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The not-entirely-random thoughts of Chris Brecheen about writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Friday, July 12, 2013

Changing The Creepy Guy Narrative

How being a writer helped me rewrite a sexist trope...for real.

[Edit 3 (7/25/13): I speak to some of the more common comments, questions, and criticisms I've recieved in this Mailbox article

Edit 2 (7/18/13): Continue comments at the dedicated entry for the continuation of comments if you want a reply from me.

Edit 1 (7/16/13): This post has gone viral and it now accounts for over half the traffic that this blog has ever received since I started it in February of 2012.  Unfortunately, that means it's starting to show signs of conforming to the laws governing the "bottom half of the internet."  Some really brave and touching stories have come in under Anonymous comments so I really don't want to change the comment policy mid stream; however, rest assured that I'm actually quite okay cheerfully deleting anything that drifts into the territory of abusive or incendiary in its hostility (especially to other readers) .  Feel free to disagree with me, critique the writing, call me out, whatever (not all the comments below are congratulatory), but I'm going to ask that everyone play respectfully if they want to do so here. I'm sure you can find forums about this article if you want to be a meanieface.]

So a thing happened to me yesterday on the BART as I was coming home from work.  (Not sharknado, sadly.)  I want to tell you that it happened because I'm a writer--I want that because then I can write about it here in a blog about writing, not because I think writers are more awesome than other people. If I tell you this happened because of a unique set of insights I got from being a writer, then I can totally write about it here, and it's okay. But the truth is, awareness can come from many places, and I hope that a lot of plumbers and architects and beekeepers and middle managers and stellar cartographers would do what I did.  But just for this article, so I can put it here in this blog about writing, let's pretend it's not what anyone would have done. Writers are good at pretending.

You see, as a writer, I am also a reader--a big crazy, prolific-as-shit reader.  I've read two or three dozen articles my friends have linked over the years on women's experience with creepers on public transit--usually with some sort of commentary attached to it by said friend along the lines of "ZOMG THIS!!!!" or "SO FUCKING TRUE!!!!"  I've read Schrodinger's Rapist, Rape Culture 101, Jezebel articles by the dozens (perhaps hundreds), and even my own friends' tribulations on BARTs and busses.  I even read that article (which I can't find now) that lays out a well reasoned case that our culture's entirely fucked up sense of consent and rape culture exist naturally as an extension of the same mindset that cause women to be afraid of being blunt and honest when they get cornered in public by someone they're not interested in.  [ETA- One of the commenters knew the piece I was talking about.  It's called Another Post About Rape.]

Could "non-writers" have read all these articles and more?  Of course! (But we're pretending, remember?)

And in reading all these things I've come to be aware of a narrative.  An everyday narrative almost as common for women as "the train pulled into the station, and I got on."  It's not that no one but a writer could be aware of this narrative it's just that in a world where tragically few are, that was my gateway.

It is the narrative of how men hit on women in public places.  A tired old story if ever there were one.  A story where consent is not a character we actually ever meet, and where the real antagonist is not a person, but rather the way she has been socialized to be polite, to be civil, to not be "such a bitch"....no matter how much of a Douchasauras Rex HE is being about not picking up the subtle clues. Yes, a human being might fill the role of the immediate obstacle--and in doing so personify the larger issue, but the careful reader of this tropetastic narrative knows the real villain is the culture that discourages her from rebuking him in no uncertain terms lest she be castigated.  (And that's the best case scenario; the worst is that she angers someone with much greater upper body strength who may become violent.)  The real antagonist is a society where she is actually discouraged from being honest about what she wants...or doesn't want.  And the society that socialized him that it's okay for him to corner her...pressure her....be persistent to the point of ignoring the fact that she has said no.

I saw the heroine of our story sitting on the BART.  The train wasn't busy in the afternoon along the "anti-commute" line, so it was only a few of us spread out far and wide.  She was thin but not skinny and wore one of those wispy skirts that always make me want to send God a fruit basket for inventing summer.  The kind of woman my step-father would have gotten distracted by and then grudgingly called "a real looker."

So under Google images as available for commercial reuse,
I searched for the keyword "creepy guy."
This isn't him, but surprisingly, it's not TOO far off.
But what is much more important that I noticed, because I'm all writerly and observant and shit like that, is that everything about her screamed "leave me alone."  She had headphones jammed in her ears.  Her nose was down in a book (my hand to God, I think it was Storm of Swords). She was pulled inward with body language that couldn't have been more clear if she had one of those shields from Dune...activated.

But still....he tried.

He sat right behind her--already a warning sign on such an empty train.

The real antagonist may have been society, but our personification of it was well cast.  He had a sort of Christian Bale look about him, if Christian Bale were playing a role of a douchecanoe.  Revisionist memory is always suspect, but I'm telling this story, and I'm going to stand by the fact that I thought he looked like a creepy guy long before he started acting like one.

He waited until the train was in motion to make his move--a true sign of someone who knows how to make the environment work to their advantage.  Then he leaned forward.  "Hi."  "How you doing?"  "What are you reading?"  "What's your name?" "I really like your hair." "That's a really nice skirt."  "You must work out."

It was painful to watch.  She clearly wanted nothing to do with him, and he clearly wasn't going to take the hint.  Her rebukes got firmer.  "I'd like to read my book."  And he pulled out the social pressure.  "Hey, I'm just asking you a question.  You don't have to be so rude."  She started to look around for outs.  Her head swiveled from one exit to another.

The thing was, I had already heard this story, many many times.  I knew how it would play out.  I knew all the tropes.  I probably could have quoted the lines before they said them.  I wanted a new narrative.  Time to mix it up.

So I moved seats until I was sitting behind him.  I leaned forward with my head on the back of his seat.

"Hi," I said with a little smile.

He looked at me like I was a little crazy--which isn't exactly untrue--and turned back to her.

"How are you doing?"  I asked.

"I'm fine," he said flatly without ever looking back.

"I really like your hair," I said.  "It looks soft."

That's about when it got.....weird.

He sort of half turned and glared back me, and I could tell I was pissing him off.  His eyes told me to back the hell away, and his lips were pressed together tightly enough to drain the color from them completely.

But no good story ever ends with the conflict just defusing.  He started to turn back to her.

"Wait, don't be like that," I said.  "Lemmie just ask you one question..."

"What!" he said in that you-have-clearly-gone-too-far voice that is part of the freshmen year finals at the school of machismo.

And I'm not exactly a hundred percent sure why I didn't call it a day at that point, but.....maybe I just love turning the screw to see what happens.   I gave him the bedroomy-est eyes I could muster.  "What's your name?"

Right now I'm sitting here typing out this story, and I'm still not entirely sure why I'm not nursing a fat lip or a black eye.  Because that obviously made him so mad that I still am not sure why it didn't come to blows.  There are cliches about eyes flaring and rage behind someones eyes and shit like that that are so overdone.  But it really does look like that.  When someone gets violent, their eyes just kind of "pop" with intention--pupils dilate, eyelids widen. And his did. Even sitting down he was clearly bigger than me and I was pretty sure he was kind of muscular too, so at that moment I was figuring I was probably going to need an ice pack and sympathy sex from my girlfriend by day's end.

"DUDE," he shouted.  "I'M NOT GAY."

