I wish I didn’t have anything to write about, because both of these things are unpleasant. But yesterday, two things happened. One of them was resolved well and the other was not at all, and in both cases, the outcome was entirely determined by the response of male onlookers and men in perceived positions of authority.
I went to the Mermaid Parade yesterday and had a fantastic time.
Early on, before the parade even started, a man and his wife came and stood next to my group. The man had a selfie stick, and we very quickly realized that he was trying to point it at my friend’s cleavage.
This friend was wearing a fairly low-cut top and has large breasts, and while she was very happy to have people take her photo, the fact that this man was only taking a photo of her breasts, and was doing it without asking made her uncomfortable. She kept an arm over her cleavage so he couldn’t.
Finally, after a few minutes, he turned and asked her if he could take a photo with her. She consented, and posed for a full-body photo with him. So we thought maybe we had been mistaken and he had just been trying to get a shot of her and had been too shy to ask. After the photo was done, though, he went back to trying to angle the camera at her breasts.
I had an umbrella with me, so I propped the umbrella between them and told him to stop and please find another place to stand.
“She told me I could take a photo.”
We reiterated that she had agreed to let him take a photo WITH her, not a photo of her breasts. He said that was too bad, she had already agreed.
I told him to step off, and he started asking if we were lesbians and if she was my woman.
His language got increasingly threatening. So at that point, I turned around and told the men standing on the other side of us what was going on.
These strange young men we had never met before stepped in and told him to leave. He turned to me and was like “Is that all you can do? Are you going to get anyone else?”
So I left, while the other men kept him away from my friend, and got the bouncer from the club next door. I apologized and told him I knew it wasn’t really his job but we didn’t know what else to do because there were no cops within sight and he was big and had a badge and looked authoritative.
He very kindly walked over and asked the man and his wife to come with him.
It was really uncomfortable, but was all solved very well because the men nearby were willing to step in and take care of a woman who was being threatened.
I wish every threatening altercation with a man could be solved that readily.
This weekend, the train I normally take was replaced with a bus for the last leg of the trip. I had been out at a friend’s party, was still a bit drunk (tipsy, not sloppy drunk-- I had had about three drinks over the course of four hours and had had my last drink almost two hours and a full meal before this happened), and VERY tired-- I had been up at 7 to go to the parade, on my feet all day, and it was now 2. I had slept on the train, and now sat down on the bus and put my bag down next to me to use for a pillow.
I heard a man speaking very loudly and drunkenly about fucking a girl in her sleep, and then started explicitly describing the sleeping girl and a man named Coach Giardino and “riding on Coach Giardino’s nutsack.”
I have no clue who Coach Giardino is, but it’s the only name I heard in this conversation.
After a minute or so of listening to this really disgusting, explicit speech, I realized this guy was talking about me.
I sat up and told him to stop.
He said “stop what?”
I said to stop talking about me in a sexually explicit way.
He asked me what he’d said, so I repeated it.
Then he started telling me I was disgusting and what was my obsession with nutsacks and I must really want to ride his dick.
I told him that if that was the way he talked about women, I assumed his dick was a tiny shrivelled prune, and again asked him to stop.
This is where everything went differently.
The man behind him interrupted.
Not to tell the guy to shut the fuck up and stop making sexually menacing comments about a woman, but to tell me that the guy’s dick was nine inches long and of course I wanted it, and to add to the sexually menacing remarks.
Everything devolved from there. These guys were shouting at me about Coach Giardino (I still have no idea who this dude is), one of them started bragging that he went to Harvard, and where did I go to school, because he was obviously smarter than me and this meant he was right and I was wrong.
Then the other one TOLD ME HE WAS THE GOD THOR AND HOW DARE I CHALLENGE THOR.
They insulted my appearance, my body, my hair (which was a wig, ha), called me crazy, and continued to make sexual comments about me.
Finally, a man a few seats behind said “No one needs to hear this.”
