A young woman posted a harrowing and depressing personal account on the web, describing the gauntlet of daily sexual harassment attractive females must endure just going through life. “I decided it was important,” she writes, “because in my own way, I can (unfortunately) point out exactly what is wrong with men when they don’t realize how hard it is to be a woman. How we do not have equal opportunities and freedoms in everyday life. How most men, even good caring men, have no clue what we go through on a daily basis just trying to live our lives.”
What follows should make every man angry and every woman angrier, a sickening story of a subway ride that became a nightmare, simply because too many young men think of pretty women as quarry, rather than human beings.
“…I often ride the Metro when I commute from North Hollywood to Long Beach in order to save money. I bring a book, pointedly wear a ring on my ring finger to imply I’m married (I’m not) and keep to myself. Without fail, I am aggressively approached by men on at least half of these commutes. The most common approach is to walk up to where I am sitting … and sit down next to me or as close to me as possible, when the train is not crowded and there are many empty rows. Sometimes an overly friendly arm is draped over the railing behind me, or they attempt to lean in close to talk to me as if we are old friends.”
On this trip, that’s exactly what happens…
“…I was not on the train more than three minutes before three boys who looked eighteen sat in the row behind me and leaned over the seats into my personal space, close enough to breathe on me. The one with his arm draped over onto the back of my seat asked me—surprise— “what are you reading?”… I told them loudly and firmly that I wanted to be left alone to read my book. They got angry. I was told “Why are you going to be like that? I just wanted to talk!” His friends start laughing at me and they don’t move, telling me ‘come on! and why are you gonna be like that?’ until I tell them to leave me the fuck alone, stand up, and move to the front of the car near the three other people on the train, a couple and a business man in a suit. They spend the next two stops shouting at me from the back of the car..”
Finally the teens leave, and then it happens again…
“…A seemingly normal man enters the train with his bicycle. At this point I am three rows from the front of the car, another man was sitting near the back of the car, and the rest of the car is empty. Bicycle Man walks halfway down the row, and settles into the seat directly opposite me…It’s not the first time I’ve been bothered multiple times….So when this man leans across the aisle into my personal space and asks me, yes, what are you reading, I assertively but calmly tell him to please leave me alone, I am reading. The man stands up, moving to the front and muttering angrily over his shoulder that it isn’t his fault I’m pretty. Yes. Exactly that. I am the bad person in this situation because somehow this is all my fault. I started this by being attractive…”
Then things turn scary..
“…I realize Bicycle Man is not taking it well….talking to himself, becoming agitated… He is glaring at me, and says out loud in an angry baby talk voice “PLEASELEAVEMEALONEI’MREADING. PLEASE LEAVE ME ALOOOONE!” Then he’s up out of his seat…He begins pacing back and forth in front of his bike, alternating between screaming something about his mother being dead and calling me a slut, a hoe, a bitch. I am frozen in place….There are four stops left until we reach the main downtown station where there are lights and security officers…and I have no guarantee that leaving to wait for another train won’t motivate him to leave the train as well…At this point he’s punching the walls and doors of the train, screaming at me. He stares me full in the face and screams, ‘SUCK MY DICK, BITCH! YOU BITCH! YOU STUPID BITCH! YOU GODDAMN HO! IF I HAD A GUN I’D SHOOT YOU! I WOULD FUCKING KILL YOU BITCH!’
This goes on for two stops, and the young woman finally leaves the car and the subway..
“By the time I exited the Red Line and reached my car I could barely breathe and my heart was pounding out of my chest. Even now, in my own home, my hands are still shaking…”
No woman, young or old, whatever she looks like, should have to endure being treated like this even once. That women are routinely treated in this fashion, and I have no doubt that they are, is a cultural disgrace.
But we brought it on ourselves, you know.
I was once fortunate enough to have a long, private conversation with the late Herman Kahn, widely known in his day as the smartest man in the world. We talked about many things, including traditions and customs, a favorite topic of his as well as mine. “Society keeps making the same mistake, and never learns,” Kahn said. “We discard traditions, rituals and customs because they are old and nobody remembers why they started in the first place. Then, once they are gone, we realize there was a very good reason they existed, and things have gotten worse because the traditions aren’t around any more—the chain has been broken, they aren’t taught or reinforced, and they are gone forever.”
The harassment of women in public is a perfect example. Feminists and the rest of us were happy to discard the traditions of chivalry and etiquette of men toward women, because they were seen as condescending, a way to keep women in their place by treating them as special, different, and ultimately unequal. Prevalent manners had that effect, no doubt, but one of the reasons they existed was to keep men, especially young men, from acting on their mating urges and sexual impulses in overt, offensive and violent ways. Boys were trained from the earliest ages to respect women. You didn’t swear in their presence; you took off your hat; you offered them seats and opened doors. You were never rude or forward with them, and if another male was, you stepped in and stopped him, by force if necessary. Never, never would you strike a woman, or touch her without her permission. These were basic manners, part of civilized society, and when we removed them in the interests of equality, we also gave the barbarians cultural room to run amuck. And they do.
I was around when these traditions were discarded, and I don’t recall any of those pushing to jettison them as remnants of a sexist society pausing to consider that there might be some good reasons to preserve the tradition of being especially polite to those with two X chromosomes. Indeed, those fighting the women’s movement goaded women the other way. “You want equality? Fine. Pay your own damn check. Hold your own damn chair. Take care of yourself. See how you like it.” Nobody had a good answer for them. As Herman Kahn said, we had forgotten one of the reasons those manners evolved, and it wasn’t all just to keep women barefoot and pregnant. Men are jerks and bullies about sex in ways most women are not, and in the absence of manners and traditions of etiquette, reinforced by families and the culture, a critical mass of them will behave like the subway riders who abused the blogger.
Teaching and insisting on manners, civility and respect for women is still the best way to combat this phenomenon, if it is not too late to get the best of the old traditions back, and if women themselves are willing to allow it. I fear that it is too late, and that women fear perceived inequality more than they fear the subway.
In that case, I don’t know what can be done.
You can read the whole post by the molested blogger here.
Spark and Pointer: Debbie Grossman
Graphic: Thunder Echo
Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at firstname.lastname@example.org.