Creeps and chivalry

I like the notion of knights in shining armor. Not literally, because I can only assume those metal suits are uncomfortable to wear, especially on a hot summer day, or in the dead of winter.  But then again, il faut souffrir pour être belle, so they say.

And while I approve of the notion of knights in shining armor, I am proudly self-sufficient. I can assemble furniture from IKEA, kill spiders and generally make my way in the world all by myself. I don’t feel the need of having a guy around, to protect me, even when I am in tense situations, or travelling. I am a big girl, and most of my life, I was never a magnet for trouble-makers.

However, in the past year, my clothing style has veered sharply towards a more traditionally feminine look. A “Mad Men” vibe: lots of dresses, and skirts, and outfits that highlight my hourglass figure. I enjoy playing dress up and feeling fabulous. And with this change in clothing, I’ve noticed an increase in what can only be called “unwanted solicitation” by the male species that can be annoying, uncomfortable and sometimes downright degrading.

I’ve been told by guys and girls alike to lighten up: it is nothing more than a compliment within some vulgar packaging. But I disagree: a well-meaning compliment, whatever its packaging, normally produces happiness in the recipient. Unwanted solicitation does not produce warm fuzzy feelings. It turns out that even Playboy thinks so:

Playboy's guide to catcalling


On Wednesday, I was taking a bus home late at night after the gym. Dressed in my nice work clothes: a pink dress and heels. (Yes, pink. I actually own two pink work-appropriate dresses. One for summertime, and one for winter). The rest of my appearance was pretty disheveled: reasonable considering I had just finished a badass boxing workout.

I managed to get one of the prized individual seats (not part of a row of seats); the bus soon was filled. Standing next to me, blocking me into my seat, was a seemingly nondescript guy, who I happily ignored, with the ease of someone who frequently takes public transport and has learned to navigate the lack of personal space with the ability to remain in a comfortable private bubble. As the bus began its journey, he asked me for the time. I gave it, then returned to my happy bubble. Then he asked me if I spoke French, to which I nodded, abruptly. Then he asked me if I lived nearby. In desperation, regretting having to resort to rudeness, I pulled a book out of my purse, smiled at him, and stated, “I am going to read now. Good night.”

A few bus stops later, he tapped me on the shoulder, and having gotten my startled attention, he pointed to my legs and told me I had really nice legs. Then waited expectantly, with a smirk, for my reaction. I nodded, and tried to bury my nose in my book.

But of course, I could not concentrate on the words on the page. I just felt him leaning closer and closer towards me, so that his torso almost touched me. He clearly was trying to invade my space. As I debated my options (Tell him to fuck off? Rude and causing an unecessary scene. Suck it up, and hope he got off the bus before me? Not actually helpful in getting this situation to end), a young, thin, man took the seat in front of me, and sat turned slightly towards me and the creep.

I opted for the option of sucking it up. Non-confrontation always seems like the pathetic, but safer, option. Isn’t that a nice trade-off?

I sat for several stops, pretending to read my book, and failing at ignoring creepo’s presence and leering smile. Finally, just before exiting the bus, he placed his hand on my thigh, and as I sat frozen with revulsion, fighting the impulse to shove him off, he gave me his hand to shake and thanked me for the pleasant bus-ride.

I sure hope he got his quota of mild harassment for the night.

But here is the thing. As I sat, stewing about my inability to assertively deal with annoying guys like that, and pondering whether or not I had made the right choice in not causing a scene, since afterall, he hadn’t actually tried to harm me, he had merely been enjoying my discomfort, the young guy in front of me turned fully towards me in his seat, and smiled apologetically, and said, “That was fucking weird. I saw the whole thing, and that is why I chose this seat, just in case he tried to do something uncool to you.”

Just like that, my feelings of discomfort and anger (mostly) evaporated. This kid, who could almost be my much younger brother, who probably didn’t have the body weight required to shove creepo, had felt it incumbent on him to watch out for a stranger.

His momma raised him well: practicing modern day chivalry, at the age of 18, ain’t easy.

Thank you, kid.




  1. Placing his hand on your thigh was not mild harrassment. It is legal battery when a stranger touches you intentionally without your given permission when you clearly do not desire it. Your anti-desire was made clear with your “book” statement. You know it, he knew it.

    The problem here was that you did not feel the right to name aloud what was happening. Next time, you might try:

    “Please stop asking me personal questions. I don’t know you.

    “Please stop crowding so close to me. It feels like harrassment.”


    1. I agree – I am frustrated with how unassertive I was. Part of my silence stemmed from my conviction that anything I said, any acknowledgement of what he was doing and how uncomfortable it made me feel would be exactly the kind of thrill of success he was looking for. I remained silent in part to frustrate HIM at least a fraction of the amount he was frustrating me.

      I didn’t anticipate the feeling afterwards of having been complicit, through my passive silence. So yes, next time I will handle it differently and I will speak up.


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