That's when I dropped the bedroom eyes and switched to a normal voice.  "Oh well I could see not being interested didn't matter to you when you were hitting on her, so I just thought that's how you rolled."

(Of course later, I thought of a dozen cleverer things I could have said, but, I'm going for honesty here.  I was tripping over my own words due to the adrenaline dump.  My voice was probably shaking too, and I'm guessing the line above was more shouted than said with even, level, movie-caliber cool.  I am in no way a badass.)

But whatever I said, or however I said it, it did the trick.  I don't know if he "got it."  I don't know if he just thought better of committing assault in front of the BART cameras.  I don't know if he just didn't want to escalate past bravado.  But whatever went through his head, he turned back in his seat, sat back (away from her) and muttered "asshole."  And that turned out to be this story's climax.

What I do know--and this made almost getting my clock cleaned worth it--was that the denouement was quite nice.  She mouthed the words "thank you" to me as she stepped out the door of the Rockridge station.

Yep.  Worth it.

I don't want to steer too close to the idea that no one but a writer could ever do what I did because that's obviously not true. Many others could and more men should.  But what I do sort of think is that I was aware of that narrative because I am a writer.  Others might get it for other reasons, but I got it because I am a writer. I knew the tropes and the cliches and the tired old lines. I was aware of how to create a role reversal in the "typical characters."  I'm aware that most men don't know what it's like to be hit on by someone they're not interested in who won't take their hints.  I look at things differently.  I see the world from another angle.  I think what would happen if we told this story from another point of view. And sometimes, not often--but sometimes, I can change a narrative completely.

And I'm going to go ahead and pretend that too (at least for me) is because I am a writer.

628 comments:

  1. I liked your story, but I simply must object to one thing you said:

    You are absolutely a badass.

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    1. Thank you. I'm really NOT, but I do try to use my powers of snark for good....from time to time.

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    2. No, really. You are totally badass. I would never have had the nerve. I'd have pretended to be her sassy best friend or something.

      You are badass.

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    3. Nicely played. Serious nerve man. On the BART no less. Cheers :)

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    4. You are badass and women everywhere THANK YOU!!! :)

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    5. The echo of a thousand silent lips also mouthing "thank you" washes across the internet, from everyone reading your article. Some of us are completely screaming for joy inside. THANK YOU!!!

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    6. Totally agreed. That took serious nerve. You know, if the guy got violent with her, I might be able to take him down, I'd certainly try, but I'd never, ever have the nerve to talk to him like that...and I think that probably drove the point home to him harder than any ass-kicking would. At best I could maybe try to intimidate him into backing off, but I don't think I'm scary enough even for that.

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    7. Yep. Badass. And witty; stuff like this never occurs to me in the heat of the moment. Now I've got that as a script, I'm using it in place of my usual growls (6'1", extensive facial scarring*, work out a lot, deep voiced, look a lot more badass than I actually am) of disapproval in these situations. You, sir, have given me the means to be even scarier to the arseholes of public spaces. (Of course, my luck being what it is, I'll probably never see another as long as I live).


      *A bizarre lightbulb changing accident, which is as interesting as I can make the story sound, unless small children ask in which case dinosaurs and/or pirates enter the picture.

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  2. you are a hero to every woman who just wants to read her goddamn book in peace.

    Thank you for being you.

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    1. I'm pretty good at that, so I'm glad it doesn't disappoint.

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  3. Bravo! Excellent story and I gotta agree badass too for giving that guy a dose of his own medicine.
    Not many out there would do the same.

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    1. What many people don't realize is that true courage is continuing in the face of danger, which you did. You might've sounded like a complete mouse at the time, but the fact that you continued, and further, that you won the exchange without it coming to violence, clearly puts you both in the slot of Everyday Hero and Badass.

      Not all Badasses beat people up.

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  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    1. That's a really good point. Maybe I can look for a place for a small edit.

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    2. Erp, sorry, I thought I had that comment deleted faster than I did. I had some typos, but didn't see an Edit button. I've reposted the comment.

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  5. (original comment deleted for typos because I don't see an Edit button)

    I love what you did. I'd like to add a little something to your assessment of why the woman wasn't blunt and assertive.

    While you've got a good part of the reason when you talk about social conditioning, there's another part, and that's the fear of retribution that goes beyond mere castigation or humiliation.

    While I seem to have failed the part in growing up when folks tried to teach me about the horrors of social castigation if I'm blunt, I do know what it's like to get hit. After the man starting using social training to force responses from her, the woman didn't know if he'd become belligerent and move to violence. My bet, given your description of her passive ways of using clues rather than bluntness to put him off, is that she's afraid of getting hit.

    I don't blame her. It's not pleasant. It's even scary, especially if you don't see it coming because you can't prep. Sure, it might just hurt, but it might do damage. And what comes after? Can I knock him down? Can I ever hit his head into the wall enough times to be sure that he won't get up and really hurt me?

    Will he get his friends? I told a man at the West Oakland BART station that I didn't want to talk to him. He backed away a bit, then made kissing sounds at me and talking graphically about what he'd like to do under my skirt. I flipped him off. He got angry and walked over to two of his friends, whom I hadn't see before. He told them what I'd done. They began to get noisy and started making sounds like they were going to come over to me and make something happen. Meanwhile, the boy I was with hissed at me how I was out of line to shoo him off rudely, and really out of line to flip him off. "He only sees what I see: a hot 18-year old dancer. Of course he wants you."

    The worst part of that story is that I didn't kick the hell out of my boyfriend because I was pretty sure that the only reason those three entitled boys were still staying back and surveying the situation was him.

    You're right that social pressure is a big factor. I add to your assessment that it isn't only social pressure that can cause her to use clues mired in passivity to deflect him.

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    1. I made a small edit to at least tip the hat to this really good point.

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    2. Wait... your BF was WITH YOU when this happen, they still bothered you, and he didn't do anything? Wow! I'd fuck a fool up for talking to my GF like that. Quickly.

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    3. So true, Amy. Most men will never realize the almost constant fear that so many women feel around strange men. Most are totally decent guys, but the problem is that usually by the time we find out which ones are creeps, or violent, or rapists it's already too late. Pretty much every woman has either been assaulted (or worse) or has a close friend or relative who was. Every unknown man has to be treated with wariness, and sometimes even the ones we thought were safe weren't.

      You make a good point that there is a strong social stigma that says women are supposed to be agreeable and have some sort of obligation to be desirable by men (and that being desired creates a further obligation to fulfill said desire), which is often exploited by the a-holes of the world who view women as nothing more than walking masturbation devices. But there's a side that's even worse than the constant objectification. I think Ever Mainard said it best with, "The problem is that every woman ... has that one moment when you think, 'Oh! Here's my rape!'"

      Having said that, endless thanks to you, Chris, for helping out a strange woman in a scary situation, even at risk to yourself.

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    4. Anyone could and more men should. Thank you.

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    5. @Amy Echeverri Are you still with that same boyfriend? After hearing what he said I would have ditched him. Just because you see someone fabulous, handsome, beautiful, very attractive, does not give you the right to behave like an aggressor, as if it is your right to 'have' what you see. Women are not possessions.

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    6. Oh hell no, Maggie. That was in 1987. I've since exhibited learning behavior.

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    7. I don't know who the biggest douchebag is there: the creep, or your boyfriend. Any guy who's not the creep's friend should have supported you there. Your boyfriend doubly so.

