Friday was a rare treat. Meeting up with some people I admire hugely, who I consider empowered, a force for good and people who have their hearts and minds pinned in equality, social justice and carry it off with an incredible sense of humour. I was looking forward to it and nothing was going to spoil my mood.
The tube on the way there was absolutely packed, but as a seasoned rush-hour traveller I forced my way onto it all the same, as did several people behind me. Physical contact with others was inevitable, but was contact with my buttocks from the groin of the man standing behind me really the only way we could ride out the next few stops? And was I imagining it anyway? And if I said something to him whilst unable to move away would I have been subsequently more or less safe? I chose a technique I have used before, turned sideways and put my hand on my hips.
The next stop there was a shuffle of people and the man moved down the carriage out of earshot but seeing his treatment of another woman I knew for certain I had not imagined it. She got off at the next stop. Was that her plan? Or was that also a learned strategy? Why did neither of us say anything? I’m not especially known for keeping quiet when I have something to say. But who would I say it too? Would other women stand up for me at that point? I doubt it. They, like me, were just managing their journeys, had other thoughts and the topic is mundane. It’s almost normality. Had it been more explicit they would have of course, but it was just the right amount of ‘possibly unintended’ for me to come off worse for raising it. I was no doubt picked for being a lone traveller.
Did I tell my friends about the incident when I met them? No. The shame of having failed women by not overtly sticking up for myself, as well as the regularity with which I have experienced this kind of thing meant I’d forgotten it almost as soon as I left the tube.
I travelled back late by tube and by bus. A safe route by all means and one I have done many times. My bus was almost empty but the stop after I had got on, a man got on, and chose, instead of one of the empty seats, the seat next to mine, trapping me against the window unnecessarily. Half way through the journey he struck up conversation asking me where I was going, and what stop I was getting off at. It was disguised as confusion about where he was trying to get to himself. I was suitably vague but polite in my answers. Did he know he was intimidating with his choice of seat and questions? Probably. But how could I be sure it wasn’t unintended? What ‘exactly’ could I complain of and to whom?
Just one evening for a woman in her 40s and nothing at all unusual about it.