Please note. . .

Don't Be Silent DC has been inactive since March 2008 and has not been accepting entries since. If you are in the DC area and have a harassment story to share, please go to HollaBack DC. If you are outside the DC area and want to submit your story, go to Stop Street Harassment. Thank you.

As of 3/1/08, I will no longer be working on this blog. Please read this post for more details.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Harassment on Metro

Dealing with buses that don't run on time, stalling trains, tourists blocking the escalators and other issues are things that a commuter using the Metro system has to deal with on a regular basis. Dealing with men bothering women on public transportation is something we should not have to deal with. Here are some examples of what these men do to make women feel uncomfortable.

1) Spreaders---These men sit next to women and spread their legs open so wide that they're taking up half of the woman's seat as well as their own. It is his way of "marking his territory." Speak up and tell the man to close his legs. On a bold day, I spread my legs when some clown did this and nudged him hard. He immediately closed his legs again. On another day I mocked some guy sitting across from me doing this, and he immediately closed his. Men, I know that on average you tend to be bigger than us women, but you're not that big...close it up.

2) Getting too close---Sometimes we have to be cheek to cheek on a crowded bus or train, but it's easy to tell when some man is taking advantage of this. If some man uses this opportunity to grab you or rub himself against you, push him off and get away from him as much as you can. Also yell to direct attection to his disgusting actions.

3) Exposing themselves and/or masturbating----No. Just no. That is the most heinous thing to do on a train or bus. Do what you can to draw attention to his perverted behavior, get away from him immediately, and call security.

4) Trying to talk to you when you're not interested---The hardest part is that you're "stuck" on the train or bus with these fools with little space to go. On a (thankfully short) ride home from the train station, some man tried to talk to me. He said "hi" and I said "hi." He then tried to tell me about some PGC party which I told him I had no interest in, so he proceeds to berate me and call me "little girl" and other horrid names. I tried to tell the bus driver to get this man to leave me alone, but...

5) When Metro employees are part of the problem---the bus driver did not do a daggone thing when I told him to get this man to leave me alone. I know English wasn't this guy's first language, but he should've been able to tell that something was going on. I felt that it was a lose/lose battle. Thank god that man got off...albeit a stop before mine.

There are times when Metro employees tend to, ahem, forget that they're in uniform and on the job. In one of the street harassment list servs I used to be on, there was one story of a Metro worker who saw a pregnant woman and said, "Pregnant pussy is the best pussy." Record disgusting and degrading. I truly hope that clown was reported.

Another instance of inappropriate behavior by a Metro employee is being chronicled by Liz at An OC girl living in an extraordinary world. This bus driver seems to be using his route as a chance to pick up women. He needs to worry about keeping on scheduled time than spending time with the female passengers.

And lastly, my recent story, which Liz chronicled---getting the runaround by Metro. Last month I was exiting my train station to walk home, when two Metro employees were sitting at the top of the staircase. One of them was talking about looking for to hook up with, and he pointed at me and said, "I wanna get wit' dat." I immediately walked over to take a look at his nameplate, and his friend says "peekaboo." Unfortunately I didn't get the co-worker/friend's name because I wanted to get away from those clowns. As soon as I got home I sent a complaint via their online system. I got a phone call that Monday from some woman, and by the time I got around to calling her back a man calls and says that the first woman was out sick. I play phone tag with this guy then finally get in touch and tell him my story. A week later, a third person (woman) calls and tells me to get in touch. I didn't want to answer the same questions so I didn't call her. Then a fourth person calls a week later (male) asking the same things and I got fed up.

I called this man back and left a message that I felt I was getting the runaround. He calls back and apologizes 50 times. He said that the reason why I was getting so many calls was that both Metrobus and Metrorail were trying to find out who this employee was. This man has a common last name and the nameplate only has the first initial. Regardless, the time, date and location couldn't narrow him down? Frustrating.

A lot of us cannot afford our own transportation so we rely on Metrobus and Rail to get around. While we can easily put these space-invading male passengers in their place, who's going to put Metro employees in theirs?

ETA: Here is a sixth---

6) Old men trying to talk to younger women (even teenage girls) on Metro---Foilwoman chronicled an instance of an older man (middle-aged) trying to talk to a girl who was still in her teens and still in high school. The girl did the right things...she let the man know she was too young for him (by mentioning taking PSATs), moved away from him, and called a friend to meet her when she got off the train. I don't know why these older men think they have a chance with younger women...they need to stick with women their own age and use less creepy tactics when it comes to approaching a woman. Yuck!


jess said...

You know, I was thinking about this the other day as I watched a middle aged guy try and chat up the girl he was sitting next to in the row in front of me on the Blue Line. She obviously didn't want anything to do with him; gave him short one word answers and tried to read. But he just. kept. talking. And all I wanted to do was save her. I thought, if only there were some kind of code where I could walk up to her and say "Hey, we had chemistry together last semester. Let's grab a coffee." Then we'd walk out of sight of this fool and then go our separate ways.

jennifer said...

