Anyone who’s seen ‘Men Taking Up Too Much Space on the Train’ (or anyone who has been female and a commuter) knows that sometimes, even just trying to mind your own business and get home from work without having to rub up against the fucking patriarchy (literally!) is pretty much impossible. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve had to scrunch myself up to make room for some dude blithely standing with his hands on his hips, elbows jutting into what should be my personal space, swinging his stupid backpack around whilst I try to read an article off my phone like 2mm away from my face. This may be the most literal demonstration of what it’s like to be a woman moving around – and trying to claim her own space – in the world. It’s annoying, but I’m used to it. I put up with it (sigh). I get on with my life.
But tonight, for the first time, I was actually afraid.
I could hear them hooting and hollering and being obnoxious from the other end of the platform – a group of about six guys, clearly very drunk. ‘Great, a stag do*,’ I thought, and then proceeded to ignore them along with everyone else. They carried on being loud and annoying. The train arrived. I got on and took my usual spot by the door opposite; it’s a short journey and I like being able to pretty much hop straight off at my stop. Then I heard them. The drunk assholes were getting on the same carriage. Much to my dismay, I realised they weren’t going into the carriage to find seats – they were going to stay standing, right next to me.
I start perusing Facebook on my phone and scrunching myself up (I’m a pro at this), taking up as little space as possible. The men are already spreading out, moving into my space. They’re all much, much bigger than me, obliviously shifting about and brushing up against me. But it’s only a ten minute journey. I can deal with it.
Then one of them starts shouting.
‘Hey! When was the last time you got done for rape, mate?’
‘He’s a convicted sexual predator!’ another one chimes in.
‘Yeah, but she probably fucking deserved it.’
‘She probably did, but not the way he did it.’
Suddenly ten minutes seems like a very long time. My muscles tense up. A little knot forms in my stomach. I don’t think these men are actually going to sexually assault me. In fact, they’re not even paying me any attention. I’m invisible. But my Spidey Sense is definitely tingling, and I feel genuinely afraid. These men are large and loud and aggressive. There’s no one else nearby but me and them. I can’t get past them and they’re blocking both of the doors into the carriages. I quickly weigh up my options and decide that it’s better to remain where I am rather than ask them to let me pass and call attention to myself.
I try to make myself smaller. I am very, very interested in Facebook right now. I am so intently staring at my phone. I don’t have headphones, but I sure as hell wish I did. They start shoving and antagonising each other. The train rocks back and forth and one of them loses his balance and nearly elbows me in the face.
‘Watch it, there’s a lady there!’ one of them says.
I don’t think these men are actually going to sexually assault me. We’re on a train. In public. It’s well-lit. There’s a train manager around somewhere. Guys don’t just go around randomly assaulting people on trains. These guys are too absorbed in their own drunkenness. I am being ridiculous.
‘Dude, watch out for that lady!’
See? They’re calling me ‘lady’. That’s a word you use for an old person. Someone’s mother. They’re not calling me a ‘girl’ or a ‘bird’ or whatever. They’re not interested. I continue to ignore them. I turn my back to them and face the door, acting like I’m just preparing to get off the train. I’m watching them behind me, in the window’s reflection. Pay me no mind. I don’t think these men are actually going to sexually assault me.
We pull into the station. I take note of two Transit Security Officers milling about on the platform, and I decide that I’m going to tell them about the aggressive drunk men, to ask them to perhaps keep an eye on them. But I look over my shoulder and see the drunk men haven’t gotten off the train like I’d assumed they would. So I change my mind and exit the station and head home. I’ve never been so happy to get off a train.
I don’t think those men were actually going to sexually assault me.
You can’t know what anyone’s going to do.
* or, a ‘bachelor party’, to my American comrades