I travel alone to and from and around London pretty frequently. I wrote a post on 26th March 2014, the day after the “conversation” below happened. It sat in my drafts because I wasn’t convinced it was worth saying out loud. Today it’s suddenly relevant.
The original draft post from 2014 follows:
As I said in another post, I don’t let fear of a small minority of men stop me. I’m also basically a friendly and polite person (sweariness aside). I’m not an idiot though and have had a few unpleasant incidents over the years. Being assertive enough to get across the message “fuck off” without riling someone up isn’t easy and if anyone reading this has advice, I’m happy to hear it.
The scene: on the last train, phone in hand, tweeting. Usually I have my ipod on as much to discourage people from talking to me as for the music but for some stupid reason I don’t have it on now. A man walks down the carriage and sits in a seat on the opposite side of the carriage. He’s holding a can of lager. He starts talking at me as if we’re half way through a conversation about an obnoxiously loud kid who just got off the train with his mates. I stare at my phone. He tells me the kid’s a “cunt and a killer” who got his mates to beat up lager guy. I say nothing, although it’s obvious I heard because you don’t hear something like that without reacting. I tweet what he just said to show I’m busy, don’t want to talk.
He asks a direct question: “What station was that?”
This time I look up: “Cuffley, I think.”
“Are you sure?”
“I looked at the sign because they were all getting off.”
“He used to live in Letchworth. I live in Letchworth. Where do you live?”
No avoiding it because I’m stuck on the damn train with him…”Letchworth”.
“I live in Jackmans. Where do you live?”
Why not? I don’t but I want him to stop asking questions. “Yeah.”
“You’re rich then.”
“Money can’t buy happiness”
“No. Money doesn’t buy happiness. Love. Love making. They’re happiness”
Shit. Shit. Shit. Leave me alone! You’re having a go at me for having more money than you and you just mentioned sex. Fuck off! “—”
“What you going to do with all that money? Pass it on to your kids?”
“Uh. Is there a toilet back there?”
“No. You could piss in the aisle. Some do.”
“—” I look down at my phone to see if getting off at Stevenage could get me home to get away from him. I discover that the train terminates at Hitchin and I’m not comfortable about getting off the train with him around
“So what do you do then?”
This is where I do something really stupid. I tell the truth: “Lawyer”
“Oh well you’re fucking loaded then”
“No. I’m better off than you but I take home less than a teacher.”
“Legal Aid lawyers. Raking in millions”
“I’m not a legal aid lawyer and most of them earn less than the national average salary. It’s the very rich getting richer under this fucking Government.”
“You work in London then?”
“Money can’t buy happiness. Just love”
“I think I’m going to look for a toilet, in case.”
“There isn’t one”
“Just in case”
So I move up two carriages and sit quietly listening to a teenage drama in my carriage for a little while before: “no toilet, is there? Told you”
“There’s a quiet spot at Hitchin station you can squat”
“So. You might know my lawyer. Legal aid lawyer. Helped me out with some bother”
“Dunno. Lot of lawyers around”
“Yeah. Yeah. You must know him. His office is…”
“Sorry. I don’t.”
“Getting the coach from Hitchin?”
“Ohhh. You’ll get a taxi. You can afford it. Can I share?”
“Why not? We’re both going to the Lordship.”
“No. We’re not.”
“No. You’re going to the Jackmans and I don’t live in the Lordship”
“But you said…”
“I lied. I’m alone and you’re a total stranger who wants to know where I live”
“Stuck up bitch”
Would a women only carriage have helped in a situation like that? I doubt it. Late at night I’ve often seen people smoking on trains for heaven’s sake. And there were other men in the carriage and no one suggested to him I might want to be left alone. The only thing that would help is transport police patrolling the late trains.
I take the point that women shouldn’t have to be segregated or do anything differently at all to accommodate the fact that men harass them but my perspective on that is that if you want to do something about it now and not at some hypothetical future date when men start respecting women’s rights to go about their lives without being harassed or assaulted, put more staff on public transport. Sometimes strangers will step in to help someone travelling alone but it’s dangerous trust a woman’s safety to the assumption that they will. It’s also unreasonable to expect women to travel in packs so they can intervene on behalf of other women they’ve never met if a man enters a carriage. As I said, there were men around during the incident below and they did nothing. If I was in a women only carriage with one other woman would it be fair to expect her to intervene? I’d be terrified of getting involved if the shoe was on the other foot and he was talking to someone else because if there was one thing almost guaranteed to set him off, it would have been being challenged.
Jeremy Corbyn is right that there is a problem. He’s suggested a possible solution. He said he will listen to women and wants to know what they think. That’s what I think. It’s all very well to say it shouldn’t happen anyway but that guy openly told me he’d had problems with the police. If it’s a betrayal of feminism to say I want more staff/transport police on trains, I’m ok with that because here in the real world telling myself I have a right to be left alone doesn’t help when faced with an actual person like that.