When I was in highschool I used to get the bus to and from school. It was always the same line and it was almost always packed, so that we all had to stand really close to each other. Being so close, It was inevitable that people would sometimes touch and lean on each other. But often- I would say almost everyday- there were contacts that could easily have been avoided. Older and younger men would grope my ass, touch my legs, and even, when the circumstances allowed it, rub their dick on me. The people around me probably didn’t notice and if they did they never said or did anything about it.
At the time I didn’t know how to react. Even now that I am 22 and have a greater understanding of the meaning and seriousness of what was happening, I probably wouldn’t know how to react. Could I have screamed at them? Sure, I could have, but I didn’t want to make a scene, I didn’t want to upset other people on the bus. Could I have said something? I could have, but that would have meant to admit in front of the whole bus that someone was touching me, I found it embarrassing. I still do now. I doesn’t make sense: why should I be the one who is embarrassed? I didn’t do anything; it was him who was inappropriately touching me, but I still didn’t feel comfortable to draw attention to what was happening. So, I always pretended like nothing happened, glaring at the person who I knew or thought (in the crowd it was sometimes hard to pinpoint who the hand belonged to) was silently but persistently molesting me. It just seemed like the easiest solution. When I could, I would try to move away, but that wasn’t always possible (there were just too many people). Often it would only be possible to turn to the other side.
This didn’t only happen to me. It would happen to all the girls in the bus, or at least it happened to all my friends. We had invented a codeword for situations like these: “suitcase”. When one of my friends said it, it meant that a man was groping or touching her. Together we would try to change positions in the bus so that she could escape him. For the first two years of high school, from age 14 to 16, this was an everyday occurrence, it had become normal. Then, I don’t know why, it stopped. Maybe they preferred younger girls. Maybe it was always the same ones (I never memorised their faces, I just remember they were men above 60) that for one reason or the other stopped taking my bus. I don’t know and I don’t really care. What I do care about is that, almost everyday (let’s round it down to two times a week for the sake of this), for two years of my life excluding the summer holidays, so let’s say 8 months per year, I had to put up with men who, for whatever reason, felt entitled to do as they pleased to my legs, ass and other parts of my body. This happened at least 128 time. 128! And I can consider myself a “lucky girl” because this is the lesser evil, this is normality. This is why, at the beginning I didn’t even want to tell this story, because compared to others, it seemed to me like it was nothing big and that although I will remember these occurrences for the rest of my life, I don’t think of them as traumatic.
Is it fair that a woman can consider herself lucky if the only thing that happened to her in her life is to be molested 128 times on the bus? That it is considered so normal that it doesn’t even seem worth reporting it? There is only one possible answer to these questions: no. And the answer would be “no” even if it happened once and not a hundred and twenty-eight times. Because at the end of the day it is always the same story: it is the story of a man who thinks women are there to please him, without even considering whether these women are consenting or not to his actions. This must be how these men think, because otherwise they wouldn’t act on their fantasies (which each of us has in their heads, but does not necessarily act on), thereby affecting people that never asked to be part of it. I can think that a person x’s ass is very nice and in my mind I can imagine to touch it, but there is a clear line that divides reality from fantasy and I am well aware that this line should never be crossed, since I live in a community where my freedom to do as I please ends where and when it infringes on the freedom of this other person x.
For men this line is not as clear and they often move it according to their wishes, because they can. We live in a society of male dominance, that has allowed this type of behaviour for so long that changing it seems impossible. And this is not fair. It is not fair that I am afraid to go out at night, because I am scared of being raped. Are men afraid of being raped if they are out late? Is it fair that what I wear defines me? Are men ever addressed as “boring” and “tense” and told that “they should let go” if they cover themselves up, and as “sluts” and “easy” if they wear revealing clothes? It isn’t fair that I can’t walk down the street in peace without having to endure comments or whistles just because I was born with a vagina rather than a penis. Does it ever happen to men that they can’t go out without someone having to tell them how they feel about them? In these and many other ways women’s lives differ from men’s ones, these differences are not dictated by biology and are not innate, they are determined by the way society is structured. This is why it is worth telling stories like this one, because maybe if we start to talk about these topics and present them as a problem, society will eventually have to change for the better.