The bus was, at most, half full when a man my father’s age got on. He towered over me, and I thought he tried to look down the neck of my dress as he sat down in the aisle seat and leaned toward me. I found him repulsive but froze where I sat. I covered my legs with my jacket and turned my back toward him. I wanted to move to another seat but felt afraid to try to get away.
I still remember my frozen shock when that man sat beside me and started to ask me questions. “Do you like to read?”
“What are you reading?”
“Les Miserables en Francais.” At the ripe age of sixteen, I’d learned I could easily get rid of unwanted attentions by demonstrating my superior intellect. For those who’ve never done this, my friends and I sat around at slumber parties discussing how to get rid of unwanted attentions without making the unwanted suitor angry or hurting his feelings. Acting smarter than they are is often a real turn off for guys.
“I guess you’re real smart, huh.” The pervert hadn’t taken any of my gentle hints.
“Oui.” I refused to speak English for the next hour, hoping he’d find chatting with me too burdensome and leave.
One thing I hadn’t learned at this age was how to get rid of seasoned predators. My little tricks to get rid of boys my age didn’t work with this man. I couldn’t think what to do. I was afraid to climb over him to get away. Nobody had told me that I could stand, swear like a sailor, and tell the guy to bug off, while attracting the attention of everybody on the bus. Nobody told me that old men were predators. We didn’t call humans predators back then. Instead, of drawing attention to myself, I sat frozen with fear and tried to cover myself with my purse, book and coat while squished against the side of the bus, away from that creep.
Finally, the bus stopped at another station and the driver announced we could get off and use the restroom.
Pervert-of-the-Bulging-Pants tried to bump me again. “We’ll just wait and let the others off first.”
I stood. “No. I have to use the bathroom now.”
He didn’t move and neither did anybody else on the bus. I realized that I had support. The frozen, frightened rabbit response dissolved. I could raise my voice. I could kick him in the knee and stomp on his feet as I climbed past him. Using my purse and book to shield my privates, I inflicted as much damage to his shoes and feet as I could squeezing my way past him and out of that seat.
I used the restroom and took stock of my problem. A group of older women were traveling together. I moved closer to them and commented on a hand-knit sweater then I joined their group to talk about knitting. We got on the bus together, and I moved to sit with my new friends.
Pervert got on the bus. Instead of taking his old seat, he came back to where I was sitting with the older women. He said to the woman beside me in the aisle seat, “I’m sitting with her. You’ll have to move. There’s an empty seat behind your friends.”
I tried to look smug as I said, “We’re going to all sit together and talk about knitting. I don’t want to sit next to you.” Yes, once I had allies I could be quite bold. I could think what to do. I remained much more polite than I needed to, but back then this nice Presbyterian girl had never even heard the “F” word.
The woman next to me said, “I’m staying right here with all my friends.”
Pervert finally, turned away and moved toward the front of the bus. I thought he would sit where he had been earlier. Instead, he moved to the front of the bus to sit next to a young woman in her twenties.
I knew he was trying to pick up younger women, but really didn’t understand what was going on. I still have no idea what he wanted. Was he looking for a quickie, a one-night-stand, or did he want the thrill of raping a woman. I don’t know. I certainly had no skills at that age to assess his motives.
Once I saw the pervert sit with another woman, I understood he was looking for more than a companion to chat with on a long trip. I looked at the woman next to me. “Thanks for not moving. That guy is a creep. He sat next to me and was looking at me, you know.”
The five older women nodded. They did know. We bonded over our shared experiences with nasty men.
From those women and their understanding of my predicament, I learned that some men are just plain nasty. It’s okay to use whatever skills we have to get away from them. By the time I was thirty, I’d developed a sixth sense about what men were doing with their hands and whether it was safe to walk past them. I learned to give them The Look, which scared them back a few feet. I learned I could snarl, “Touch me, and I’ll kick your kneecap off.” I learned to be scary.
What I never learned as a young woman and am just now beginning to realize is that women shouldn’t have to live with this shit. Men can learn to keep their hands to themselves. Men can sit and read a book instead of picking on young girls. Men do not have to be predators. Their behavior is just plain wrong.