around from behind the partition, and the following incident ensued (keep in mind that I’m partly paraphrasing; I wish I had thought to record it, but it all just happened so quickly)**:

 

Him: [walking up and muttering something about red hair]

Me: [focusing intently on my cell phone, pushing buttons and trying to ignore him in hopes he'd go away — which never works]

Him: Beautiful, beautiful redhead …

Me: [not making eye contact, continuing to ignore him]

Him: Your red hair is sssssssssssssssssssssso gorgeous!

Me: [looking up briefly, and deadpan] Thanks. [proceeding to fiddle with my phone]

Him: Y’know, I’ve got this friend who owns a bunch of bars and restaurants and theaters and such, so if you ever want to hang out, I can take you out sometime —

Me: No thank you.

Him: Or if you ever want to call me or anything, my number is —

Me: No thanks, I’m not interested.

Him: Here’s my number, it’s 7 … 7 … 3 …

Me: Really, I’m not —

Him: 6 … 4 … 2 … 9 …

Me: Are you just, like, making up numbers now?

Him: 3 … 8 …

Me: [to the other two guys keeping warm] Do you guys pick up girls like this? Do you approve of this behavior? [one of the guys shakes his head, and the other one says adamantly: "No."]

Him: I’m not trying to pick you up! I got a girlfriend at home!

Me: You’re not trying to pick me up? Then why are you giving me your number?

Him: I’m just trying to give you a compliment! Not my fault you can’t take a compliment!

Me: Hah! Oh, I can’t take a compliment?

Him: I was just saying I find you attractive, that’s all!

Me: That doesn’t mean I’m going to fuck you. I don’t have the time to have sex with every man who finds me attractive.

Him: [looking surprisingly offended by that remark] I’m not exactly hurting for sex. I’m going home to my girlfriend right now.

Me: Doesn’t matter. You just want to conquer me. I’m just a conquest to you. [at that, the guy who had been standing next to him nodded his head silently in agreement, and I turned to him] Thank you! Thank you for agreeing with me!

Him: Ohhhhhh, I see. Girl, you been taking too many —

Me: [anticipating exactly what he was going to say, because I've heard it all before] — “feminism courses at college”? Yeah. Yeah, I have.

Him: That shit’s not real, you gotta get all that out of your mind. You just think that allllll men want is sex, but I’m just trying to be friendly! I just want to make friends!

Me: Hah! I’ve heard that one before. ["Bashful," anyone?]

Him: You just gotta relax and be more friendly! You think you know what men want? You don’t know what men want! Men want comfort.

Me: Tell that to the men who raped me.

Him: Listen — women have all the same rights as men! You can vote! Men and women are equal!

Me: Hah! Okay, I really don’t have the time to educate you about reality right now …

Him: [getting up in my face] You know who really is oppressed — black people! You have it better than me!

Me: Yes, but women in those minority groups are worse off than their male counterparts. Sexism is intersectional.

Him: No, no, no, no, no —

Me: Yes! And I’m not denying that racism exists, the way you’re denying that sexism exists!

Him: I’m not denying sexism exists!

Me: Yes! You are!

Him: Listen, sweetheart —

Me: I’m not your sweetheart.

Him: Are you a lesbian?

Me: Hah! … Would you go away if I said that I was?

Him: I’m just wondering.

Me: Of course. Because if I don’t want to suck your dick, then obviously it’s because I’m not into men.

Him: I didn’t say anything about sucking dick! Now you gotta go and start stereotyping black men, like alllll black men like getting their dicks sucked —

Me: All men like getting their dicks sucked, I didn’t say anything about black men …

Him: What’s wrong with being friendly? What’s wrong with me telling women they’re attractive? What’s wrong with that? Tell me! Tell me — what’s wrong with that? What —

Me: I will answer you if you stop asking me the same question over and over again. Street harassment is a microaggression, and microaggressions are cumulative. It’s just like when you walk down the street at night, and a white person is walking in front of you, and they turn around and see you, and then cross to the other side of the street — that’s a microaggression, and it happens to you every day, and it just reminds you of your place in the world — just like men remind me of my place in the world every day when they harass me on the street.

