A man followed me off a bus, yelled at me, and touched my clothes and face after I repeatedly told him to leave. I am not special. Harassment like this has happened to most women, often in much more serious circumstances. Still, it could've not happened at all.
Here’s a quick rundown of the experience, relevant, but nothing groundbreaking: I’m sitting alone on the bus, staring out the window with headphones on. A man gets on the bus speaking loudly to someone I can’t see about something I can’t understand. It makes me tense. He slings himself down the aisle, then pauses at the empty seat beside me. I stare determinedly out the window. He lingers. I stare harder out the window. He says something, and I turn to look at him, trying to maintain an open mind and a neutral face. It becomes clear that he is coming on to me, so I make it clear that I am not interested and go back to window staring. He takes the seat across the aisle, his entire body still turned my way. One stop later, he stands over me again and asks for my phone number. I say no, he asks why, I say because I don’t want to give it to him. My stop is coming up, so I stand, and he remains where he is, holding the seats on either side so that his arms block me in. I push past him, and he follows me off the bus. I walk quickly. He walks quickly. He grabs the hood of my cardigan, I tell him to stop, he asks why he can’t have my number. I keep walking. He keeps following me. I tell him to go away using the rudest language I can remember, first in French, then in English. He asks why, laughing, and reaches out for my face, managing to run his fingers across my bottom lip before I turn around and swat his hand away. He finally leaves, yelling things at me as I speedwalk to my destination. I never see him again. I get consolation Snapchats from my lady friends, then go on to spend a wonderful week with my boyfriend. The end.
I wasn’t in danger, or at least I don’t think I was. It was 5 PM on a sunny Friday, there were plenty of people around, he was alone, and I was on my way to pick up my big strong boyfriend, who, whether or not I need him to protect me, at least has a wider range of French insults we could’ve used. I’m fine. Saint Nazaire is not a dangerous city, and I don’t expect something like this to happen again. It certainly could, but I’m not expecting it. Everything's fine.
To some extent I feel silly even turning this into a blog post, seeing as it's nothing compared to many other women's experiences, and I don’t foresee any lingering emotional trauma. For now, I get a little tense going to and from the bus, and I avoid eye contact with men in public more than I already did. I’ve gone back to gripping my keys between my knuckles as I walk from the bus to my house in the evening, even though it’s a safe neighborhood, and it’s not like that’d help me win in a fight anyway. It stuck in my mind enough to write about it. Otherwise, it’s been life as usual, and given enough time that’ll all fade away.
What gets me is the sick sort of pride I felt in the immediate hours following the experience, before the feelings of violation and insecurity crept in. It was as though I had earned some badge of womanhood, like I was a real grown-up lady now that I’d undergone “real” harassment. I guess the times men in automobiles have rolled slowly beside me while I was walking or jogging in the middle of the day didn’t count, and neither did the countless unsolicited comments that have been whispered, spoken, yelled at me in passing, nor the guys who pressed their bodies against me at parties before I’d even seen their faces. These moments hadn't added up to true harassment to me, not before I’d been followed and touched in broad daylight without my permission.
So there's that, for your consideration. I'm honestly not sure what this post is for as I read back over it. You can take it as a call to action if you want to, although the action seems pretty self-explanatory: don’t do things like this, and say something if you see other people doing things like this. I doubt that any of the 30 people reading this blog are confused about that, but if you were, then there you go. You can take it as an effort to raise awareness if you want to, although other movements are doing a much better job of it. So support them. You can take it as a warning to women traveling alone in foreign countries, although I wish that you wouldn’t. I was alone, and it was in a foreign country, but it happens every day at home, too. Again, I’m not special. This experience was not special. It’s daily life.
I guess I just wish that it weren’t. Obviously. We all do. It’ll take more than wishing for things like this to change, and some good people are taking action to do exactly that, which is great. I also know that there are bigger and badder issues out there to write about. This is just what was on my mind when I sat down in front of my keyboard this week. I was thinking about how I wish that a man hadn’t felt free to touch my clothes and my skin after I turned him down. How I wish I could’ve given my boyfriend a nice lil hello kiss at the train station without feeling like my bottom lip was contaminated. How I wish other people, typically women, didn’t have to deal with similar but more serious situations, and how I wish it weren’t so prevalent as to make an experience like this one seem mundane in comparison.