Sunday, April 22, 2012

Sexual Harassment and You!

Here is a short true story.

On Thursday morning, I woke up at 6.45. I showered, I got dressed. I left the house. I got the train to the tube, and the tube to work. It was raining, and as is always the case when the weather is unpleasant, the train was jammed with damp commuters and mulched wet newspaper. I was tired. I held on to a handrail and closed my eyes.

This was the moment when a semi erect penis decided to make friends with my butt cheek.

At first I thought it was some kind of mistake. Whoops! said the penis, hereafter known as Renegade. It seems as though I have found my way to your pencil skirt. My bad! What a hilarious misunderstanding!

Look. I'm a reasonable woman. I realize that, for better or worse, men are slaves to their own boners. There is no straight logical correlation between a situation and a boner's origin, and I get that. From what I understand, men get between six and six hundred thousand erections a day. As far as a dick knows, a shovel standing upright in the snow is as arousing as a half-Asian bass player rocking out in a thong.

Figuring it to be nothing more then an awkward mistake, I move. Given the packed train, this is an effort in itself. I shuffle a couple of steps forward, giving Renegade adequate space to roam. My butt is once again free to enjoy its morning in the precious solitude it's grown accustomed to. Moments later however, I feel something familiar. My new friend Renegade is back, and he's relocated to the side of my thigh. It's somewhat firmer this time: what could have been mistaken for an accidental graze earlier in the journey now feels sickeningly intentional.

The reality of the situation suddenly occurs to me. This man isn't simply a victim of a crowded train and a fairly circumstantial morning boner. This man is taking advantage of a crowded train to sexually harass me and get away with it. And it's working.

At this point, I still haven't seen the man's face. The narrowness of the the carriage and the amount of people piled into it means it's almost impossible to get a 360 view, and I've become terrified of making eye contact with Renegade's owner. I don't know what I'm scared of exactly, but something in me - some leftover pre-feminist chromosome from generation's past - tells me to just remove myself from the situation as quietly and as casually as possible. Seeing his face would make it worse. I don't know how, but it would. I move again, in turn pressing myself into the woman standing in front of me. She looks at me, perturbed. Oh God, I think. I'm starting an endless conga line of commuter harassment. Somewhat unsurprisingly, Renegade follows. The train jolts as it stops. I feel the tips of the man's fingers press against my hip. I am being steadied.

This is my stop.

I whip around to fight my way to the door, and me and Renegade's owner meet face to face for the first time. He's about thirty one. He's wearing a suit. For some reason, I find this surprising. I guess I figured that the kinds of men who sexually harass women on trains are the kinds of men who stay on the train all day, looking for their next butt cheek to graze. Alien is the concept that they board the train, defile a woman, and then just get on with the rest of their day. I wonder if he's that guy at the office where he works. The one that everyone unanimously hates, but no-one can find a good enough reason to fire. He smiles at me with the side of his mouth

I leave the train with my face burning. I'm nauseous. I feel the sides of my throat get rapidly warmer, the way your body does when it's getting ready to vomit. Mostly though, I'm just angry. I'm ferociously, lividly angry. I'm angry at this.. this dude feeling like he can treat me like the punch-line to his penis's practical joke. What's even more irritating is not what he did, but what I didn't do. And moreover: what women, everywhere, don't do every day. In my resolve not to make a scene, in my absolute determination to just be cool about the whole thing, I ended up imitating the behaviour of a side-character in a Victorian novel, passively entertaining the perverted morning routine of a total stranger.


I'm not saying that what happened to me between 8.05 and 8.10 in the morning is life-altering or devastating or even worthy of a spot on Oprah's couch. In the grand scheme of crappy things that happen to women, it's way, way down the scale of controversial gravitas.

I'm not saying I'm special, or unique. I'm not saying that this kind of behaviour is indicative of how men feel about women, or that all men are secret train perverts.

This is just something that happened to me, and this is how I felt about it. What scares me is that we, as a society, are still putting up with this shit. The majority of the women reading this have had very similar incidents, and I'm also willing to bet my bottom dollar that when they talked about it, they didn't talk about how it upset them, or how it made them feel used, or worthless. I bet they probably joked about it, and shrugged it off, and laughed that they should take it as a compliment.

And that is why, if anyone ever tries to tell me again that women aren't funny, or that women can't take a joke: I am going to spaz out, shoot up a bank, and go live on a mountain forever.


  1. I know a woman and so do you who went to the cinema with her husband and children, she found herself sitting next to a guy with his girlfriend by his side, when he dropped his hand on her thigh...naught as queer as folk. You funny though.

  2. I am glad you have brought this up, I have lived in central(ish) London for the past 5 years and I have not had a week go by where I have not got on a crowded tube and a women rubs their vagina all over my leg. It's a blatent disregard for personal space, and there is a 4/1 chance that it leaves a stain incredibly difficult to remove from my jeans. For pete's sake everyone, stop being such dirty perverts!