Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Subway Survival Skills

I have a new character to add to the catalog of people who ride the subway: the Rubber. I boarded the No. 3 subway this morning along with a few other people, including a man about my age in a business suit. I was able to get an end seat near the door next to an older man. The man who boarded with me stood in the doorway. My seatmate got off two stops later, and his seat was taken by the Door Dweller whose leg brushed mine as he sat down. No big deal—we're in close quarters and we're bound to bump into each other. He murmured an apology and I gave him a quick nod. He shifted around a bit as he got his iPhone out and put in his earbuds, jostling me. And again, no big deal, this stuff happens. 

But as he settled into his seat his thigh pressed against mine, though there was ample room for us to sit without touching each other at all. Then he rubbed his leg against mine. I bristled, and expanded a bit—I've mentioned before that as a smaller person, I tend to get squashed on the subway sometimes by larger individuals. And then it happened again. Before it could happen a third time, in a very natural "I'm getting my phone out of my pocket" motion, my elbow connected with his rib cage. Hard. 

I apologized. He moved over. And winked at me. I got off two stops later.

Sexual harassment on the subway is not a new thing. And for all intents and purposes, this encounter was relatively mild. I've had men press into me while standing up—generally, a well placed heel sends a clear message that they need to back off in those cases. And there are also more severe cases of exposure and masturbation. I'm also not afraid to get loud if I need to, and I'm glad to say that it seems more women are willing to speak up as well. 

Do you have public transportation survival skills to share with AiP readers? Let us know below.


  1. Fortunately I've never had that experience (as a male, it's somewhat less likely). Once or twice when the metro was VERY crowded (think "fire code violation" or possibly "what kind of weight limits do we have in this train, anyway?") I've found myself inadvertently pressed up against someone.

    I have an odd suspicion that groping and the like is less common on the DC Metro than the NYC Subway - the DC Metro is almost exclusively for commuting downtown for work (usually government folks), and is not so heavily used for more casual travel. I can't back this notion up, however, it's just a suspicion.

    To contrast, I had a friend who recounted when he visited Italy. He claimed that when his group got on a public bus, every long-haired member of the group, both male and female, got groped.

  2. During last year's tornado, service on the LIRR came to a complete stop, and as a result the subways were flooded with people trying to make their way home. In that case, I found myself packed into a subway car to the point where I was a bit claustrophobic, but everyone was relatively well behaved, if a bit cranky. There really was no other option—you couldn't avoid pressing up against people, and we tried to make the best of it. People would make eye contact and smile apologetically or make small talk. It also may have helped that we were generally in the same commuting community as we would have been on the LIRR so in a sense we sort of knew each other.

    In other cases, however, it's been clear that men were expressing some sort of interest. And I generally just remove myself from the situation. I had one instance where a man kept trying to press his groin into the back of my hand—we were standing near one of the poles and no matter how I shifted, he would follow. I finally just told him to move. I'm pleased that the MTA is trying to raise awareness about this overall, but it's still something people don't really talk about.