Thursday, October 11, 2012

See Something Say Something?

I don’t usually use this virtual megaphone as a soapbox. I try to keep it light and fluffy. Its main reason for existing is so I can avoid my actual writing and fill the Internet with even MORE stuff to distract you while you’re at work. However, the best way I deal with anything is to write about it, so here we go. 

Two nights ago, I was on a train from Brooklyn to Manhattan with a group of friends. It was after 1 AM, and the train was neither crowded nor empty. At the opposite end of our car, a man was yelling loudly at the person sitting across from him. He was a big man, and obviously drunk. For most of the ride, we ignored him, enjoying our own conversation. Loud drunk people are pretty common on the subway. In my experience, they mostly keep to themselves. We were one stop away from Manhattan when the man crossed the car in three giant strides, and started yelling at one of my friends. This friend, the only guy in our group and the only one of us standing, didn’t react at first. He just stared. The man was very close to him, and obviously trying to pick a fight. He accused us of talking too loudly, and started cursing. When my friend tried to calm him down, offering to shake his hand, the man flip-flopped from one extreme to another, first making crass disgusting remarks, then wishing us all a good night—before cursing some more. I honestly thought he was going to hit my friend; he was so clearly itching for it. Luckily, he went back to his seat, and at the next stop, we moved down a few cars. 

Two of my friends, including the one who had been cornered, got off the train shortly after. Now there were just three of us, all ladies. We were one stop into Manhattan when the drunk man entered our car. As soon as he saw us, he started yelling again, deriding us for passing between the cars (even though he had just done it himself). Instinctively, I gripped my umbrella, handle up, bracing myself to hit him if necessary, surprised at how truly scared I was. Before we just had the misfortune to be in his car. Now he was following us, deliberately seeking us out. As he yelled, I realized I no longer felt safe without a guy in our group, which brought on the guilt faster than a burger on Good Friday. 

At the next stop, we got off the train, and made a B-line for the station manager’s box. As we talked, the gruff man on the other side of the glass stared at us as if we were telling him the weather. Then in a voice that couldn’t have sounded less concerned, he asked why we didn't push the emergency button. The emergency button stops the train, and the last thing we wanted to do was trap ourselves underground with a drunk, possibly violent, man who was following us. My friend explained this, encouraging him yet again to contact someone so the man could be found at the next stop. He just looked us over and said, “What were you girls doing on the train so late? On your way home from a club?” 

The derision in his voice was startling. 

We said that we were performers and had a late show, that it didn’t matter why we were on the train, that the man was getting away. The station manager’s reply? “Well, it’s almost 2 AM. You’re young girls. You should have an escort.” Basically, you should have known better, ladies. If you’re going to ride the train after midnight, at least have the decency to bring a man with you, because otherwise what do you expect?

First of all, my friends and I are not young girls. We’re grown women, ranging in age from 24 to 30, but this man obviously had no issue infantilizing us. Second of all, isn’t this 2012? Aren’t we past the time when women were considered unusually tall children with breeding abilities? Apparently, not. Or, with his not too subtle club reference, was he suggesting we were out looking for fun?  

In the end, the station manager, with the wisdom of the ages, concluded that nothing could be done. We should have pushed the emergency button. We shouldn’t have been on the train period. Thank you, goodnight. At least he let us back onto the platform, free of charge. 

I’m sure some of you are thinking, well what were you doing on the subway at 2 AM? Yeah, people shouldn’t steal, but you should still lock your doors et cetera. Even I said it myself. Why didn’t I just take a cab? Didn’t I feel safer when my guy friend was there? Why was I even out that late? Of course, it’s important to be smart and take care of yourself. I know this. My parents instilled a healthy paranoia in me that’s kept me safe on many occasions. But it was not our fault that a man got drunk and decided to yell at people on the train. We did nothing wrong, and when we tried to report a potentially dangerous person, we were scolded for being women without men.

Sadly, this is a blame-the-victim society. Specifically blame-the-woman. As women we’re taught to feel stupid for the scary stuff that happens to us, as if our actions, no matter what they are, encourage bad behavior. If you hadn’t done this, if you had only done that. Don’t wear those clothes. Don’t go to that bar. Shame on you for existing; you know how that can rile people up. What's even worse is that women walk away believing this garbage. They blame themselves. As soon as the station manager said "escort," I remembered my own feelings of helplessness at being deprived of my male protector, and the tremendous guilt these feelings caused. 

I wonder if the station manager would have been so quick to judge if he knew we first encountered the man “safe” in the company of an “escort,” and the man still bothered us. 

Side note: cabs are not foolproof. People forget that it’s basically hitchhiking. Cab drivers have leered at me, asked invasive questions (mostly about my love life), and commented on my appearance. It may not be life-threatening, but it's damn uncomfortable. One night, I asked to be let off a block away from my building so the guy wouldn’t know where I lived. At least on the subway, you’re with other people. 

Also cabs are expensive. Life would be grand if this weren’t an issue, but it is. 

I don’t mean this to be a bad reflection of the city I call home. I love New York, and 99.9% of the time I feel safe here. I’m careful, I’m smart, and so far I’ve been lucky (in case you didn’t hear, I just knocked on wood). That said, what happened to me the other night was incredibly disappointing. I don’t even really care about the drunk man. It was scary at the time, but I honestly don’t think it would have gone beyond him yelling some more. What’s scarier is that New Yorkers are encouraged to report dangerous situations, but when we did, somebody who could have helped did nothing and treated us like silly little girls.  Silly little girls who brought it on ourselves. Fun times.

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