Monday, April 20, 2009

Post-Exposure Traumatics

I'll be damned. Last night I had the choice of being too tired to rationalize any productivity on my part, or being too rapt with thought to give my brain an inch to doze off. Fancy that.

In the end my eyelids gave in as they often do. However, the sleep only lasted long enough to let me have a terrificly traumatizing dream based on a repressed memory from last Thursday night.
I rode my bike 8 miles to Williamsburg to attend a talk about the activist communities response to the economic meltdown. In short, it was a good talk well worth the arduous bike journey.
Naturally, upon returning home I decided to shorten my trek by taking the train half-way back. Regretfully the only trains nearby are ones that have already produced a bad taste in my mouth from previous excursions, however I'll spoil a little by saying this trip cemented my hatred for these lines.
I could only find the J-M-Z lines, and thus, took one of those to Manhattan to catch my train. After 40 minutes of waiting, an M finally arrived, and was somewhat relieved to find the train near empty so I wouldn't have any trouble fitting in with my bike comfortably. Regretfully, emptier trains also mean sketchier riders.
I sat across from a guy that was asleep when I got on. I didn't think much of it at the time, but two stops in this guy woke up, look confused, and then his eyes settled on me which then produced a creepy-as-fuck grin that I did my best to ignore until he fell back asleep. Luckily the ride was only 5 stops, however this did little to spare me my unfortunate fate.
At Essex street, the guy wakes up again. I look off at the door to avoid his gaze, but notice he's trying to get into my line of vision. Against my better judgement, I glanced over and noticed the most defiling, vulgar, disgusting, repulsive thing i have ever had the misfortune to lay eyes on. THIS FUCKING SCUMBAG WAS JERKING OFF!!

I had thought to take a picture and report him to the police ala "Hollaback NYC" style, but as luck would have it, I spent the majority of my bike ride taking pictures of things along my ride and knew for a fact my phone memory was packed. I was panicked as it became clear I had no recourse for defending myself from this scum of the earth dirtbag. I didn't know what to do so I walked my bike to the other side of the train cart, only for him to get off at the same stop and creepily stalk behind me grinning all the way to the next platform.

You could call this luck I guess, but my train arrived just in time and the guy was still on the stairs as it left the station with me in it.

The dream was a little more satisfying in terms of vengeance, but it forced me to revisit the trauma that actually happened.
At the very least, in my dream, when the guy started masturbating, I threw my bike at him while loudly calling him a scum of the Earth. Everyone else on the train helped me push him out through the doors as we crossed the Williamsburg Bridge. See? Satisfying.

Anyway. all of this, while wildly amusing I'm sure, got my mind reeling about sexual harassment once again.

When I lived in Baltimore, sexual harassers made themselves known maybe once every other block (if I was lucky), but nothing ever came close to what happened on the M train.
In fact the last week, when I was meeting my sister at the Port Authority, while searching for a place to sit (f.y.i., there are four whole seats in the entirety of the structure) what I would assume to be an obese Mexican man wearing a grey cardigan and a purple button up, exclaimed his "love" for me and followed me out of the building sharing his wish to "marry me". It was really seriously annoying and not after long I told him very loudly to "Shut-up, and fuck off!". He followed me for another block until I threw a crumpled paper at him and he finally left me alone.
Later on, I went back into the port and was going on the up escalator when I saw he was going down following a poor middle aged blonde woman who I doubt spoke Spanish, and I also doubt had any wish to interact with this creep.
I alerted an officer that there was an obese olive-skinned man harassing women. The cop laughed, told me he'd call it in. Not much of a reassurance, but again, what am I left to do in this situation?

Things like this get me so irate you have no idea. I'm a generally easy-going happy person, but when something like this happens I can be pissed and morose for days. Which in turn, creates this plateau of depression because I am always left feeling so totally powerless.
What's weirder to me, is that in both situations my appearance was borderline homeless-looking. My clothes were torn, splotched with paint, hair greasy, feet stinky. What's the draw? I throw my arms up, and resign! I am totally beside myself!!!

Anyone have any thoughts?


Anonymous said...

Pretend to take the picture. He'll never know the difference

Anonymous said...

was he doing it in front of your face? 3 feet ? 4 ? 5?

Leah said...

What is the deal with these fucking creeps 'masturbating at' women alone in subway cars!? A friend of a friend had a similar experience in Paris (the man stood next to her as she sat) and then, when the girls were out together, it happened again. I had a creep stalk me through the subway in Munich, and now I'm wondering if his interest was more sexual than financial...

Naturally, this whole thing ENRAGES me, but my detached intellectual curiosity makes me ask, why??? Is it a power/humiliation thing? Are these creeps just warming up to rape? What goes on in their heads, and is this an international "phenomenon"?

By the way, I love your idea about snapping a photo of men/boys who cat-call/harass. It's a creative way to fight back and if it caught on, it might work. Although, I think the social stigma for their behavior might need to be stronger for these creeps to be 'shamed' into acting like decent men/boys...

Gabriella Szpunt said...

To Anonymous #1:
I could have very well done that, but I actually wanted to take a photo in order to give it to the police, and get this scum behind bars so that there is one less scum on the streets and subways.

To Anonymous #2:
Not sure how this is relevant. He was sitting directly across from me on the train, so use your imagination.

Gabriella Szpunt said...

To Leah:
Thank you for your comment.

I wish I knew why some people think it's okay to commit such lewd and despicable acts on the train, but then again I could probably live a long and happy life without that information.

It is amazing though that there seems to be this notion that women are somehow equal to men all of a sudden, when everywhere I look we are treated like sexual objects without any regard whatsoever.

It really truly is enraging, and I'm right there with you. It's might be naive to lump everyone into one umbrella of motive for doing these things, but for the most part I have no doubt that there is a subconscious power-dynamic at play to subjugate women and put them in their place as sexual objects.

To be honest, snapping a photo was not my idea. A while back in NYC a woman took a photo of a man that was masturbating right in front of her, and the photo led to his arrest. This idea sort of formed out of that, and "Hollaback" blogs have been sprouting up in cities all over. I would love it if this sort of behavior got a little more notice, and when women get harassed on the train, others watching wouldn't stay idle and instead come to a person's aid when there are in obvious distress.

I linked to Hollaback in my blog entry. But here's the url in any case:

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