While I was walking down 59th street today to go to the 6 train and head home, I saw a group of about five guys surrounding a parked car, standing in the street and on the sidewalk, joking, laughing. I then noticed that their jeers were directed not within the group, but outside of it, to the woman walking in front of me. It was her they were yelling at.
“Hey! HEY!” they yelled, laughing at her avoidance as she kept looking at her phone and walking straight ahead, pretending she couldn’t hear them. Then one of the guys stepped in front of her, put out his hand in a gesture to say STOP, and she finally stumbled a bit to see what he was doing, and then he mimed rolling out a carpet for her to walk on.
She never reacted.
Once the train made it into the station after I stood on the hundred-degree platform for about five minutes, I closed my book, wiped the sweat off my face, and suddenly realized it was Saturday and remembered why I don’t visit Manhattan on the weekends. The train cars were packed, and so were the platforms, and this was going to be miserable. I thought about waiting for the next train, but it was going to be at least another five minutes, and it would be the same situation, so I just stepped on, balancing in the few inches of space available between the established passengers and the door. It closed, and I moved to an open space by the pole.
Whatever guy was standing behind me sighed forcefully, blowing the hair on the top of my head. “Bro, it is TIGHT in here,” he said to his friend, laughing. I realized I was standing in between this douchey duo. “Tiiiiiiight!” I then felt a shift behind me, followed by pressure on my ass from what I felt like might be exactly what I didn’t want it to be. I moved a bit to make some space between me and this diptard behind me. At 51st street, diptard’s friend said his goodbyes between several unnecessary uses of the words “bro” and “dude,” and I moved to the other side of the pole and stood underneath an old man in a hat. He stood still, resting his eyes, and I figured I was now in a better position.
A few seconds into our journey to 42nd street, the train stopped. It was the longest time I’ve ever been stopped in the car of a subway train, and I kind of started to freak out a bit given the crowd. I started wondering how people would start reacting once they realized the train might be stuck indefinitely. While I’m entertaining myself with these thoughts, I catch the eye of diptard, who smiles at me. I do not smile back. I look away. Then I look down. I try to figure out where to look so I don’t have to make eye contact with this guy who I’m pretty sure earlier took advantage of the complete lack of personal space available on the train. But sure enough, a minute or two later, while the train was still stopped, I catch his eye again. He smiles again. I do not.
By this time, the old man I’m standing under, who had been praying quietly to himself while the train was stopped, had started to sing under his breath.
The train starts moving down the track again, and the old man stops singing and looks up, surveying the train and its many passengers.
We arrive at 42nd street and I get out, squeezing between people stalled, looking left and right, ducking under the arm of a tall man holding onto his girlfriend, apparently convinced that she will be swept away by the throng of people if he lets go.
I go down the stairs to the passageway that leads to the 7, and suddenly, some guy starts talking to me.
“Excuse me, miss.” I realize it’s diptard. I turn away and keep walking. “I couldn’t help but notice on the train that you have the most beautiful brown eyes I’ve eve–” I cut him off. I put my hand up in his face and said, flustered, frustrated, disgusted, “THANK YOU– I don’t want– just– get away.” At this point, I stopped walking so that he wouldn’t be escorting me down this disgusting, hot, subway platform. He says, “Alright, no problem,” with the confidence of someone who’s just had a woman tell him to get away from her, which, for many men, is unfortunately about as much confidence as they ever have, because the kind of guy who will rub up against you in the subway and breathe on your head and smile at you twice after he’s tried to catch your eye and gotten no response and STILL comes up and tries to hit on you doesn’t really care about the reaction he gets from women. At least, he doesn’t care if it’s encouraging. The more uncomfortable she is, the better, apparently.
As I watch him walk away from me, I notice that he’s wearing a sleeveless undershirt. Like everyone, he’s sweating. He’s gross. Like everyone. It’s a disgusting, muggy day in New York, and the subway is the worst place you could be. And yet, he hit on me. Which makes me wonder, what did he think was going to happen? The New York underground in the summer brings out the worst in everyone. You’re not going to make any kind of move on someone you like in this scenario. So why come up to me? What is the desired — or even expected — outcome?
Finally in Queens, walking down the street, I see a group of four guys talking. Two are sitting on a stoop and two are standing on the sidewalk, facing them. They are taking up the entire sidewalk, forcing me to walk through the group. And I know they’re going to say something. Because a group of men always says something.
As I’m passing the last guy, he says, “You are looking beautiful today.”
I wanted to turn around and say: Do you say that to every single woman who walks in front of you? Why? Why do you feel the need to say something to a woman just because she’s alone? Why do you feel the need to say something when you’re with your friends, especially? And if you hadn’t said something, could I have just walked by unbothered, or would someone have fulfilled the obligation of every shithead guy on the street to make women feel uncomfortable?
I wanted to say: It is not your duty nor your right to comment on how I look just because you can see me.
I wanted to say: Stop saying that kind of shit to women on the street. They don’t like it.
I wanted to ask what he wanted to happen in that scenario. I have never once heard of or seen a woman stop in her tracks, grateful for the catcalls (no matter what this article says). I’ve never seen a short fling or a longterm romance blossom from one stranger claiming the other was looking good on the street. So that can’t be what he expects.
But there’s no point to asking; I know the answer to the question. To look cool in front of my friends. To make you feel uncomfortable. To make myself feel stronger/better/more manly by exercising the power that I have as a man (especially with my friends here to back me up) over some woman who’s walking alone on her way home.