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First rule of the subway: Do not talk on the subway

September 9, 2010

I had this IM conversation with a friend a few months ago, sometime near the end of March. I was telling him about a ride home from practice the night before:

me: first, N was all fucked out of Astoria
so i got off at Queensboro onto the 7 and then to GCT to the 6
I get on the 6, and i have my ipod on and stuff
and i sit down and this guy near me says something to me
but i didn’t hear it so i take my earbuds out and say, “excuse me?”
and he’s like, “Do you like punk music?”
mothra: ew
me: And i’m like. Um…yeah
which is kind of a lie
cause i don’t really know much punk music
mothra: oh good, u were about to surprise me
me: i can hum a few Clash and Ramones songs
but that’s it
i don’t mind punk
so then he’s like, what’s your favorite band
and for some reason the Dictators is the only band i can think of
mothra: uggg
i’m cringing
me: and I’m like, “Why do you ask?”
mothra: i hate the “so what kind of music do you listen to” line of questioning
me: and he’s like, “I just like to know about people”
mothra: k..
me: and I kind of nod like, “You’re a freak” and put my ipod back on
being like WTF and awkward that a nearly full train had to witness that exchange
but who the fuck does that?
the ipod means “DO NOT TALK TO ME”
mothra: no it really doesn’t
i have earplugs in my ears alla time
to some
it means
me: earplugs or earphones?
mothra: ask me about my day
me: ah, see, that’s hard to tell tho
mothra: they’re bright orange and stick out
me: the white earbuds are clear
still harder
that’s so old man of you
mothra: ha
it makes the subway more peaceful
the screeching sounds are muffled
me: m
i guess my ipod serves some of the purpose of blocking that
but still
what a fucking random question
mothra: was he hitting on u
me: i got home and i was like, “Do i look like i like punk music?”
i dunno
it failed
mothra: that’s what i’d think
i mean he’s not asking everyone whether they like punk music
me: i think he did comment on some other girl’s boots at one point
so my guess: new New Yorker
mothra: wow
me: just moved here and eager to make friends
mothra: or unhinged
me: doesn’t know any better
no, he didn’t seem unhinged
he seemed normal otherwise
young, mentally all there, just sort of random
or random for NYC
in Indiana people talk to each other all the time
mothra: sure but on the subway
me: you’re in line at the bank and people start talking to you and stuff
mothra: that’s a particularly odd spot
lines at banks, sure
me: yeah, the first rule of the subway is you do not talk on the subway
mothra: totally
me: it was totally awkward
i was like, i’m just ignoring him from here on out
thankfully, he got off at Union Square
mothra: sigh

That incident bothered me for a few days, but I was never able to put my finger on why. Tonight I’ve been reading a few old threads on Metafilter regarding street harassment and the like. Obviously, being female, I’m quite familiar with the phenomenon. It’s upsetting when a random guy comments on my clothes or looks when I’m just trying to walk down the street minding my own business. In that genre of harassment, it’s about power and privilege, not to mention the implicit assumption that by being female, I’m constantly fodder for the male gaze. Grr patriarchy.

But this incident on the train wasn’t that kind of thing. So I thought, “Wow, am I really that thin-skinned, or that much of a hardened New Yorker? Can I really not handle some random guy trying to talk to me on the train?” And then I read this comment in a Metafilter thread, and combined with some others, I realized, yeah, it’s OK to be upset about that. Because even though I clearly was not wanting to talk to anyone, this guy thought he could overstep that boundary. While he might have been completely innocuous in his intentions, when someone oversteps a simple boundary, it’s a warning. Sometimes it’s a false alarm, and sometimes it’s not. But when we’ve been conditioned to feel a bit of fear (and often, rightfully so!) when someone crosses those boundaries, it makes even these innocuous interactions a little scary. Either way, it’s disrespectful to disturb someone who obviously does not want to have a conversation with a stranger. It’s hugely self-entitled for a guy to think he has the right to disturb some girl because he thinks she’s pretty or thinks she might be interesting. Let her decide for herself if she wants to engage you in conversation. If she’s wearing headphones, she’s already made that decision and you need to respect that.

So yes, someone talking to me on the train when I clearly don’t want to talk is as much of an intrusion as a random catcall, and perhaps even more so, considering that we’re both stuck in a metal tube hurtling through underground caverns with nowhere else to go. At least when someone catcalls me I can walk away. But in this situation, I was stuck, which likely compounded the feeling of helplessness that made this interaction rub me the wrong way.

Sigh. The only downside of being a feminist is that it’s hard not to see patriarchy everywhere, which is upsetting. Although, I suspect I’d probably still not like the whole thing even if I didn’t identify as a feminist, but at least now I know the reasons behind it. And as G.I. Joe taught me, knowing is half the battle.


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