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    8. I agree with you 100%, thanks for making these points, & so well. I also support all the other replies. Good wishes all.

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    9. I agree 100%. Many men don't realize that women will chose avoidance and minimization over confrontation (even if that 'confrontation' is a simple "please leave me be") because of the fear that unknown dudes who have clearly already invaded your personal space may escalate the interaction with more intimidation, fear, or violence (whether physical/verbal).

      For example, last week when my boyfriend and I were walking on the waterfront on a sunny Thursday evening, we were approached by a big guy who attempted to intimidate us then ask for money. When we said "sorry, no", he "joked" that he was going to rob us. Mr. Crazy then followed us for 2 blocks trying to get my boyfriend to fight him by taunting us and cat calling me. My instinct was to "talk the guy down"...make him think it wasn't a big deal, we just wanted to be on our way - as a response to him yelling at me. Then Mr. Crazy runs after us, throws me in the street, and starts throwing punches at my boyfriend. The police were called, etc...we pressed assault charges. Two days later, my (now ex) boyfriend decided that it was somehow *my* fault for "engaging with the asshole and emasculating me"... He (because of the privilege bestowed upon tall attractive white dudes) had never been in a fight, never felt like he couldn't walk in his neighbourhood, never felt like he was at any risk. He willfully refused to consider my reaction as protectionist behaviour developed over a lifetime of being a woman trying to move freely on the planet, and instead chose to blame me for the actions of a violent offender with a history of jail time for violent crimes. So...I officially dub thee "awesome badass" because you respected this woman's way of dealing with the situation as she was comfortable with, while supporting her and calling out the bonehead on his predatory behaviour.

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    10. Unbelievable! What jerks. Glad he's your ex.

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  6. Thank you for helping that young woman. You did good.
    And yes, even when we get belligerent, there is no guarantee what an idiot like that will do. They are so certain every woman wants them. No, really we don't.
    Your actions really showed him what he was doing. Unfortunately, I doubt he will learn the lesson. They rarely do.

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    1. My hope is that he thinks about it. I figured in the moment he would have to lose face to back down, but maybe he really did "get" it.

      Maybe.

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    2. I think the way you handled it was definitely the best way to make him think about it. There were other ways to save her, but this way you maybe got to save him.

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  7. I want to jump on the bandwagon and thank you for what you did. I once had a guy at a bar who was hitting on me (and not taking a hint) slam his pool cue into the cement floor no more than an inch in front of my toes and got right in my face to tell me off because I got myself another beer when he had previously offered to buy me one and I had declined. He seriously scared the hell out of me. I apologized and was placating until he eventually left for the restroom. He made me promise not to leave while he was gone. So naturally the second he was through the bathroom door I grabbed my purse, ran to my car, and spun my wheels getting out of the parking lot. I was so terrified I was crying at that point and humiliated that I was afraid. I had no idea who this guy was and no one at the bar stepped in to help me out. I never went back to that bar. And I became a lot more suspicious of men in general after that. Much less likely to go out by myself. And I hated that he affected my life that way.

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    1. That's.....god, I'm sorry. That sounds terrifying.

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    2. This is a quintessential example of how terrorism works; use fear/terror to make others change how they live. Unfortunately, in this post 9/11 world, the word "terrorist" is bandied about carelessly without regard to its true meaning. Behavior like this should be considered attempted assault.

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    3. It's not "attempted" assault. It *IS* assault. Legally. It would be assault and battery if he'd struck her, but the threat itself is assault.

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    4. So sorry to read your experience. It's so common, & others seldom step in when they could & should. Best wishes sister.

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    5. When I was younger I lived alone in a dangerous part of a dangerous city and the street harassment was constant and terrifying. I'd since forgotten how bad it was, but I recently re-read my journals from that time and was shocked by how much I'd slowly come to accept living in a constant low-level state of fear. And reading your story brought that feeling back again - that feeling of being physically trapped by a man who is not taking the hint, and trying to placate him because you're afraid he'll hurt, rape or even kill you if you anger him. I'm glad you got away safely but that's scary as HELL to read. Sometimes I think if more men knew what that feeling was like, we'd be living in a VERY different world.

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    6. It's straight-up assault. Had he actually hit her, it would have crossed over into battery as well. (Legally, assault is the threat, and battery is the follow-through.)

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  8. Thank you. This post made me want to stand up when I see other people getting harassed regardless of gender, and it made me want to ask the men in my life to step up when they see something like this happening. Seriously, people, we CAN help one another if we dare to get involved!

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  9. Dude. I have a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and I don't know if I could have kept verbal cool like that. Escalation is scary. There's different types of badass. That's badass.

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  10. It's a good story, but can I just say that your description of the woman is a bit creepy too? It makes it read as "man saves beautiful woman from barbarian," which I'm sure you know is a also a tired tale. I'm not saying it's BAD, it just doesn't quite earn the anti-sexest title.

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    1. You can always say anything you want. One of my friends on FB brought that up too, and I actually changed the language a little. I am not sure that my portrayal of the event would be truthful if I completely ignored it. Here's what another of my friends said (in response to the first) on the same thread:

      "The reason I disagree is because Chris's acknowledgment of how he felt about the woman's appearance presents an important, unstated contrast to the event. He liked her looks, yes, just as her transgressor did. But he didn't pester her or even try to make eye contact with her. He respected her body language, which said that she wanted to be left alone, and went about his own business."

      But I agree that "man saves woman" is an old story. I wish that "men stand up to displays of sexism instead of remaining conspicuously silent" were an equally old story. But no one else on the train exactly fell over themselves rushing to her aid, so maybe anti-barbarian stories are not old enough. But the story we REALLY want to become old is the one where men understand how uncomfortable it can be when someone they aren't interested in won't take no for an answer.

      Regardless, I didn't use the word sexism or claim I was an anti-sexist hero or something. I'm just a smart ass who almost got hit for using my powers on a douchecanoe.

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    2. You know, knowing Chris, the fact that the woman was beautiful had nothing to do with his decision to act. It does however help illustrate the reason behind said douchecanoe's interest in the woman in question, and that it is a common scenario (or at least, common enough) that women perceived as pretty are generally more tempting targets.

      I mean, we can all be hypocrites and pretend that human beings ignore beauty's attraction to the eye and attention, I suppose. We can also all have the temerity to nym gaze an unselfish act and critique the ethics of the reason for bravery from behind a veil of anonymity. However, at the end of the day, someone stood up to protect another, at risk to himself and without expectation of reward, and said person that was aided was grateful.

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    3. The thing is, the typical "man saves beautiful woman from barbarian" story also has the unstated "expects to get laid, and does" ending. Its what society has conditioned us to. And its just as much why a woman feels trepidation around men who would help as they do around the men who mistreat them.

      Part of changing the script in society isn't just changing the script on the stories of the barbarians, but also the stories of the heroes. If the hero story is always "man saves woman, man gets woman" then the good guys have just as much creepiness to them as the bad guys, because the assumption is that the only reason a man would help a woman is the expectation that the reward for their heroism is the woman they saved.

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    4. Anonymous, I think you might be responding to a post that it not here. Chris did not play out this trope. He did not "get the woman" in the end. He very clearly made no such effort.

