I spent all of yesterday traveling across the country for the holidays, & experienced something that’s made me so actively angry that I still can’t get it out of my mind 36 hours later. I caught a 2-something AM bus from Toledo, wearing this hat–a regular staple of my wardrobe:
I wear snapbacks most days, & have never gotten a negative comment about it, but I stepped off the bus in Chicago at a little after 7am, probably looking like death, if the above photo is any indication, & had a different experience. I only had about a 40-minute layover, so I figured I was safer, time-wise, waiting on the street rather than venturing into Union Station for coffee or anything like that. I chain-smoked my cheesy e-cig & made small talk with other people who were waiting for buses.
A bus that’d come from DSM pulled up, & I assumed it might be headed back that way in a loop, so I waited by its open doors, anxious to see if the “destination” sign would flip over to DSM. In the meantime, the bus driver–a 50-ish year old smarmy white guy with infinite amounts of gel in his grey hair–got off & said that bus was done for the day. I replied, “Okay, thanks,” & started toward the place where the next bus would pull up. As I headed off, he said, “Hey!” I turned around. “I like your hat!” he pointed. I said thanks & smiled, to which he replied, “All women should have one–obey.” I responded with a glare & after a few seconds of silence, told him he was being a disgusting, sexist moron. He responded by making a kissy face at me & intently looking me up & down.
At that moment, I had so many retorts streaming through my head–so many explanations of why he was horrible, so many insults, so many strings of strung-together obscenities. But as I looked at this creepy middle-aged man who was making clearly unwanted sexual overtures toward me, I distinctly wondered if it would be safe for me to say anything else. This is what it is to be a woman. It means that you are expected to take abuse for nothing more than wearing a hat. But not only that–it means that after that abuse, you are expected to feel unsettled. You are expected to feel unsafe at any given moment.
As is par for the course for lots of women, I’m used to sexual overtures–both invited & uninvited. I usually feel capable of dealing with them, either directly or indirectly. But something about this situation made me feel so uncomfortable. Was it the possibility that I could still have ended up confined on a bus with him for the day? That I wasn’t around any people or places I felt comfortable if I needed to escape or have “back up?” It’s not that I necessarily thought this gross guy would assault (verbally, physically, sexually, whatever) me there on the streets of Chicago. But it’s that somewhere in my mind, I knew I couldn’t be sure he wouldn’t.
I ended up feeling helpless. His behavior had silenced me, despite all of the intellectual & emotional responses boiling beneath my surface, I felt like I had to be silent out of concern for my own safety. This is what it is to be a woman.