I turned around and said “thank you.”
His reply? “You, too. You need to shut the fuck up, no one wants to listen to you shouting.”
This only emboldened the two men who had been harassing me to redouble their efforts.
I said I didn’t want to listen to people threatening me, and that I wouldn’t be shouting at them if they weren’t harassing me in the first place.
At this point, the guy who had started it all reached over and grabbed me by the shoulder and asked me if I’d heard the man telling me to shut up?
I was panicked, terrified, and now this guy was touching me. I looked around and realized I was the only woman on the bus. There were maybe about fifteen men and all of them were either ignoring the situation or encouraging it.
I consider myself lucky that this is when the bus stopped.
I waited for the other passengers to get off so that I wouldn’t be alone outside with those dudes, then went to the bus driver and asked him why he hadn’t done anything. He told me that it wasn’t his problem. I pointed out that I had been sexually threatened by the other passengers on the bus and that as the driver, he was the only voice of authority. And again I asked him why he hadn’t done anything.
I don't know how I held it together for this long, but at this point I was shaking all over and I started to cry. So I sat down on the front seat of the bus.
The driver shouted at me to get off his bus.
I was sitting there cryinguncontrollably and he was shouting at me to get off the bus.
He threatened to call the cops.
I told him that was fine.
Then he left the bus, so I thought maybe he was calling the cops. He didn't call the cops; he just got back on the bus and screeched at me to get off the bus again.
I told him that he needed to seriously rethink why he wouldn't speak up for a woman whose safety as his passenger was his responsibility and got off the bus.
I went to the station crew to complain about him. There were two of them on duty: a man and a woman. The man asked me if a crime had been committed. I told him no, and he said that if there wasn't a crime, it wasn't his problem.
The woman, whose name was Carrie, introduced herself and then sat with me while I cried. She also called the cops to drive me home. I live three blocks from the train station, and she called the cops because she was worried about me getting home safely if those men were still around. She sat with me in a lighted area in the station until the police arrived. The police were also very kind and spoke to me and asked me what happened and whether I wanted to press criminal charges. I told them that I didn't think that anyone had done anything that could be considered criminal, and they asked me if any of the men had touched me, and that if they had, it was, and I could. I told them that one of them had, but that since no one on the bus had been supportive, I didn't think that I had any witnesses, and that I was not so much upset about the one man being an asshole as I was about the fact that in a situation where I was the only woman there, not a single man was willing to speak up for me. They asked me to file a police report anyway so it would be on record, so I did that. They were very patient and kind and asked if there was anything else they could do to help.
I didn't get home till about three thirty. It was awful, and degrading, and terrifying, and invasive, and I still feel absolutely disgusting. And I know that those men got off that bus and laughed about it and probably called me crazy and talked about raping me all the way home, because when not a single man is willing to tell another man that that way of speaking about a woman isn't acceptable, they think it's totally normal and appropriate.
What was funny to them was a singularly traumatizing experience to me.
So this is the thing, you know, when people counter stories about harassment and assault with "not all men" arguments, remember--the problem has never been that all men, or even most men do these things. There are only a tiny percentage of men who actually treat women this terribly.
But there IS a tiny percentage of men who treat women this terribly, and those are the people who need to be criticized, and called out, and women who are being treated terribly need to be supported. These things happen-- they happen far too frequently, and too often, women don't actually have the power to stop them themselves. We need men who will be willing to step up and take our side and deter this kind of menacing behavior. I was far less scared of the one drunk man threatening me than I was scared of realizing that I was all alone in a closed area and no one was going to help me deal with the man who was threatening me.
I don't want to feel alone. I don't want to feel like men don't care when women are threatened. I don't want to look around and realize that the only people who cae enough to be supportive are other women, and that men act as if my fear and outrage at being treated badly is an inconvenience to them.
There's a really easy solution to this. But the solution doesn't lie with me or with other women.