      While I understand and am closely familiar with the trope you're thinking of, that trope is entirely absent in this post. The trope might be such a fundamental part of your world view that it's causing you to see it when it's not there.

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    5. I thought this Anonymous is responding to the other Anonymous. "Man saves woman and gets laid" is the old story, whereas "man saves woman, never expects to see her again and is fine with that" is a very different story.

      And in response to the original Anonymous: I don't think there's anything wrong with quietly appreciating beauty. There simply is beauty in this world, and that's a good thing. What really counts is how you act. Respect people, even if they're beautiful.

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    6. For me, even more telling is the use of language not in the description of the woman, but the descripption of the "real antagonist". i.e. "the real villain is the culture that discourages her from rebuking him in no uncertain terms lest she be castigated. (And that's the best case scenario; the worst is that she angers someone with much greater upper body strength who may become violent.) The real antagonist is a society where she is actually discouraged from being honest about what she wants...or doesn't want." Compare with this wording: "the real villain is the culture that encourages him to harass her, assuring him in no uncertain terms that he will not be rebuked by his victim or anyone else. (And ... the worst case scenario is that he may become so angry that he will use violence.) The real antagonist is a society where he is actually encouraged to ignore strong signals and clear verbal statements telling him she does not wish to engage with him." Whilst what is said is true, it is only half of the reality. It ignores the results of that SAME societal gender-conditioning on men. Which allows men to believe they have the right to treat another human being in this way. It also puts the responsibility for the man's anger on to the woman: "lest SHE angers [him]". Any thoughts...? :-)

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    7. I've never been on this site before, and read this as a click-through from facebook. For some reason, I started reading assuming the author was a woman... so when I got to the line "Dude, I'm not GAY," (or whatever it was) I was honestly confused! I didn't think anything was weird about the description of the woman's beauty, because I assumed it was being written from another woman's perspective. The "man saves woman" story is a trope, true, but since this happened in real life the male protagonist could hardly have been changed into a woman. (Also, if the protagonist had been a woman, her actions would have been even more daring!)

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    8. And if the woman was dykey looking, she probably would have been pounded...

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    9. Like Jenny, I`ve never been to your site before, but am certainly glad I clicked through from Facebook. This post is fantastic (charmingly written and very poignant) and I echo the previous mouthed Thank Yous and `You are a badass` comments.

      I want to chime in on the gender issue. I think it IS important that the person who intervened (major kudos to Chris) was male. The attitude behind this behaviour is rooted in a perception that women are different than men - that they are somehow inferior, that their preferences for how they are treated are secondary to a man`s preferences for how he wants to treat that particular woman (or any woman). So if another woman intervenes and speaks out, it is easier for the offender to ignore her preferences, too... she is, after all, `just` a woman.

      And here I have to add that this is still a very brave and important thing to do; some social pressure on the offender is better than none. It`s just that the offender has already demonstrated this underlying attitude and his mental gymnastics may allow him to ignore or discount the opinion of a woman who claims that his world view--which positions his desire as a male above a woman`s preferences--is wrong. HOWEVER, if a fellow male intervenes, it`s a very strong message that his world view is not ipso facto `right` because there are other *men* who do respect a person`s (regardless of gender) right to decide for themselves whether they feel inclined to participate in a particular encounter.

      I applaud anyone who chooses to speak up in situations like this - it takes courage and it is certainly necessary to establish and popularize a social norm wherein this kind of behaviour is not accepted, nor even tolerated. And I beseech and encourage men in particular to be part of that movement; because positive peer pressure really is a good thing and you (men) have a lot more influence in the eyes of such offenders than do us `measly women` (said with all the sarcasm I can muster... really, I *do* applaud _anyone_ for standing up to such people).

      A huge round of grateful applause for Chris and all the other brave, consciencious Good Men out there!

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    10. This doesn't make sense to me.

      In order to not be creepy, must a man strive to not even acknowledge that a woman is attractive? If a man does find a woman attractive, then when describing her to others, must he edit out that fact and use only cold, clinical descriptors?

      And as for the "man saves woman, man gets woman" narrative: the author has a girlfriend, and while he thought that the girl in the story was pretty, he had no desire to "get" her. He intervened because it was the right thing to do.

      Delete
    11. Regarding the description of clothing, as a woman, I appreciate it. It's an important distinction the author made that she's wearing somewhat revealing clothing, but obviously not looking for attention. I am so very tired of women everywhere being the "instigator" because of whatever they choose to wear. I would really rather not spend summer in a parka as an additional part of my attempt at avoiding harassment (which just lends itself to a whole different track of harassing behaviors).

      Delete
  11. so where should i have my winemaker friends mail your case of wine for being awesome?

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    1. I'm not much of a wine drinker. Maybe they could just make sure to toast to changing the narrative.

      Delete
  12. I often become mired in the narratives surrounding harassment, so thank you for flipping one of them over in such a literal way. As a woman, I wonder if there is an equivalent way for me to step up; as Amy commented above, the potential fallout of physical violence is a huge factor in public passivity--for both men and women--and I suspect that trying to pull what you did wouldn't work as well if I tried it. (Then again, who knows? It might.) In any case, this has gotten me thinking in new directions, so again, thank you for that. Here's to a future with better stories!

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    1. I'm a bit flummoxed by how to deal with that situation as well. Like, I also hate that this narrative seems to possess a flavor of, "Only teh MENZ can save you!" but until/unless the cultural narrative changes so that it's not okay for a woman to be "rude" to a guy (and by rude we mean honest), I'm not sure possibility of violent escalation makes anything else prudent. Are there other options I'm not seeing beyond counter forces of OTHER social pressure (or I suppose a woman arming herself)? Hopefully when more allies step up and more social conventions like this are torn down the entire timber of a moment like that will be altered, and it won't be such a potentially dangerous prospect for a woman to simply not be interested in a man's advances.

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    2. Honestly, this is a problem where men standing up to help women has to be a big part of the solution for a couple of reasons.

      For one, men have the social power here, and the men who are the problem often will only listen to other men. When a woman stands up for herself or another woman, the automatic response is usually anger, ridicule, and/or dismissal. When a man stands up for a woman, suddenly other men start listening a little harder. Not necessarily a *lot* harder, and it's not risk free; take some of the responses to Jim C. Hines or John Scalzi in the recent convention harassment discussion as an example. Or, of course, there's the possibility that you could have gotten a black eye or worse for your trouble the other day. But overall, men have less risk and greater chance of effecting actual change.

      The other side of this is that women are already saddled with the unreasonable responsibility of controlling men's behavior, and that is part of the problem. If we just dress the right way (not too slutty, but God forbid we don't look ornamental enough), if we just avoid walking in the wrong neighborhoods (whether or not we have to LIVE in those neighborhoods doesn't seem to matter), if we just find the right words (ones that will express polite disinterest without "provoking" him to scream at us, beat us up, murder us). It's a heavy, heavy burden, and it's far past time that men start taking up their share of it.

      Chris, you are one of the men who has shouldered a larger portion of the load than most men bother with. I know you're uncomfortable with being lauded as badass or heroic, and...maybe you're right about that. What you did was, after all, just a variation on the decent thing to do. But at this point, doing the decent thing IS heroic and badass. And very, very necessary.