Him: But I didn’t degrade you! I didn’t say anything degrading! [cue an elderly man walking into the heated area] Look! I’m just being friendly — just like I’m being friendly to this guy! Hey, man! How you doing?

Me: But you didn’t give him your phone number or tell him how pretty he is! See? You’re not treating us equally! We are not equal. Ask any woman what they think about this, and they will agree with me. And don’t you wonder why that is? It’s because we feel degraded! And you should listen to the people you try to tell how they should feel —

Elderly man: [to me] You’re really overreacting!

Me: That’s easy for you to say — because you’re a man, and this doesn’t happen to you!

Elderly man: You just need to put things in perspective! [around this time, the first guy left to catch his train]

Me: I am putting things in perspective! This is the perspective —

Elderly man: [getting up in my face] Let me tell you something about perspective. My voice is impaired, and you know how that happened? I was caught in a chokehold that left my voice like this.

Me: I believe you, and I feel you. I was choked violently by the man who raped me —

Elderly man: Yeah, yeah, yeah … [waving me off and getting on his train]

 

At this point, I walked out from the heated area to get some of that cold air — delirious at this point, due to the sheer absurdity of it all, and the adrenaline. And when I walked back around to warm up, there was a whole new group of people standing under the heat lamps from the train that had pulled in — two of whom were police officers. So I stood next to one of them, and as soon as I had planted both my feet on the concrete, the cop nearest to me wrapped his arm around my shoulders and pulled me into his body. I immediately wrestled my way out of his grip, and he said, “Hey! No! Come on in here and get warm — you don’t have to stand out there in the cold!”

What the hell?? I didn’t know what to say. I was baffled. Even after all that, I was lost for words. How could this man have had the audacity to grab hold of my body like that without any consideration for my willingness to be grabbed — and in front of all these people?

Oh, right. Male entitlement.

I almost forgot.

 

Now, I sincerely don’t recommend that every woman react the way that I did in the face of this kind of adversity. The only reason I talked back was because I made a quick, unconscious assessment of my safety and knew that, given the relative crowdedness of the platform, and my proximity to the two bystanders I mentioned, I felt like the risk of any violent escalation was low. That’s not always the case. And even in this case, I’m sure I only got worked up because … I don’t know, maybe every 334th encounter like this warrants an outburst, because taking it silently on the chin every time can be depleting.

 

All I know is I need feminism.

 

If you can read this anecdote and still not acknowledge the necessity of feminism, then you have lost the plot entirely. I can’t tell you how often I’m told by men to relax while they attempt to ensnare me, that I don’t know better than they do with regards to a woman’s place in the world, that I should take sexual harassment as a compliment rather than as a privileged affront to my gender, that I’m making a big fuss over nothing if I recoil at the greedy hands of a stranger.

 

Well, fuck that.

 

I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore.

 

 

**The “slymepit” has seen fit to doubt the accuracy of my transcription w/r/t the actual content involved in the conversation that I described. For the record, the only parts of this encounter that I am unsure about are the statements’ chronology and I left out some dialogue that was just a repetition of what had already been said. But every statement that I transcribed was, in fact, made, and I remember very well the wording that was used. I know, I know, there’s no hard evidence, but I just wanted to clarify which details I feel like I may have fudged (again, chronology and some repetition), and also to let the slymepit know that I SEE THEM. o.O

25 thoughts on “A funny thing happened on the way to the Brown Line …

  1. S says:

    I would suggest avoiding getting into these kinds of confrontations and responding immediately with something like “Please leave me alone,” “you are making me uncomfortable,” “I’m not interested” in a very loud clear voice. Repeating yourself if necessary. Really it works.

    • brassycassy says:

      I think that you’ll find if you reread the post, that I did say I was uninterested. And I did repeat myself. And I was loud. And clear.

