It was confusing, because the man seemed to be talking on his cell phone. He kept saying things like, “Come on, Beautiful. You’re so gorgeous. Why don’t you talk to me?” Over and over again, holding his phone to his ear.
Sitting across the aisle, I was mildly annoyed, because this went on for 10 minutes and it seemed he was going to have the same conversation for the whole bus ride. I was trying to read my book.
I thought he was holding the phone to his ear. Suddenly I noticed that he was leaning forward talking directly to you. Telling you, “You’re so beautiful.” Asking to take your photo. Leaning closer.
I want you to know that I saw you, saw the look of fear on your face, and instantly recognized it. I’d guess the guy was about 30 years older than you, and possibly drunk. It’s in these situations that we have to make split-second assessments: Do I ignore him? Do I tell him no, firmly but gently? Do I yell at him to fuck off? Do I inform the bus driver? How dangerous is this man? Are any of these people going to help me if things escalate?
Your decision to stay silent and simply turn your head so he couldn’t take your photo, then ignore him, was a smart one. You communicated your disinterest to him and protected yourself. The whole interaction lasted maybe 30 seconds; he leaned back in his seat and resumed his “phone” conversation. (If he had ever really been on the phone. I still don’t know).
I want you to know that I watched this interaction, and I thought about saying something to him. But like you, I was weighing the situation. How insistent is he going to get about taking your photo? Will intervening escalate the whole thing needlessly?
I will admit that other, more cowardly, thoughts also passed through my head: Would I look like a shrieking harpy if I stepped in? Would I look like a racist, because the man was Aboriginal?
On a danger-alertness scale, I’d say this situation was blue, or a “stay on your guard” type of situation. It was unlikely to become violent, since we were on a rush-hour bus full of people. But it was uncomfortable.
I say I recognized the fear on your face because 20 years ago, when I was your age, I also encountered situations like this one. I too felt scared and vulnerable when strange men showed me unwanted attention. When they didn’t get the hint that their attention was unwanted, and kept pushing. Those instant risk assessments come more naturally to me now. I can’t say I would have responded as calmly as you did. Having seen this bullshit for too long, I likely would have told him to fuck off. But then, at my age, those creepy interactions happen far less frequently.
I’m still thinking about this incident because I realized how scared I was to intervene. I’d never actually been put in a situation like that before. I like to think I would have the courage to speak up if it was needed.
I would have loved to tell this guy off, tell him that it’s inappropriate to ask to take anyone’s photo on a bus. That he’s scaring you and being a fucking creep. More and more, I feel like we need to turn these situations into teachable moments, because some men are just ignorant and don’t understand the power imbalance. But this guy was not fully sober, and not likely receptive to a lesson on sexism.
I think I made the right decision to stay out of it, because I do think it would have turned into an argument and would have lasted a lot longer than 30 seconds. But more importantly, I hope you think I made the right decision.