      Delete
    3. A woman attempting to stop or sidetrack the narrative would very much have to be prepared for potential violence. Just in case. BUT, and this is my opinion only, there are ways to shift the narrative. The first way is with shaming, loudly. "She said she wants to read, leave her alone." "Be a gentleman, let her read." The second might be to create a physical presence, solidarity is a wonderful thing. If you can't sit next to the girl in solidarity (assuming a similar situation to the post's), then stand next to her and stare him down. This can be potentially dangerous, but I've found that the sheer discomfort of having a woman loom often works to my advantage and the guy gets uncomfortable pretty quick. Verbal aggression is something that's very tempting, but probably not a great idea. Saying something like "DUDE, she said she wants to read her book. Are you so desperate that you can't take a fucking hint?" is extremely satisfying but might turn into a physical altercation.

      Delete
    4. There is another thing to consider. If it had gone the way where the Douche hit Chris, very likely the Douche would have gotten arrested. "But he was *talking* to me" would not likely have been considered a mitigating circumstance.

      Delete
    5. Speaking from my own experience only, moadeep, I've found physical presence more effective than verbal shaming in most cases. Especially when more than one woman joins in. Having once been escorted within the protective circle of an impromptu human wall, I can definitely agree that solidarity is a wonderful thing. But even when it isn't quite so dramatic as that, when it's only one woman standing at the side of another, it helps.

      Delete
    6. You could try asking the woman if everything this is all right. If she would like to walk with you or sit near you. If the guy gets more douchey, you could try pushing the emergency button or calling the cops.

      Delete
    7. Chris: You are brilliant, brave, creative, and marvelous. Thank you.

      Ardent & others: Women can step up in the same way Chris did. I'm a woman, and I've done it several times. Granted, I was risking physical violence (and I was absolutely terrified every time I did it, and a bundle of nerves afterward)--but Chris was risking physical violence, too.

      Of course, that's kind of crazy. So far I've been lucky (no one's actually tried to punch me), and I gather others have not been so lucky.

      moadeep: I have found that the humorous way Chris handled things works better than verbal shaming. Or maybe it was just more fun. And it might not have worked when I was young and cute. I was middle-aged and overweight when I tried throwing myself at the obnoxious aggressor, who was clearly horrified. In my youth I always went with righteously indignant shouting.

      moadeep & anitaking: Silent physical presence is brilliant. That never occurred to me. It reminds me of the Guardian Angels' tactics in the NYC subway years and years ago.

      Oddly, I've never been able to stand up for MYSELF in these situations. I am more afraid of being rude, or being considered rude, or hurting someone's feelings (or being called a bitch) than I am of physical harm. Social conditioning is a bitch.

      But when it comes to intervening on behalf of others, I am a total badass. Also brilliant, brave, creative, and marvelous. And unrepentantly self-congratulatory. :-)

      Delete
    8. I do find looming to be more effective, but not everyone is comfortable with that.
      Verbal shaming DOES work, but from what I've witnessed it seems to be more effective coming from an older woman. If she looks old enough to be the guy's grandma, for some reason this embarrasses them a LOT and often causes them to shut up. I've still managed to be somewhat effective, but in my case verbal shaming tends to segue into sarcasm and mockery way quick. But sometimes just whipping out my inner big sister (five younger brothers, one younger sister, I got it down pat) works. And if their attention shifts to me? So be it. I've been handling shit like that for years and don't mind taking one for the team.

      Delete
    9. Sorry peeps, I hadn`t read this far down when I responded above. I like this discussion about the role that men play in establishing peer pressure and a social norm that tells offenders like this guy that their actions aren`t accepted or appreciated. I also congratulate the many brave women who`ve stepped up or spoken out. I`m glad to hear of your successes and hope that by sharing the strategies that have worked, we can collective empower others to intervene in a way that minimizes the risk to themselves and increases the likelihood of achieving the desired result.

      Delete
    10. The other thing that a woman has to fear if she tries something like this is that the creeper will respond by switching his attentions to her. That's much less likely to happen to a man in this situation.

      Delete
  13. You're amazingly awesome. I have been in that woman's position how many times I can't even tell you. I have once or twice been the person who has told a stranger 'hey, she doesn't want to talk to you, ok?' but, because it shifts their attention to me, I prefer to only do that in a position where there's either a lot of people or I can then quickly get off the train. Um. Speaking of. How are those martial arts lessons coming? Please don't get yourself killed. :)

    ReplyDelete
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    1. I think I called the place and asked about prices. That counts, right?

      Delete
    2. Well, ok, so you decided which kind and what place? That definitely counts. Now you just have to actually go, that's totally the easy part.

      Delete
  14. I like how you changed the narrative. You did not ride to the rescue in a traditionally male way, no threat of violence, no claim of prior ownership. You treated the aggressive-guy the same way he was treating the woman who wanted to be left alone. You didn't push into her space or life. Good job.

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  15. Standing up for another human being is always badass. Seeing an action through even though your voice is shaking, that's badass. You sir, are badass. We all think so. And thank you, really thank you. If you didn't change him, you changed it for her, and you will change it for an unknown number of people who read about your action. And yes, as previous commenter said, you did it without further impinging on the woman's desire to be left in peace. :)

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  16. At every single of those situations, I was alone, all by myself and luckily I had the courage to stand up and shout "what's your problem". Still I wish, I had someone like you to back me up. It would have left me with a few less scars (internally and externally).

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  17. Well, that made me cry. I don't go out on my own much anymore and the last time I did i was perved on by a random bloke on a lonely beach. Thx for helping her.

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  18. Nothing more needs to be said here, except "Thank you for being a gentleman."

    A snarky, BRILLIANT gentlemen, but thank you, yes.:)

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  19. It's a weak versus strong trope. Not necessarily woman versus man. And in a sense the man represents a weak man. See the book by Gavin de Becker on the gift of fear. Children need the same sort of protection. We don't want to lose choice in a surveillance society but it is good to have awareness and be able to act. You did the right thing here. There were also the women in England who stood up to the terrorists who beheaded a soldier. Unfortunately actions like this still require one to place ones own personal safety and life on the line. The one guy could have been a group of six. With a different outcome. But your story is an inspiring albeit a little overloaded with victim sensitivity. Bullies do need to be confronted, preferably by a group of people. And they have to be given an out where they can go change. A lot of these twerps are stalkers and might have followed the woman to get her in a more alone situation. So you probably saved her from worse. We see stories like this on the news today and yesterday. Mostly men who grew up without a clue on how to be civil. Putting your story out there raises awareness and the next time some creep does this you might find 2 or 3 people emulating you. I always try and ask strangers what they do for a living, if they have family, then what their name is. Then a goodbye and an exit to where there are more people if I am uncomfortable with the person.

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  20. Dear Chris,

    You're awesome. And badass.

    As a woman, I just wanted to thank you for doing what you did.

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  21. You are a top top gentleman. This is all I have to add from the superb stuff everyone else has written.

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  22. Are you a writer?

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  23. It's probably the context in which I found this link (and I don't know you or your site at all), but I read this assuming you were a woman. It all worked right up until the jerk said, "I'm not gay". Awesome act for either gender.

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  24. You did a fine thing, and did it well, especially as you did think you might get injured in the line of self-imposed duty.

    Thank you.

    I suspect this kind of person is part of the reason that I, under five and a half feet tall, weigh over 200 lbs. It makes me less tempting to them. One of my standard jokes is that if somebody tries to mug me, I'll just lean on them, and squash the breath out of them.