      And if you read it to the very end, I myself encourage others to avoid confrontations and explain why I did it this time.

    • Miriam says:

      Were you there? Did Cassy ask you for advice? Do you really think you understand these things better than someone with as much experience as she has?

      Please.

    • kay_fil says:

      With decent men who were not approaching you will ill intentions, that shit works. This is normally the first thing we all try; we don’t WANT to be conversing with these men. When it doesn’t work is when it escalates. Further, as she said, she doesn’t encourage reacting like she did. I don’t encourage reacting like she did, or like I have. But people react emotionally to things. And when you have previously been a victim, incidences like this trigger memories and emotions that non-victims might not understand. It’s great that you’re trying to help, and so so wonderful that you think it’s that simple. I hope you always retain that optimism, but know that some of us can’t.

  2. S says:

    No, I mean like….right away. As soon as he said “beautiful redhead” stop him THERE before it can escalate?

    • brassycassy says:

      Yes, please do tell me what I should have done instead to better avoid being harassed by men who have been socialized to not take no for an answer. That doesn’t sound victim-blamey at all. I’m glad it escalated for once. I’m glad I stood up for myself for once. It felt good.

    • S, having been in similar situations myself, I can assure you that there are no guarantees that these men will listen. So, just as Cassy hoped the men in the story would do, I am asking you to listen to her, and me, and Miriam, when we tell you that this is not our fault, that we have to deal with this all the time, and that we are not asking for your advice, but rather your concern, care, and your pledge to help us make this stop happening to women like us.

      (Sorry for the repeat, wanted to make it a reply, not a separate comment)

    • Artor says:

      Dude, work on your reading comprehension and your social awareness- they’re both lacking. It sounds like Cass did everything she could short of slugging the guy, which was the reaction I had to suppress while reading her story. The criticism & advice should be directed toward the ignorant, entitled asshole at the train stop and yourself.

    • Sam Loy says:

      You have to be trolling.
      In case you’re not, you need to realise that you are insinuating there was something Cassy could have done differently to avoid this confrontation. I’ll write in capitals – so you don’t miss it – what that kind of thinking is: BULLSHIT.
      Cassy, you’re my new hero for confronting them like that. It needs to be done more, especially by us men.

  3. S, having been in similar situations myself, I can assure you that there are no guarantees that these men will listen. So, just as Cassy hoped the men in the story would do, I am asking you to listen to her, and me, and Miriam, when we tell you that this is not our fault, that we have to deal with this all the time, and that we are not asking for your advice, but rather your concern, care, and your pledge to help us make this stop happening to women like us.

  4. Crommunist says:

    Jeez, the “helpful advice” starts right away…

    This is a terrifying story. Thank you for sharing it. I’ll try to find the courage to react like the guys who said they didn’t agree, and hopefully have the similar courage to speak up if I witness something like this.

  5. [...] Cassy writes a fantastic piece on street harassment. [...]

  6. Uriel Maimon says:

    I am incredibly impressed by your courage of speaking up in that situation. It’s a shocking testimony to my privilege as a male that I would never have to deal with this. And if I did, I would never have the courage to speak up like you did (regardless of whether that was a wise choice or not). Having grown up in a physically abusive environment (I used to get beaten up and bullied daily in school, which led me to attempt suicide) – I can empathize with the feelings of helplessness and fear, and I know damned well that I would have been too afraid to say anything.

    Also, I find the behavior of the police officer shocking. Shocking, but not surprising unfortunately.

  7. [...] guys.  This is not okay.  The whole post is worth reading, but most specifically, I am referring to the transcript.  In [...]

  8. The more I learn about street harassment the more it feels that women live in an almost 1984-esque world where, no matter what you say or how you act you’re always going to be ‘guilty’ of something, whether that’s being slutty, stuck up, humourless…The list goes on.

    Thank you for posting this.

