I didn’t need Pope Francis to tell me global warming was a thing. I’m one of those folks who doesn’t willfully shut their eyes to scientific evidence. I was even on my high school’s recycling committee way back when. (True story: My class ring has a dolphin on it majestically swimming though the center of the recycling arrows symbol.) I cannot support, however, what is probably one of the best ways for your average person to help out the Earth: taking public transportation. After spending five years enduring daily harassment on my commute to work, I would torch a planet full of dinosaurs for fuel so that I could travel in the protective, asshole-free bubble of my own car.
I was born and raised in Philadelphia and lived there until I was 32 years old. That killer combo of living in a large city and being a woman means I’m no stranger to street harassment. A “Hey, baby,” here, a “That’s what I’m talkin’ about” there. Or sometimes worse. But that’s life in the big city, right? I love my city, and I was excited to get a job downtown in the heart of the historic district. I was near museums, friends and nightlife. As convenient as all this was, Philly’s a big place, and I lived in an outlying neighborhood, an hour away by bus and “El” (the partially-elevated train that runs through the city. I took advantage of my employer’s program that subsidized a monthly bus/train pass and caught a bus a block from my apartment to the El station, then took the train the rest of the way to work.It was only when I began to experience ongoing harassment from the same two men that I began to dread my commute.
At first, I didn’t mind the commute. It gave me some time to ease into my day. I could think, read or knit. And it was better than my previous commute: an hour to the suburbs by car along one of the most traffic-laden and accident-ridden routes in the city, the Schuylkill Expressway. (Pronounced “skool-kul.” Or “sure kill” if you’re a wiseass Philadelphian.) I knew that sometimes I would have to deal with harassment, the occasional unwanted attempts to hit on me or the comments about my body. Those were one and done — I could walk quickly away and get on with my life. It was only when I began to experience ongoing harassment from the same two men that I began to dread my commute.
The first man to harass me was a guy I called “Danny DeVito” due to his resemblance to the actor. He caught the bus at the same stop I did, and he’d stare at me for the entire ride. He never did anything confrontational; he just gave me the creeps with his laser focus. The second was a guy I called “The One-eyed Man” because he wore an eye patch. An older man, he would stand near me and tell me, in a low voice, all the nasty sexual things he wanted to do to me. When I transferred to the train, they’d follow me onto my car and continue their preferred mode of harassment. Once, I boarded the bus and, as he passed me, Danny DeVito stopped to tell me that I “always look nice.” I thought about him silently appraising my outfit every day and wished I was wearing a burqa rather than my usual business casual attire.
I tried to come up with ways to get away from them. Instead of standing on the corner to wait for the bus, I took to standing near the door of a convenience store. I’d try to take a seat near the front, figuring that proximity to the bus driver equaled safety. On the El, if I spotted them in time, I would try to run to a different car. Sometimes it worked, but mostly they just followed me. I could take another bus, but it was a longer walk to that stop and I’d still see them on the train anyway. It made me mad. Why should I have to deal with this BS so early in the morning? I also had no idea how to stop it. You can’t arrest someone for looking at you. And I figured I’d just be told to ignore it anyway.
When I decided to move to Connecticut to live with my now-husband, I transitioned to working from home as a freelancer. All my friends joked about how lucky I was and how I could stay in my pajamas all day. I was just thankful that I wouldn’t have to walk the gauntlet of a city block, being judged by men who thought it was their right to make comments and make me feel unsafe. I wouldn’t have to dart into a bodega to get away from a car that was slowly following me down the street or decline a ride from a stranger, thankful that it was broad daylight and at least people would see and maybe help me if he tried to pull me into the car. (Yes, both of those things have happened to me. More than once.)
I absolutely realize I am flexing a metric ton of privilege by being able to work from home and get where I need to go in my own car. I’m lucky that my husband’s steady job outside of our home adds to that ability. And I know that there are so many women who aren’t as lucky as I am. They have no choice but to take the bus to work and deal with whatever any douchebag who thinks he’s God’s gift wants to dish out. The answer, of course, is for men to just stop. Parents, teach your little boys to respect girls and women. Guys, call out your bros when you see them disrespecting ladies. But until we have a world free of the men who think they’re entitled to scare women just trying to live their lives and get to work, I’m staying off the bus for as long as I can.