“How are you today?”
Within the next 5 minutes I would learn that this white male sitting next to me on the bus is 49 years old and had recently got out of prison after serving a few decades on several murder charges.
But I listen to his mumbling about family members not letting go of his past, and I respond in a friendly manner as I would do with most anyone because he’s a human being, and sometimes people just need for someone to listen and engage with them. He proceeds to compliment my eyes, examine my legs as he guesses my age, assume I have no boyfriend as he inspects my hands for a ring….
Still only slightly uncomfortable.
“We should do something together sometime and find a secret place, just me and you.”
SAYS THE FUCKING MURDERER. But still, I chuckle and roll with it, figuring that I’ll never see this man again.
It wasn’t until I got off the bus that I felt perturbed. Was I wrong for failing to immediately and firmly establish boundaries and shut this man down? I feel like I disappointed every feminist, and my failure to create that clear boundary will only reinforce that his behavior is acceptable to all women in all situations. While I felt relatively safe in this public space, who’s to say when and where and how he’ll do it again. I feel as if I had inadvertently condoned so much more, which could only cause problems for some other girl down the road.
I must say that I was actually grateful for this experience. I recognize that I am very privileged and have always felt safe and empowered and unashamed to be a woman. Until this moment, I had never fully felt like women’s rights issues applied to me. I received a glimpse of what it is like to be seen only through the box in which society places me. Just as race is a social construct, perceptions of how a particular gender should act or be interacted with is also unjustly limiting. Any opportunity we have to educate and change that must be acted upon, and I failed to do so. Why?
People privileged enough to have other means of transportation often say that they are too scared to ride the bus, but I’ve always pushed past that. I’m the type of person who, in all of my naïveté, believes (rather, wishes so deeply) that small actions taken by an individual can make a difference in any situation. Riding my bike home from work at 10 p.m. through a troubled neighborhood is completely fine because our neighborhoods will not improve if we just accept that they are bad and continue to ignore them. (No worries, I get a ride home each night.) But where is the line between stepping out of societal norms in order to move forward and staying safe within those confines in order to avoid harm?
Louisville’s public transportation needs some love, both by the government and by individuals. But who takes the first step? If not many people other than the underprivileged show concrete interest in utilizing existing public transportation, what incentive has the government to funnel money into improving the system? At the same time, if the government isn’t spending money to make improvements, why would a privileged individual choose to ride the bus? This mode of transportation that was previously racially segregated is now economically isolated. In order to keep to the true nature of “public” transportation, however, effort needs to be made by all parties to make the system a viable option for all.