  9. tteclod says:

    I read your anecdote, thinking, “What kind of man would do that?” and upon discovering the skin color and likely cultural context of the man (based on his opinions and behavior), concluded that the behavior, although reprehensible, was to be expected, and could have been anticipated based on a little “racial profiling.” It’s a sad world in which we live, but the example of the challenge provided by the anecdote is as you describe: there’s an intersection of cultural issues happening here that forced you to defend yourself from indefensible behavior.

    Although there is implicit and potentially dangerous gender discrimination in “old-fashioed” rules of public conduct and decorum, I’m struck by how observation of fundamental rules for male conduct in the presence of women, and the proper response of the elderly man who arrived mid-conversation, would have spared you the attention of this “man.”

    • brassycassy says:

      tteclod,

      I have to say that your comment reeks of racism. White men are guilty of the same reprehensible behavior as the man in my post, and even if there exists a correlation between race and street harassment in urban areas, it’s due to other socioeconomic factors (e.g., access to quality education) which are out of their control and which are a result of white privilege — another facet of our society that needs to be dismantled, just as the patriarchy does.

      Also, I don’t think the elderly man’s behavior was proper. He accused me of overreacting and then proceeded to invalidate my struggle. He defended the man who harassed me. His arrival would not have spared me in any way, no matter when he happened to make it.

      • tteclod says:

        Not all black men are mysoginist morons; neither are all white men prince charming. However, ignoring correlations that may contribute to risk of physical harm and mental anguish and financial ruin is foolish. The “patriarchy” is not to blame for the behavior your observed; “we” have rigorous and demanding rules for conduct.

        Of course, this ignores the underlying problem you identified with your story: some men behave badly in public places where they encounter women. How do you propose to motivate men to behave better. What do your do with men who won’t change?

        As an aside, the “Patriarchy” isn’t to blame.

      • brassycassy says:

        I find it weird that you would choose to follow my blog without accepting the basic premise that the patriarchy is responsible for misogyny. And then to put the word in scare-quotes?! Needless to say, any further racist commentary will not be approved in this thread.

  10. Marie the Bookwyrm says:

    tteclod–I can’t believe your first paragraph! She should have expected something like that because the guy was black!?! Do you really think white guys don’t do that kind of stuff?

  11. ollipehkonen says:

    Thank you Cassie and to other women like you who help open eyes (at least mine) to how we men need to really work hard on the “how would I feel in her shoes” question, to be considerate of other people. I live in another country and culture, and these stories make me wonder if these things actually are so much more rare here or if I’m just blind. The situation you and others like you describe seems so foreign to me, it’s like someone saying “and after gravity returned I drove away in a black batmobile”.

    And then some troll or MRA comments “I don’t believe that the batmobile was totally black.” And then I realize again that I’m probably just so blind and need to work on understanding women and promoting equality much better.

    Thank you for sharing your story.

  12. Jay Richardson says:

    Wow, that’s pretty terrible. I’m assuming these “gentlemen” were African-American’s? Ok, disclaimer: No matter how I word this some people are going to take it as racist. I’m sorry that some will take it like that but I don’t believe it is. I think there are SOME (not all of course) black men that do want to “conquer” white women. Yep, I said it. They may be attracted to white women but I believe there’s something more going on. It’s interesting that these guys said they feel oppressed in our society because usually when someone is abused, bullied, or oppressed in any way, they may naturally want to take it out on someone they feel is more vulnerable than themselves. In a family, if the father beats the mother, the mother may beat the son, and the son may beat the younger sister it’s learned behavior. I feel that if black men feel oppressed than they may want to abuse women in general white or black. So yea not only is there racism AND sexism (which I’m sure is more prevalent in society) but it’s entirely possible that one might beget the other.

    Now that thing about the policeman is appalling. Absolutely appalling. You would think that a police officer should know that if ANYONE (police officer or not) puts their hands on you without your permission, that is assault. That is the definition of assault. God some cops are just dicks high on authority.

    Keep it real Cass,
    Jay

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