You’re not going to win this one.
On Sunday I decided to take myself to the movies. It was a last minute decision and since it was a movie that would be inevitably disappointing I went alone.
I got on the subway. It was a semi crowded car and when I saw an empty seat I decided I would be better off taking it than trying to keep my balance standing up. The empty seat was the second to last one in a row and on either side were men with their legs spread out into wide V’s. On many occasion I’ve had people sit on my thighs on the subway so I approached this seat with the same caution I always do when I’m unsure of space. I backed my bum to the edge of the bench, sat on the ledge and then once I was sure that I wouldn’t sit on either man I slid my butt to the back of the seat with no space between my legs.
“Hey don’t bogart the space,” the man on the end seat said to me. “You can sit but ask before you come up and take my space.”
“Excuse me but your legs were spread taking up multiple seats,” I said. “I don’t need your permission to sit down.”
“How do you figure that?”
“Look! You’re still spread out into my seat.” I pointed down at both of our legs, my thighs tightly pressed against themselves and his still in a dominant V.
“Listen, I don’t know why you’re talking to me,” he said. “I don’t want to talk to you.” Even though he started the conversation, he instantly turned tables to make me look crazy for defending myself.
“I’m talking to you because you’re shaming me for taking up space!” I said, my face getting hot. “You spoke to me first and I’m not going to apologize for sitting in an unoccupied seat!”
Then the man on my other side spoke up: “Just let it go. You’re not going to win this one.”
I cried. I had no response to that and no energy to hold back the tears.
“I get it,” he said. “You’re just trying to hold your ground. But it’s not worth it.”
He was trying to be nice. He was trying to make me feel better. “You’ll get off this train,” he said, “and you’ll have a fun night and you won’t have to worry about this.”
I still didn’t have a response. I might have let out a couple of “Uh huhs” but I was just trying to hold myself to silent tears. I didn’t want to let myself go into my loud, ugly cry. I didn’t want to bring any more attention on myself and I didn’t want to engage with the man who was trying to make me feel better. Because even though he recognized that I wasn’t doing anything wrong he kept his legs spread wide too. He paid lip service to the idea that I deserved space but he did nothing to share it. And while he may have been right that arguing with a stranger on the train wasn’t really a battle worth fighting, he was a man telling me what was reasonable to speak up against.
“Are those tears?” He asked. “What would people think of Mike Tyson if he cried.”
“They might find it endearing.” I responded, not knowing what else to say about the man with the funniest voice in boxing and not really feeling like defending my tears.
I got off of the train and shoved an entire Five Guys Burger and shake in my mouth. Food was my only comfort. I didn’t feel like there was anyone I could talk to.
Yesterday I was walking on 13th street when I heard, “Hey beautiful!”
I looked up and saw a white van with two men in the front seat. They were looking at me and laughing.
"How dare you comment on a woman’s body when she’s just trying to go about her life,” I yelled.
“You may think it’s a compliment but it’s not! How dare you talk about me! You don’t know me.”
They laughed. The light changed. They drove off.
“You’re not going to win this one,” echoed in my head.
“Is this a woman problem or a me problem?” I find myself asking. I’ve lost faith in so many people who talk about supporting women but when called into action demur or at least they demur to me. They’re the same as the “nice” man on the subway paid lip service to the idea that I should have space while not sharing any of his. I know so many people who claim to be feminists, who publicly call for women to speak up when harmed, but who simultaneously shame me for “saying horrible things” about their friend when I describe the ways I was used and abused and how I still don’t feel safe as a result. I’m not out to get anyone but I’d really like to live without constant fear.
I feel like I’m at the end of my rope and I’m not sure where to go from here. I just keep hearing, “You’re not going to win this one,” echo again and again.