Lewd Gestures

posted in: U Street, WMATA | 7

I’m so glad to have find this site today. I’ve experienced harassment on the streets of several cities, but I had a particularly disconcerting run-in last night.

Photo by Mike McCaffrey via flickr

I was riding the bus home from a friend’s house last night around 10pm. I get off at U and 14th, and even at that hour I don’t usually feel any discomfort, because there are plenty of people out and about at restaurants or bars. Last night, however, I found myself trapped on the bus with TWO harassers. I almost wish I hadn’t noticed them. They were both youngish men, I’d say in their mid twenties to early thirties. I’m not sure if they got on together, but I noticed one of them as he got on because he was wearing a black ski cap that said JESUS on it in large rainbow letters. He sat down one row behind me and to the left. I was vaguely aware of him talking to the man across from him, who was sitting behind me.

I was very much in my own mind, but I happened to glance back as we entered U St – maybe something on the street caught my eye. My timing was perfect, or perfectly wrong. As I glanced back, I caught the man behind me making a lewd gesture suggesting large breasts, and pointing at me. This was clearly for his friend’s benefit, and the other man saw me notice the interaction and started to laugh. I felt humiliated, ashamed, and trapped. These men were directly behind me, and I was afraid of what any movement or reaction on my part would elicit from them. I hoped that they would feel too ashamed to continue the harassment, but I was not so lucky. I listened to them whispering lecherously and laughing for the next 10 minutes, and saw one man making lewd gestures with his hips in my peripheral vision. I felt physically sick, and texted a friend for support. I considered getting up and moving, but was afraid to incite further abuse by exposing my body any more. I was wearing black pants and a long black wool coat, and was bundled up against the cold.

My night got momentarily worse when it became clear that these men were getting off at the same stop as I was. I was afraid of continued harassment on the street, without the relative safety of the well-lit bus and proximity of driver and other passengers. I waited until they had fully exited the bus to move, and was relieved to see them walking away with their backs turned. I hurried home, feeling shaken and ill.

I consider myself a strong woman who doesn’t take shit, and I’ve stood up to verbal harassment on more than a few occasions, but I have never felt so helpless. I was not walking by these men, or in a crowded subway where I could easily disappear. I was trapped, forced to ride with them for 4 blocks while they discussed my body and made god knows what sexual jokes at my expense.

I feel better having written about this, but I’d love some feedback – does anyone have a suggestion, if I or another woman finds herself in this position? Confrontation felt risky in such an enclosed space, but in future I might move forward and sit as close to the driver as possible.

Thanks for all you do.

Submitted by M.I. on 1/14/2010

Location: 90 bus, between 9th and U and 14th and U

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7 Responses

  1. cathy

    you’ll do something different every time you’re harassed, and you’ll do exactly what feels safest and best at the time. don’t beat yourself up over it.

    sitting with the driver, and even telling the driver, is a great option. a lewd gesture is a physical threat, you have the right to feel safe. heck, you could have demanded someone from the transit police. not really effective, but certainly makes a point!

    speaking for myself, i tend towards the loudmouth, returning vulgar gestures type of response myself. i would have asked them what jesus would think of such behavior – and probably to no avail, but if there’s anything i can’t stand more than harassment it’s hypocrisy.

  2. Kim

    I frequently ride the 90/92/93 bus; I’m not sure if that’s the bus you were on, but it serves that area. I experience harassment nearly every time I ride this bus. Last time it was a man asking if I was married and then asking if I wanted “some spice in my life.” Another time a man asked if he could get off the bus and come home with me and would not stop asking me questions, even though I didn’t respond.

    Other than sitting closer to the driver, which you’ve already mentioned, I’ve found an effective method to deter harassers on the bus is to sit close to other women (if possible). Even if two women aren’t together, I’ve found that harassers are less bold if the two women happen to be sitting together.

    Like Cathy said, though, you have to do what feels safest to you at the time; it sounds like you handled this situation the best way you could.

  3. JL

    “I considered getting up and moving, but was afraid to incite further abuse by exposing my body any more.”

    How would moving have risked abuse, when you were already the victim of abuse? Just get up and move. They were already being little immature pigs, and moving would have improved the remainder of your ride.

    Another option, lol: stand up and make a “tiny dick” gesture near your crotch, mocking them.

  4. Golden Silence

    I frequently ride the 90/92/93 bus; I’m not sure if that’s the bus you were on, but it serves that area.

    The end of the story says she was on the 90, so it does sound like she was encountering the same kinds of harassers you’ve dealt with. I’ve rode that bus once or twice, and it does seem to attract harassers.

    How would moving have risked abuse, when you were already the victim of abuse? Just get up and move.

    She didn’t just say risk abuse, she said “further abuse.” This was late at night and those guys could’ve gotten more loud and obnoxious, and even physically threatening. Like cathy’s response says, the contributor reacted in the way she felt was safe for her that moment, and she may not react the same way each time.

  5. Meredith

    Thank you all for your responses.
    Cathy – you’re right, and I didn’t mean to beat myself up so much as I was scared by the feeling of helplessness I experienced. Contacting transit police is a good suggestion, at least for peace of mind.
    Kim- sure enough, the same line. I ride them a lot to visit friends who live on the Hill, but I’ll definitely have my guard up from now on.
    JL and Golden Silence – GS is correct, I didn’t move because I was afraid of FURTHER abuse, frankly because I didn’t want them to get a nice peek at my ass, and because I felt a little paralyzed by the discomfort.

    Next time, I’ll sit closer to the driver when riding late night – I usually do, but I was feeling comfortable and let my guard down briefly.

    Thanks again, all of you, for your responses and support. Good luck!

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  7. Curlz

    It sounds like there were other people nearby. I’m a big fan of enlisting others to “notice” what is going on. Rather than directly speaking to the harassers, try saying loudly to others near you “Excuse me folks, these men are saying inappropriate things about me and my body. Could you please look at them so that we can describe them (to the police)?” or some variation of that.

    The point is that now you’re not alone and trapped, but have allies who a) know what is happening, and b) are paying attention to what these creeps look like.