    Which, now you've pointed it out, makes me, as a female, able to more or less use your technique if I see a need to do so in the future, to assist someone thinner & younger who is having a Creepy Guy problem.

    I like your technique, and the fact that you took responsibility on yourself to uphold civilization, with the emphasis on the "Civil" part.

    Many thanks, and I'm going to link to this in a couple of (fantasy authors) boards I visit.

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  25. Now I see what I've been missing.
    Nothing.
    That makes me sad.

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  26. I want to shake your hand. Great way to snap the guy out of his blindered view of what he was doing. Hopefully the lesson will stay with him.

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  27. I applaud your actions and like your story, except for the last paragraph which is perhaps more than a bit self indulgent.

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    1. My last paragraph was mostly intended to return to the motif of "narratives" to help this personal experience fit in a blog about writing--since it's very much not the normal kind of article I write here. I sort of try to make the connective tissue between writing and some of my less "writing-ish" articles especially transparent.

      I had NO idea the post was going to be so popular.

      Delete
    2. This writer thinks the last two paragraphs are excellent.

      Delete
  28. Thank you for doing what you did and for writing about it. I've been that woman.

    Another paradigm that needs overturning is that bullies need "sensitivity" training. What they need, says military consultant Jackson Katz, is leadership training. Check out his excellent Ted talk. http://on.ted.com/JacksonKatz

    And this riveting speech by the Australian army chief who tells sexists to quit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QaqpoeVgr8U

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  29. You the man. Thanks and thanks for sharing.

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  30. This made my day and I just want to throw kittens at you for being so awesome.

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  31. So, wait, she didn't give you her phone number?

    ----> KIDDING!!!!!!!! <----

    Great job. Sometimes you just have to stand up.

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  32. Well done, that was cool. You're probably know the narrative but one of the problems is trying to tread the fine line of "back off please" where a women isn't too nice to encourage his letching but isn't too rude to make him aggressive. Of course not that it should be a fine line at all, most men are perfectly clear, but when it comes to train guy, it's a dangerous fine line. There's even cultural differences. Some countries, too rude means instant aggression, in other countries anything less than full rudeness from woman means open invitation. **** the world. I can't tell you how encouraging this is, to hear testimony like this from men.

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  33. Joseph Campbell said we're each the hero of our own personal myth. Thanks for pointing out that we are also the authors of our own personal myths, and sometimes, we have guest spots in the myths of others, so we'd better write ourselves a good part.

    And, thanks so much for being willing to take an active stand for what you believed to be right, even at the potential cost of your personal safety. That's heroic.

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  34. It's an excellent response to a very familiar situation. You were brave because you were willing to potentially suffer for someone you did not even know. You put her needs first, a wonderful act of humanity. I wish we women were better equipped to deal with these scenarios, but frankly, it can be bloody terrifying sometimes. I think we all need to try to be a little more connected to each other and a little bit braver, thanks for your fantastic example.

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  35. You done good son. :) If people don't stand up to douchenozzles and at least try to help their victims, we may as well all throw in the towel for any hope of living in a decent world.

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  36. Bravo! My first thought was that it was like the end of "Alice's Restaurant": "If one person a day does this, he'll probably get his ass kicked. And if two people a day do it, they'll probably both get their asses kicked. But if three people a day... What if fifty people a day... Can you imagine fifty people a day doing this to some creeper on the train? They might think it's a movement."

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  37. Nicely done :)

    I'm a writer, too, but I would probably have gone for the blunter and more boring "Can't you see she's reading? George R R Martin is more interesting than you are." (But then, I'm female, so I think attempting your approach could have gone badly wrong.)

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  38. Hey, thanks for stepping up, not just as a man defending a woman but as a human looking out for other humans.

    Women can and do defend ourselves, but it might not go as easily as it did here. Chances are the guy didn't want to tangle with you because if you were acting that aggressively then he couldn't gamble on you not having the chops to back it up. My life tells me guys like that will happily get into a fight they think they can win, and they always think they can take a woman. (I'm sorry for the blanket generalization.)

    I've stood up to men when I had to, sometimes, when it seemed worth it. Why I have to weigh this so carefully is doing so has gained me countless minor bruises, a broken nose, squeezed breasts, busted glasses, spat on, yelled at a lot, exposed underwear, trouble with the authorities, and absolutely zero compassion from bystanders because after all, I was being a bitch. I never threw the first punch. I don't even throw the first verbal barb. I prefer "thank you but no." It's not fun to drop subtle hints until the train doors open, but sometimes it's a better idea.

    So if more people can do this kind of thing, and if guys like this start to think the likelihood of outside intervention is going up, maybe the world will become less aggravating.

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  39. The Backup Ribbon Project distributes Backup ribbons at geek gatherings to signify those who are willing to do just what you did for that young woman. Your story is a perfect example of what we are trying to do: Make people realize that yes, they can step in to help others who are being harassed.

    Thanks so much!

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  40. You, sir, are a real man. A good man and a thoughtful one. This was a clever way to address the situation and I'm glad you chose to step in and didn't get hurt.

    Thanks.

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  41. First allow me to apologise for my writing, I'm certainly not a writer and sadly have terrible writing skills. Anyway…

    About a year ago I was travelling home from town on a packed bus. Not long into the journey an older slightly creepy looking guy got on, he had the look of a drunk but I couldn't tell if he actually was drunk or not, and sat down next to me on the aisle seat with me at the window.

    Right away a woman in the row directly in front got up and changed seats further back. Odd I thought.

    And then It started.

    I noticed the guy slowly leaning in to me. Hmm, what's his deal? His hand then started to drift close to my leg, so I nudged him back thinking maybe he was asleep already.

    Nope. His hand then drifted ON to my leg and I shoved it back off. At this point my heart rate is increasing and I'm wondering wtf is going on and if anyone else can see. Will anyone say anything?

    The guy ups his game and slides his hand BETWEEN my legs. I grab it and throw it back at him, probably not as aggressively as I thought I had, my heart is beating like crazy and I feel trapped and confused, what is happening? What am I SUPPOSED to do?

    He tries getting his hand between my legs AGAIN and now I'm internally fuming and shove his hand back while making some weak muffled attempt at telling him to back off. I look behind and notice a couple, man and woman, laughing and looking at me in the row directly behind. I can't be sure but I believe they old see it all.

    Why the fuck are they laughing? What am I supposed to do in this situation I'm thinking again? I'm confused. The guy clearly knows what he's doing and isn't afraid.

    It briefly crossed my mind to shove him off is seat and into the aisle but at that moment I realise I'm a few stops away from my destination and decide to get up and out of there. I push past him but he clearly still wanted to keep the harassment up and made it difficult for me to squeeze out. But I did and headed straight to the front and off at the next stop. Finally.

    My head his spinning and I'm cant think of anything but ask myself wtf did I do wrong? Why didn't I handle this situation how people would expect? How can I possibly tell anyone without ridicule and social stigma? I couldn't, this is the first time I've ever mentioned it anywhere. Not even to my wife.

    I'm a man by the way.

    I wish someone had stepped in for me.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you for sharing this. More people should step in for each other when they see someone in need of help. I don't understand why someone would laugh at this.

      Delete
    2. That sounds so awful. I can't believe the people behind you just laughed.

