The other night, I was on the D train heading home from the city; I had my headphones on and was in my zone. However, I love to people watch and am constantly observing folks. Three people in particular happened to catch my eye not only because they were across from me, but because I could tell that there was something weird going on.
There was a guy, who happened to be standing beside a woman who was sitting down in the seat closest to the door (Woman A) and another woman (woman B) who was sitting a seat away from Woman A. At first, I simply assumed that Woman A and the guy standing beside her were together because they were conversing. However, I noticed that Woman B kept looking at the couple with a queer kind of interest, almost as if she were amused by their exchange (her mouth was opened and everything).
I was thoroughly confused, but I continued to observe.
Suddenly, Woman A slowly started putting on her headphones while the guy was still talking to her. This is when I realized that not only were they not together, but that she didn't even want to engage in conversation with the dude. In realizing that she was trying to ignore him, he sat next to her, which placed him right in the middle of her and Woman B. At this point, Woman B looked at the guy with disgust because now he had also invaded her space.
The guy continued to try and get Woman A's attention. He gestured for her to shake his hand, which she did, but after the first handshake, he spoke and then gestured for her to shake his hand again. The second time, she refused, but he persisted. Mind you, both of her headphones were still on, a clear sign that she wanted nothing more to do with him. Next thing I knew, the guy reached over to touch her knee. She gently pushed his hand away before he could touch her.
This is when my blood really began to boil and I told myself that if he did anything else I would step in and try and help her. Her gentle shove of his hand semi convinced me that maybe, just maybe, he would finally leave her the hell alone. In my head, I was screaming and cursing and just wanted her to get up and walk away, but I could tell that she was afraid to even move. I could also tell the guy peeped her fear and fed off of it. She stopped looking at him entirely and seemed to get smaller by the second.
In between rolling my eyes and giving him dirty looks, I began accessing him further. From what I could see, he didn't have anything on him, not even a bag; there didn't even seem to be anything in his pockets (his jeans were tight). Suddenly, he started to reach up to stroke her hair and that is when I felt my body jerk up and into action. I stood up and placed myself right in front of him and said "yo!" He looked up at me and gave a little smirk. He smelled of alcohol.
I looked at her, to assure that she knew that she wasn't alone. Immediately, a man stood beside me, looked at her and asked if she wanted him to call someone (mind you, we were in a damn tunnel). She shook her head no and then the man suggested that she change carts at the next stop. I agreed with the man and told her that that would be best because the guy was clearly intoxicated.
When we reached the stop, the man walked her over to the next cart. I stayed behind and stayed standing in front of the guy for a minute or so. He said nothing until another man came on and sat beside him. The guy then began telling the man sitting beside him some twisted version of what had just occurred. Of course, he painted me as the "angry black woman," but I was not phased because I was angry, and for good reason! I could tell that the man sitting beside him, half listening, was uncomfortable because he had his hands folded and his eyes focused straight ahead.
The guy had the nerve to wave at me and give a thumbs up as he left the train. I literally looked right through him as if he didn't even exist. I wanted to let him know that he had no real power. Like so many countless men who go around harassing women and making them feel unsafe, he was a fucking coward because as soon as folks stood with her, his bullshit ceased.
Even when he was gone, I remained standing because my blood was still boiling. A young woman, as the train approached her stop, came up to me and said that she was so glad that I had stood up and said something because she thought that no one would. I have always been extremely interested in Psychology so when she said this, I automatically thought of the psychological phenomenon called the bystander effect. This term describes or explains why folks are less likely to help someone when there are other people present. In the minds of folks watching, someone else will eventually step in, but rarely do folks believe that that person will or should be them.
I am not suggesting that we should all be willing to just recklessly throw ourselves into what could potentially become a dangerous situation. What I am suggesting is that we pay attention and lend a helping hand when it comes to stuff like this because it happens so frequently and it's disgusting.
Don't let her stand alone. She may not be able to see the way out because she is afraid and probably shook by the mere fact that she is being harassed, but if you see her exit, help make her aware of it. Letting her know that she is not alone may just help her see it for herself.