I live in NY, but I won't take taxis because I've had too many drivers (who didn't know how to drive) leer at me when I was stuck by myself in the back seat. I'd rather take public transportation where there's a group (even if they pull the Kitty Genovese excuse).

Long before hollaback existed, I had an innkeeper at a mom-and-pop motel in Missoula try to hit on me and block my way when I was trying to leave the lobby--right in front of a female member of his family (I don't know if it was his sister or wife)!

I've had shit happen at convenience
stores too: at a White Hen Pantry in downtown Chicago the pendejo behind the counter told another customer in Spanish that he wanted to fuck me (I'm from LA, I know what "chinga" means), in LA, the swine who worked at the 7-11 at Highland and Wilshire ran his fingers up mine when he gave me my change.

oden said...

Take it easy on the guys in those darn Metro seats. The seats are not only too small, but if you are over 6'2" there is practically no way to wedge your knees between the short rows. When the train isn't full I often stretch my legs out because those seats are the most uncomfortable things in the world. And trust me, the last thing I am trying to do on the Metro is attract any attention, I just have creaky old knees and want to go home.

lizzie said...

thanks for the mention! i've already submitted my complaint and have yet to hear anything. i'll defnitely keep everyone posted on what happens.

The Infamous Vinnie Gangbox said...

I have to agree with you that if any man touches you or exposes himself and starts to masturbate, that is not only wrong, it's a FELONY.

In those cases, you'd be well within your rights to confront him, or report him to the authorities - or, for that matter, to give him a blast of pepper spray to the eyes!

However, as for the rest of your post, I really have to take exception to the absurdly wide definition of "street harassment" that you operate under.

I'm a 6 foot tall 330 pound guy, so yes, I'm one of those guys who sits with my legs spread.

And NO, it's not a patriarchal attempt to sexually harass women passengers - it's because I'm a physically large person who takes up a lot of space!

And, if anybody were to object to how I sit, let alone to accuse me of being some kind of sex harasser, I would be more than happy to tell them to go f**k themselves!

As for your complaints (and the complaints you link to) about men trying to strike up conversations with women on the metro and/or on the bus, I have to say "get over yourselves, please!!!"

As you know, we live in a sexist society, and one aspect of that is that men are required to initiate any kind of sexually-oriented social interaction with women.

Let's face it - if men didn't approach women, we'd never get to be with a woman!

You know that as well as I do!

Back in middle school,when guys first start noticing/becoming sexually interested in women, one of the first things any guy learns is that if you agressively approach many women, you are very likely to actually get one woman to want to be intimate with you.

On the flip side, if you don't agressively approach women, you won't ever get to be with a woman.

This lesson gets repeatedly reinforced throughout life - guys who hit on women all the time get rewarded with sexual activity, guys who never hit on women get punished with enforced cellibacy.

This is why men approach women in public places.

We're not psychic, so it's not our responsibility to guess that a woman "doesn't want to be bothered" - it's up to you to open your mouth and say you're not interested.

Nor is it our responsibililty to decide that a woman is "too young" for us to talk to - it's up to her to communicate that information to us.

Nor should we be expected to put our sexuality in the locker when we change into our work uniform.

If white collar guys get to express their sexuality when they are at work, blue collar men deserve the same consideration!

Beyond that, in my view, as long as a man is polite and respectful, what's the problem?

And yes, that includes men who are on their jobs - like that bus driver that your fellow blogger complained about in the link.

Incidentally, it seems that he had been rewarded for his persistance with women, judging by the number of women passengers who flirted back!

Which brings me to a question - could it possibly be the race and class of these men that's at issue?

Perhaps if it was a White lobbyist who was making the moves on you, instead of a Black transit worker, maybe you wouldn't be so upset?

Now, I know you moderate posts, so it won't suprise me a bit if you don't post this - but I hope you can handle a bit of criticism and have the guts to put this on your blog!


Golden Silence said...

Vinnie/Gregory, here are my responses:

"We're not psychic, so it's not our responsibility to guess that a woman "doesn't want to be bothered" - it's up to you to open your mouth and say you're not interested."

If a woman tells the man that she's not interested (or gets up and walks away, or any other action that conveys disinterest) and he continues to bother her, that is harassment.

"Nor is it our responsibililty to decide that a woman is "too young" for us to talk to - it's up to her to communicate that information to us."

That is crap. In Foilwoman's story the girl let the man know that she was still a kid. An older man pursuing a CHILD is illegal yet he wouldn't back down even when she moved away from him.

"Which brings me to a question - could it possibly be the race and class of these men that's at issue?

Perhaps if it was a White lobbyist who was making the moves on you, instead of a Black transit worker, maybe you wouldn't be so upset?"

In Foilwoman's story the man doing the harassing was a White that argument is void.

This is not a woman's world, and we have to do everything in our right to protect ourselves. Some men may have good intentions when it comes to approaching a woman, but in the same token we still need to be cautious because too much is happening to us (assaults, rapes, and so forth). If the woman is to gauge her safety, she will do so according to her gut feeling.