      Delete
    3. I'm sorry that happened to you, both what he did and that no-one stepped in for you. You did nothing wrong.

      When something so unexpected happens, it's very normal for the mind to just freeze up; the same thing's happened to me. And I've often felt my mind going back again and again trying to make sense of what happened too. Sometimes I've just needed time to get it straight in my head, sometimes I've needed to tell the story to someone else. (There may be a phoneline where you are if you think it'd help to have a real-time conversation about it, or maybe telling it here is enough. It all depends on what feels right to you.)

      But if it helps, what I think it boils down to is: he assaulted you, and no-one else stepped in, and you did what you had to do to make the situation stop. It should never have happened, but you did nothing wrong.

      Delete
    4. Yes I often think back and wonder what I could have done, and still what I should have done given the social expectations of a male. I think that's why the couple were sniggering behind me, they could see I was being harassed and because I'm make found it amusing that I wasn't standing up for myself. It all happened so fast and in such normal circumstances that I my brain just mind up as you say.

      What concerns me is he's probably still out there harassing other people, but hopefully someone else stands up and does something.

      Delete
  42. Can't say anything that hasn't already been said, so just adding my votes for:

    Thank you.

    Badass.

    Totally.

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  43. This story, whilst obviously well-intentioned, comes across as a bit self-congratulatory. 'Changing the narrative' seems a bit of a shrink wrap for a tale in which you're the hero who saved the day for a woman you were at pains to describe as conventionally attractive (sure, a description of her is relevant to the story, and finding her attractive is nothing to be ashamed of in the least - but wanting to send God a fruit basket for inventing the season that enabled her to wear a skirt is a cute shorthand for I WOULD HAVE TOTALLY HIT THAT). I'd be a lot more impressed if I'd happened across this series of events on, say, the blog of the woman in question telling us about a stranger who did something kind, rather than you regaling us with a just-self-deprecating-enough tale of your own brilliance.

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    1. So you're less impressed by this story than by a theoretical different story told by a different person on a different blog? Who Chris will never be? That seems like... not very useful feedback. This is the story he has to tell. He can either tell it or not tell it but this other way of telling the story that you refer to is out of his control.

      Delete
    2. Well said. It seems like he was telling the story as honestly as he could. And yes, it's self-congratulatory. So what? I'd like people to congratulate this kind of behavior.

      Delete
    3. Like I said upthread, it's not the normal sort of article I post here. It's a blog about writing. So when something I wanted to write about right away happened to me, I wrote it with the motif I most felt could help it relate back to writing.

      As for the rest, you seem to be taking umbrage with the fact that I told the story honestly. I did find the woman attractive, yes (though "totally hitting that" would have involved a lot more than her having nice legs, so you might want to throw out your shorthand decoder ring--especially if you're going to use it to tell other people what they meant). Further, I couldn't really have told the story from her point of view unless I were her.

      Though if I ever find that she's blogged about it, I will gladly point you that direction. :)

      Delete
  44. We definitely need more bystanders to stand up and be like 'hey, did this person say they wanted to talk to you? because i didn't see them say that.'

    Hollaback is a really cool organization working on combatting street harassment; definitely worth a look. they offer a lot of strategies for both victims and bystanders to street harassment. http://www.ihollaback.org/

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  45. Self-congratulatory or not, I commend you for stepping in and doing something. And you SHOULD be proud--because you did the right thing, and that's rare these days. As a woman, I'd be damn happy to have someone defend my honor.

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  46. that.
    is.
    glorious.

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  47. Well done!
    Recently I was sitting on a train, the carriage almost empty. Suddenly two very beautiful young ladies, dressed for a nightclub, sat beside me out of nowhere. I wondered what the hell was happening, as I am large 190 cm tall, 40 years old with scars on my face and hound dog eyes. But anyway, I just nodded politely and tried not to look at their boobs. Then suddenly we are joined by a deranged looking 20 something old 'man' (I use the term loosely) who is grabbing at his crotch and leering at the girls. It was then I understood that here I am considered the safer option. And luckily for them I am. I do not like harassment of women. I stand and tell the weird masturbator to leave the area in less than polite words. He looks at me with pure hate but moves away to the other end of the carriage. It turns out the dude had been following them from a street near the station where they got on the train. I stay with the girls until their stop, but then the weird masturbator follows them. So I follow him. The girls leave to catch a local train and I wait at the exit from the platform blocking the way for the dude with the problems. He just loiters at the end of the platform until the next train comes and gets on it. I then catch a train home. It felt like it was the best thing I had done for a while. Men do a lot of evil shit, but that does not mean all men are evil.

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    1. On behalf of those girls, thank you, sir. You are clearly a good man and this world need more good men. I can easily think of a dozen times when my life would have gone differently if someone had done for me what you did for them. Your attitude toward them is such a refreshing change from the all too frequent "they were asking for it" response whenever the victim is attractive and dressed up.

      Delete
    2. And you FOLLOWED him, even! Right on.

      Delete
  48. Ha! This cracked me up.

    I think you were right to fear actual, immediate violence as the result of your action. (Either on you or that the guy might escalate his hostility towards the reading woman).

    You got to be hilarious and make a point to the dude, the woman reading the book, and anyone else who was there, very effective!

    Sadly she still didn't get to just exist in public without bullshit!

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    1. You're right...we're still not to where the strongly-but-silently enforced social norm is to NOT creep on anyone else, let alone an attractive woman. And that is indeed the (or an) ultimate goal, I agree.

      But this time, the bullshit got noticed and called out. She got to go on with her day knowing someone else saw it for what it was and was willing to do something about it.
      That looks like a big step away from "same ol' same ol'" AND in the right direction to me. Not an arrival point, but progress nonetheless!

      (not disagreeing with you, Liz. more re-stating your points and using way more words to do so...stopping now!)

      Delete
  49. Being a kneejerk argumentative , contradictory ass,.. I feel compelled to point out the snowballs chance in hell that this fool was actually a victim of having been single for a very long time because of his choosiness and perhaps an introverted bruce lee fan (hence the physique) and having witnessed her fetching beauty , for the first time in years decided to come out of his shell, compelled by the age old mythical "thunderbolt" and decided this woman appears to have that special combination of somethings no other woman he has seen in years, perhaps all his life, and he simply MUST try to meet her and find out if this is his one and only chance at "twoo wuv". So in spite of the snakes of fear for rejection jostling in his gut, and the extra perspiration about wash his brow and all the social lessons he has learned and witnessed in his short life that are screaming, "Leave her alone!!!" He thinks to himself, " " I must at least TRY" and as he starts his attempt at the beginings of an epic love story that would make his future teenaged grand daughter cry every time she hears it... the all the signs that he sucks this "game" every one refers to.. as the iron cools and the sun sets on unshorn hay,... as all the voices of doubt that have kept him alone in his gym at home , start to tell him what a loser he is, all over again,.. The black Knight of destiny comes and sits next to him and smiles as he serenely pulls the pin and tosses a grenade in the last vestiges of hope for any love this lone hero of trepidation might have endeavored for.
    Or,.. he was doucetard and he moved on down to the next car and hit on a 19 y/o with he Iphone out updating her latest post on texts from last night.
    :)

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    1. Doesn't matter a damn which he was - SHE didn't want to talk to him. Should have been the end of the story right there - and he could move on and talk to someone who was actually interested in conversing.

