“Protest this dick, bitch!” In which what happened before and after the Women’s March demonstrates why we have to have a Women’s March.

 

Yesterday was the 2018 Women’s March, which happened in cities all over the country, including here in New York.  Last year, we showed up to the Women’s March early in the morning to get a spot near the main stage in Dag Hammarskjold Plaza on 48th St between 2nd and 3rd.  Third Avenue was so packed with marchers stretching uptown literally as far as the eye could see, it took us a couple of hours to make it to the end of the block and turn left onto Third.  It took several more hours to make it the six blocks down 3rd to 42nd Street, and at least another hour to get to Grand Central, where we decided our aching feet had had enough and hopped a train back home.

This year, we decided to take a different approach.  We waited to join the march in the early afternoon, after the speakers would be finished and the marchers in motion.  The B/D line that runs under Central Park West wasn’t making local stops going uptown, so we so we had to ride all the way up to 125th St and hop a train going back downtown to join the march at 72nd St.

When we got on the downtown train at 125th, it was pretty full.  There was a guy sitting in the middle of one of the three-seat sections, chin on his chest, fast asleep.  His legs were spread apart, blocking the seats on either side of him, which is such a common problem with men on the subway that it has its own name.  But I had a sore knee, and I knew I was about to spend the majority of my day standing and marching on pavement, which meant there was an aching knee and probably also an aching back and some aching feet in my future. I wanted to sit and give my knee a break while I still had the chance.  I said “Excuse me,” but no response.  So I sat down next to him, and as I sat down, my leg unavoidably pushed his leg back into its own territory.  This woke him up from what I did not realize was a state of drunken slumber.

He turned toward me, looked me up and down, and, loading his voice and his body language with as much pickin’-up-chicks swagger as he could muster under the circumstances, he asked if it would be okay if he emailed me.  As he spoke, a cloud of booze breath hit me in the face.  On top of being a manspreader and a guy who makes unwelcome advances to random women in the subway, he’s also apparently a day drinker.  Just my luck.  His mother must be so proud.  I pointed to my partner and said, “Why don’t you ask him if it’s okay if you email me.” I hoped he’d get the hint and back off, but instead he started giving me a hard time because I had dared not to give him what he wanted.  As men so commonly do, especially the drunk ones, he went from I’m going to be charming because I want something from you to I’m going to verbally abuse you for not giving me what I want in a matter of seconds.  On top of that, even though the seat to his right was still completely empty, he moved his body even closer to  me, pressing the entire length of his body against me from shoulder to ankle.  Unmistakably, an act of aggression.

To be clear, I’m a big person, and if I sit right next to you, we’re going to be touching.  Subway seats are small, and people far thinner than I am will have thigh-and-elbow contact when they sit next to each other.  That’s just how it goes on the subway.  But in my experience, when somebody bigger-than-average sits next to a person and the seat on the other side is empty, that person will almost always scoot over so both people can have some personal space.  It’s the courteous thing to do, and there’s just no reason not to do it.  If a third person comes and sits in the middle, well, no more personal space for anybody.  The three of you are going to live without personal space until one of you gets off the train.  But until that happens, it is an exceedingly common and courteous thing just to slide on over.  And if it doesn’t happen automatically, sometimes I’ll ask the person if they’d mind scooting over a little so we can both be more comfortable.  In more than a decade of riding the subway every day, I have never, ever had anybody refuse.

But instead of doing that, this guy pressed himself even harder against me, along the entire length of my body.  I asked him to move over and give me some space, and he went from merely unpleasant to out-of-control angry, yelling at me that I had no right to ask him to move since he was already there when I sat down, and if I didn’t like it, I should get up.  I told him he had no right to take up three seats.  While mere moments ago he had been coming on to me and trying to get my contact information, now, because he had not gotten what he wanted, he started screaming that I was a bitch.  Not just a bitch, but a fat, ugly, retarded bitch.  I guess he didn’t stop to think what it says about him that even the ugly, fat women don’t want him.