And no Vinnie/Gregory, I do consider every post and don't censor people (unless it's something useless like "u suck"). I like seeing both sides of the story.

mmafan said...

GS..I forgot about this blog..Good to see you again, girl!

Foilwoman said...

I'll just add a comment to Oden regarding his bad knee, his height, and his need to stretch out and spread his legs, regardless of who is sitting next to him.

That's the male entitlement we're talking about: you feel the need, and the other person's concern (or need for her own space) is thus invalidated. Think about that. I'm tall, and I am not small, but I manage to not take up more space that is necessary -- even when my seatmate is a luscious dudely specimen, I restrain myself, and try to minimize physical contact to that which is expected and unavoidable on public transit during rush hour.

That's for Vinnie too. Actually, I like the Metro guys, and chat with a number of them. But I don't want a stranger rubbing up against me, and I don't want to have to say "stop it." If I move away, men, you can assume your interest is unwelcome, or at least not reciprocated. If I have to say, "stop it", you've missed several yellow lights and at least one big red one.

And lots of women are fearful of expressing themselves directly and forcefully to someone who is often larger than they are. So men need to actually, and here's the rub, pay attention to the reactions you get and your physical space in the world vis-a-vis woman. It's not our responsibility to monitor you. You are adults who are part of society and who exist in a community of people. So monitor yourselves. Thank you.

Jeff Deutsch said...


I think Golden Silence, Foilwoman and Vinnie/Gregory all have some very good points.

First off, with all due respect to Vinnie/Gregory, I think he has misunderstood Golden Silence's views on Metro employees' behavior. Golden Silence is not necessarily prejudiced against blue-collar people. She might not even have a problem with those same people - outside of Metro.

But while we're in a Metrorail station, riding a Metro train or aboard a Metrobus, we're on their turf. Metro employees are in control there. Thus, they have an obligation to maintain more of a professional distance with riders, much like, say, tutors, TAs, teachers and professors need to be very careful with their students.

Golden Silence and Foilwoman are quite right in that there are subtle signs that people (perhaps especially women) can and do use to let others know they are not interested in conversing.

On the other hand, please bear in mind that some such social signals have a much wider circulation than others.

I completely agree with Golden Silence and Foilwoman in that it would be best for everyone if all or even most social signals were recognized, understood and respected immediately. That way lack of interest could be communicated without the need for a confrontation.

With regard to PSATs: I agree that that's a definite sign someone is underage. However, many middle-aged and older people may have forgotten the precise meaning of PSATs, as opposed to, say, LSATs or MCATs, and not realize PSATs (and SATs) are taken by those still in high school.

So when trying to judge someone chatting up another person who talks about PSATs, I would do it in a case-by-case basis: look at other evidence that may help show what his intentions are.

Unfortunately, not only do some people just ignore signals, other times signals just aren't understood for what they are.

Sometimes, what someone views as a clear signal is much less apparent to others. We've all said and done things and meant something very specific by them, only to have other people not always get our meaning because they only see and hear what we do and say, not what we're thinking at the time.

Also, different people have different ideas of what social signals are and how they are used. These understandings differ on various levels: cultural, socio-economic, national and regional, gender and of course individual.

Last but not least, some people are much better able than others to read nonverbal signals. With all due respect to Jess and others, that doesn't necessarily make those others fools.

That's when you do need to speak up, out of consideration for both yourself and the other person. You can certainly do that courteously - eg, "I'm sorry and I don't mean to be rude, but I'd really rather not be disturbed right now," and if that doesn't work "Please leave me alone" and/or get up and leave.

(If you do the latter, I would just do it without any explanations or excuses, just to make sure the message gets through loud and clear that you just don't want to be around that person.)

To my knowledge, the vast majority of people - including men - will not react badly to that, even if they are larger than you. And if you've encountered one of the few who would, an assertive response early on is your best course since bullies are looking for wimps, not fights.

Needless to say, be prepared to make a beeline for the emergency intercom, stand up and fight, etc., if you have to.

Golden Silence: I completely agree with you in that if someone tells another in so many words that s/he's not interested in conversing, or gets up and walks away, and the other person keeps on trying to engage him/her, that is definitely harassment.

With regard to signals intended to convey disinterest, continuing to try to engage could be harassment - if the other person actually knew what those signals meant. If not, since the other person did not intend to bother him/her, it's really a simple, unfortunate misunderstanding.

It's only fair to find out in such a case whether one knew of the person's disinterest. After all, if we're going to accuse someone of harassment we're in effect assessing his/her intent, and it's hard to have intent to bother without knowledge that one's overtures are actually a bother.


Jeff Deutsch

PS: Perhaps someone could post some of the more effective social signals - especially the ones which Foilwoman succintly refers to as yellow lights and big red ones. That would help everyone. I'm sure the vast majority of men don't want to waste their time and emotional energy chatting up women who aren't interested, any more than women in such situations want to be chatted up by people they don't feel like responding to.