Monday, March 25, 2013

When You're Powerless

I'd like to tell you a story.

Once upon a time, there was a group of girls who had reached the end of a lovely evening out.  They decided, it being a freezing night in England, that their best bet would be to take the bus back home.  And for about half the ride, it was fine, until at one stop, a man got on the bus.

He was scrawny and pale, with a fresh-looking cut across his forehead; he was also carrying an open bottle of whiskey and an open can of Coke.  He sat near the girls, and started to bother them. It started innocuously enough- he asked one of the girls to hold his Coke for a minute.  She said no.  He asked again, and she said no.  He set the can down on the seat next to him, and for a minute that was that... until he started asking the girls where they were getting off the bus.  And didn't stop.

The girls ignored him, starting to feel afraid.  The man noticed that one of them was avoiding looking at him at all, and he started to ask if she was ignoring him.  She was, but she didn't want to say anything, so she stayed quiet and continued to stare out the window.  The man started to insult her to try and get her attention, threatening to throw his drink on her if she didn't acknowledge him.  The girl sitting behind him had her headphone cord in hand, prepared to strangle him if things got dangerous.  Instead, the bus reached the girls' stop, and as they got off the man kicked two of them.  As the bus pulled away from the stop, the man climbed into the back of the bus and waved cheerily through the window, as if he hadn't just terrified them.

And then we realized that this wouldn't have happened if our 6'3'' Hungarian friend David had been with us.

Though one of my friends reminded us that we had managed just fine without a man there to protect us, I still had to walk back to my flat alone in darkness, and I was afraid.  I wanted a man there, because the unfortunate truth is that many men who would otherwise harass or attack a woman won't if they see she's "taken" by another man.  They wouldn't want to mess with another man's "property".

The whole situation was awful.  There were five of us, minding our own business, wanting to get home, but this drunk lout decided that he would make us uncomfortable for fun.  The fact that he thought it was his right to frighten us and attack us just to get his jollies shows a certain entitlement that as a feminist I try to combat. The fact that he made me that much more afraid to be alone afterwards means that, in a way, he won.  The fact that I desperately desired protection from someone bigger and stronger and male made me feel like a bad feminist.

So often, I deal in abstractions.  As far as I can remember, I was never harassed in high school.  I knew intellectually that as a woman I was oppressed, but I hadn't known the weight of that oppression.  Now that I'm getting older, spending more time in public, I'm being reminded that to some people, I have no power.

It makes me fantasize about being a vampire and terrorizing them, while simultaneously wanting to turn into a baby red panda and running away.

Good luck harassing me up here! (Source)
I'm afraid of encountering this man again.  London is a big city, but he and I both live somewhere between Putney and Tolworth.  We probably shop at the same ASDA.  I don't want to see him again.

I want my power back.  I guess that's why I blog; through writing, I can have some semblance of power which men like this guy would try to take from me.  Because he can insult my nose, throw his Coke on me*, and pretend my fear is all a big joke, but he can't take away my voice.

I'm going to listen to Macklemore for a while.  He always makes me feel better.

*Thankfully, he didn't

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