Not a single man on that train did or said anything.  This is what we women mean when we say the only reason men get away with this behavior is because other men allow it.  If all men were raised by their fathers to speak with one voice and shut this kind of behavior down when they see it, no man would dare act this way, drunk or not.  But men just stand by and let other men do what they do.  In contrast, several different women spoke up and offered to give me their seats.  This was the day of the march, after all, and there were lots of women on that train who are fed up to the teeth with the world of men that women are forced to endure.  I thanked them and told them I would be fine.  One woman who was standing nearby actually called out the other men on the train, demanding to know why they were all sitting there silently instead of calling this man out for his abusive behavior.  No man responded, but one man loudly announced this was all my own fault, and if I didn’t want to sit next to this guy, I shouldn’t have sat down.  As if it is up to men to take up as many seats as they feel like, and it is the lot of women to stay standing or risk verbal and physical abuse.

At this point, my partner, Allan, spoke up and asked the guy to be cool and give me some space.  The guy stood up, got in his face, and threatened him.  Still, no man on the train said a word.  In contrast, as soon as he vacated his seat, the woman who had called out the other men for doing absolutely nothing sat right down in his seat next to me to keep him from coming back.  My partner tried to calm him down, but the man persisted.  A third man finally got involved and tried to put some physical space between them.  Realizing things could get very bad very quickly, I took out my phone and started recording video so there would be evidence if the man actually assaulted either of them.  Here is the video that I shot:

 

After this point, he continued to verbally abuse me and just generally make a spectacle of himself for several minutes.  Just as many men do when women don’t act as directed, he used body-shaming as his weapon of choice.

When we got to 72nd street, we got off the train and joined the Women’s March.  As important as I thought the march was when I left my house that morning, now it was a thousand times more important.  That women are forced to share the world with men like this is all the more reason why we NEED to get out in the streets and demand a better world.  This worthless, day-drinking loser gave me new motivation to stand shoulder to shoulder with other women who have had enough of this shit.  It’s no coincidence that most of the people in yellow vests staffing the march were women about ten years older than me.  By the time women get to that age, they must be so fed up with men who don’t act right, and other men who stand by and watch when they ought to say something, that organizing a mass demonstration of women who are mad as hell is the only sensible way to respond.  As shaken up as I was by what happened in the subway, as soon as we were surrounded by marchers, I started to feel better.

Incidentally, this is not the first time in recent history I’ve been subjected to the “hit on woman, get rejected by woman, punish woman” playbook.  A little less than two years ago, on my way home from new student orientation for the second master’s degree I’m currently working on, a drunk guy approached me on Roosevelt Avenue and started hitting on me as I walked down the street.  I told him to go away.  Instead of going away, he put his face right near my face, started waving his arms around, and demanded to know why he couldn’t just talk to me.  I never stopped walking, so he’s literally hopping sideways down the street doing this.  I finally stopped, turned to face him, and told him in no uncertain terms to get away from me because I do not speak with drunken strangers on the street.  I started walking again, and for about a minute I didn’t see him.  Then all of a sudden, I was in pain and almost fell down.  He had run up behind me and punched me in the back of my leg.  He ran to the other side of the street and marched back and forth, taunting me, while I called 911.  He stuck around until the police arrived, taunting me from across the street, then he slowly walked away.  One old man stayed with me until the police came to serve as a witness.  Not a single other person on a street as busy as Roosevelt Avenue said or did anything whatsoever.  The NYPD had ever excuse in the world why they couldn’t just go get him, since he was still within sight of us and I was clearly pointing him out.  He got away.  Nothing ever happened to him.

It’s important to realize that this didn’t happen to me because I was some hot little number in a short skirt.  Then, as now, I was a fat, middle-aged woman in modest clothes.  It doesn’t make a bit of difference.  Women are targets every day, no matter what they look like, no matter what they wear.

Anyway, back to the March.

The march went down Central Park West, then turned onto Central Park South, then turned again onto 6th Ave.  At 44th St, the march ended, and we turned onto 44th toward Times Square.  A street vendor was selling buttons, three for ten dollars.  I picked up a couple of political buttons and looked around for a third one.  Whoever made these buttons understands something about the lives women live in a world dominated by men, because there was a button that said “Don’t Fucking Touch Me.”  I wouldn’t normally buy a button with the F-bomb on it, because where could I wear it?  But after my experience on the train earlier in the day, that button spoke to me.  I had to have it.

