A decade ago, I used to love public transportation. I didn’t get my license until I was 25, so taking trains and buses gave me a thrilling freedom. That freedom was quickly replaced with responsibilities and “safety plans.” First, I learned not to make eye contact. I learned to take a book or anything that would make it less likely that I would accidentally eye contact. I learned not to smile easily at people– especially men. I learned to think through my exits and routes home from the bus. All of this because a man I never spoke to decided to follow me and cat call me on my way to work. He was absolutely relentless and it forced an immediate flight response. My only mistake? I made brief, so so brief, eye contact with him. I had a transfer downtown where he spotted me. The first time it happened I ran into a Wendy’s and ordered the cheapest thing on the menu (it’s a biscuit btw) and waited him out. Over the course of three weeks, I changed schedules and ducked into random stores or restaurants. I never told anyone or reported him because he didn’t commit really a “crime.” Instead: He terrified me. He embarrassed me in front of countless passengers. He made me late for work. He forced to buy biscuits when I had no money. He forced me to duck into stores I didn’t have any interest going in.
I think of the countless ways women get taught these kinds of lessons. I still have no idea what a police officer would have said or done considering when atrocious acts of sexual violence are actually reported they are routinely ignored and belittled. I don’t even know what my best friend would have suggested. Take a different bus? Try going into a store? Scream at him? Carry pepper spray? I don’t even understand how I never told anyone I was scared out of my mind and he never touched me. But, then again, streets full of people didn’t say anything either.