That night, we had tickets to see Michigan State play Minnesota on the ice at the Garden.  We had about three hours to kill.  We grabbed some dinner, then grabbed some after-dinner beverages at Starbucks to help the time go by.  At Starbucks, an elderly woman at the next table chatted us up and shared with us her view that poor Donald Trump is the innocent victim of gold-digging whores.  “Women do that,” she told us.

We got to the Garden around 7:40 and got on line for the metal detectors.  I had the two Trump buttons on my sweater, but I had the “Don’t Fucking Touch Me” button in my pocket because I hadn’t wanted to wear it in the restaurant where we ate dinner for fear that little kids would see it.  I put all three buttons in the little plastic bin next to the metal detector, along with my phone and my house keys.  I walked through the detector and turned to collect my belongings from the bin.

The security guard told me I could not have my pin back because it contained obscenity.  I told him I didn’t plan to wear it while I was in the Garden, and in fact I hadn’t even been wearing it when I arrived.  I assured him I’d keep it in my pocket the entire night, but he was unmoved.  He spread out all three buttons on the table and called over a supervisor.

The supervisor explained to me that they did not allow anything with obscenities on it into the Garden.  He told me I could not have my button back.  Figuring he probably thought I’d brought them to the Garden on purpose because I planned to wear them during the game, I decided to tell him what had happened to me that day and why i had bought the buttons.  I figured if he understood that the “Don’t Fucking Touch Me” button had resonated with me because of the experience I’d had on the subway, he would realize it would be cruel to take it away and that I could be trusted to keep it in my pocket and not to flash it in front of the cameras at a Big Ten hockey game.  I gave him the Readers Digest version of what had happened on the train this morning.  I told him that I wouldn’t normally buy a button like that, and that I only bought it because of what had happened on the train.

As soon as I finished my sentence, I heard from behind me, loudly, and in the nastiest, most patronizing, most sarcastic tone of voice,

“OH YEAH, LIKE A BUTTON IS GOING TO HELP WITH THAT.”

It was the security guard who had been the first to tell me I couldn’t keep my button.  He was standing behind me at this point, so I couldn’t see him roll his eyes, but I could hear it in his voice.

I was stunned.  Dude, really?  A woman just told you she was the victim of verbal abuse and unwanted physical contact, and this is how you react? Right in front of your supervisor?  What the hell is wrong with you?  I thought all of that, but I couldn’t say a word.

The supervisor was unmoved.  He told me again that he would not allow the button in the Garden because they have a rule about obscenities.  He asked me if I wanted to bring the button back to my car.  I replied, “I just got done telling you, I took the subway today.”  I walked away.

Although he didn’t respond to the guard while I was still standing there, he must have realized after I left how out of line the guard’s comment had been.  To his credit, he found another supervisor– a woman– and sent her to after me as I walked up toward the concourse.  She asked me what happened, and I told her.  She was stunned that one of her guards would make such a hurtful comment and apologized profusely.  I thought, once again, here’s a woman cleaning up a man’s mess.  She asked us where we were sitting and told me she’d come see us during the game.  After the first period ended, she showed up at our seats.  She told me she had spoken to the guard about his behavior, apologized again for his comments, and gave me the business card of a manager and told me he would be contacting me next week.  She offered to find us better seats and to provide us with complimentary drinks and food, but we already had drinks and our seats were pretty good, so we thanked her and declined.  She apologized again and departed.

So to sum up my day:  Day-drinking loser hits on me on the subway and then punishes me for not being receptive.  March.  Old woman in Starbucks blames the shortcomings of our misogynist president on evil, gold-digging whores.  Security guard at Madison Square Garden demonstrates no interest in whether women actually feel secure and belittles me for no reason.

Put another way, an amazing event about demanding respect and dignity for women, bookended by people who lack the wherewithal to treat women with dignity and respect.

So… congratulations to those people, because as committed as I was before to marching and voting and all of the other tools at my disposal to bring about change in this world that treats women like shit, I’m a thousand times more committed now.

 

 

 

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