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  50. Besides everything else that is wonderful about what you did, the woman that was harassed probably left the situation feeling hopeful. I feel hopeful right now. Well done.

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  51. ahahahahahahaha! Hilarious. I was so worried this was going to end with you needing new organs or something and I'm so glad it didn't! Big ups to you from a woman who's only ever 'fought' that sort of shit with 'I don't know you and I don't talk to strangers' XD

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  52. Thank you for this, Chris!
    From my perspective, your being a writer and reader gave you a framework and some tools to use in that situation. But your decency as a human being is what made you choose to 1) learn from your reading in the first place and 2) to apply it as you did.
    Not every writer with your background knowledge of, let's call it Creepy Dude Social Dynamics, would have seen what you saw or acted as you did. It's the combination that's so unbeatably awesome.
    I completely agree, though, that without your skill as a writer, this would have been a different post. Purely as a piece of writing, IMO, it is also praiseworthy.
    tl;dr and FWIW, from someone you don't know from a pixel on the monitor:
    You done good, buddy. As a person and as a writer, you done good!
    Also as a blogger, as the comments above demonstrate. My thanks to you all for making my first visit to your little community such a pleasant one!

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  53. What a great article.Well done for doing the right thing too. If only more would do so.!Reading your article from the UK; recommended via Gia Milinovich [Professor Brian Cox`s wife] on her Twitter page.

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  54. I may have missed it, but I'm a little surprised not to have seen mention of the fact that men are so often to the ones (might go so far as to say they are expected to be the ones) doing the hitting on/asking out/courting. I'm a heterosexual female, and I enjoy it when men take the initiative to talk to me (in a not creepy way!). That's not to say that I won't do the same if I see someone I'm interested in at a bar and I have on several occasions. In reality, though, 9 times out of 10, it's the guy making the first move.

    GRANTED, doing this in a public place can be awful and uncomfortable, and not taking "no" for an answer is completely inappropriate. But I do think there's a little truth to the "don't be a bitch" thing when someone has made an effort. It's scary to go up and talk to a stranger, and it gives everyone on the receiving end a little ego boost whether they are interested or not.

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    1. Um, speak for yourself, honey. I know I am not flattered at all when someone barges into my personal space demanding my attention. It's one thing when I'm in a friendly and open posture, but it's quite another when I'm in a position like the woman in this story - clearly stating with my body language and activity that I have no interest in being accosted. Don't be putting the onus of ego enhancement on the person who clearly DOESN'T want any interference, because that's just the same as saying that men have some kind of right to be treated as welcome, and women somehow owe them something just because they feel like claiming what they have no right to expect.

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  55. What does "don't be a bitch" actually mean? I've been called a bitch for saying, "No, I'm not interested, thank you." I've been called a bitch for refusing to drop everything I was in the middle of doing and give my undivided attention to a man who thought my existence in a public place entitled him to interrupt me. I've been called a bitch for pulling away from men who grabbed and held onto my hands without permission or warning as their version of an introduction. I've been called a bitch for refusing to smile and thank someone who shouted explicit sexual comments about my anatomy.

    Men who call women bitches for not responding positively to their advances don't, in my experience, really care whether or not the woman in question is being polite. They just care whether or not she validates their self-perceived position as the center of the universe.

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    1. Indeed. Thanks Anita. I was really glad to see you chiming in on this post--especially with such salient points.

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    2. Just a thought on the word "Bitch". So much "energy" has been put into that word. Ignore the context and think about the mass of that energy. The first time I was called a bitch it surprised me.

      And I thought about with what force it was said. And I decided that instead of allowing it to "hit" me, I would take in the "energy". So the next time I was called bitch, I was delighted and said - with a big delighted smile "Thank you!!" That rather changed the interaction because the fellow could not fix on me being delighted. It did not fit his scripts.

      So *one* of my self identifiers is Bitch. A pretty powerful aspect. And perhaps in context of what anitiaking wrote, instead of validating the speaker as the center of MY universe, I put myself there.

      And Chris - I ad my voice to the Chorus "Thank you" for acting and writitng. And yes, you are a BadAss. In the best way.

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    3. Chris, I'm happy to be part of the conversation! It's a topic that matters to me and one that has been on my mind recently.

      Simone, I try to do something similar. Reclaiming the word, so to speak. Most of the time, if someone calls me a bitch, I take it as a sign that I'm doing something right. But all the same, it's hard not to be hurt by it sometimes.

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    4. It means, "You have no right to refuse my attention because you are not a real person, but simply an object I wish to plunder."

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  56. Well done! Thank you for being so brave!

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  57. There is also another element here - the writer is darned lucky Mr. Douche did not get belligerent with his actions and decide to assault you for "disrespecting" him. Although traveling solo, there was probably less of a need to show that he could not be disrespected than if his buddies were there goading him. In turn, this leads to a much, much bigger problem of far too many people having an overblown sense of self, where any sign of "being disrespected" by anyone has to be met immediately with anger, threats and likely violence, especially if the person being "dissed" is part of a group, who chide him for being "dissed" which only further inflames their overblown sense of self. It is something that cuts across all races, creeds, religions, and even across gender lines. In another time and place, the author's words might get him beat up, or shot, because he dared to "disrespect" someone.

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    1. You're right. But I'm not sure anything will ever change if the fear of escalation is so great that everyone just allows such things to happen. I'm also very glad I didn't get hit. I agree that that was darned lucky. But I wouldn't NOT do it next time.

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  58. Posted to Metafilter.com

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    1. I probably shouldn't have gone there to read the comments.

      Live and learn.

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    2. Yeah, Metafilter is great for the links, but the comments leave a lot to be desired sometimes. I'm often either shocked, disgusted, or just plain annoyed at the level of nonsense that gets bandied about.

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  59. I'm fat, not conventionally pretty and no longer young, yet I STILL have to deal with creepy dudes on BART. I get the older, sometimes mentally ill creepers but they still have the same expectation that I will drop everything to talk to them. I have pretended to be deaf to avoid weirdos. I am sick to death of studiously avoiding eye contact in hopes that I will be left alone. Thank you for turning the tables on the creepy guy. I think this post is getting so much attention because women are thinking YES! Thank you! and dudes are thinking oh I'm not that creepy guy... or am I?

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  60. I think the article you refer to that you couldn't find may have been this one by Harriet Jay: http://www.fugitivus.net/2009/06/26/another-post-about-rape-3/

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    1. That's the one! Thank you. I'll put it in an ETA.

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  61. I was in a bar once, minding my own business after a hard day. I was young and didn't have the wits age brings which made what happened worse for so many reasons.

    I was approached by 3 older douchebags who offered to buy me a drink and wouldn't take no for an answer. Kind of embarrassed, people were looking and there is 'the narrative'. I felt I had to play along, so I agreed to the drink hoping it would end there.

    It didn't. They started getting physical which wasn't comfortable, people sniggering and winking at me as if I was in for a good night.

    Finally one of them grabbed me between the legs at which point I had had enough. I pushed them away and tried to get out, but was yelled at. Apparently I assaulted them. WTF!

    I ran before the rest of the bar could get involved and get me arrested.

    Because, of course, I was just a lucky young guy being hit on by 3 middle aged women.

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    1. Hey, I'm sorry this happened to you. This was assault and in no way okay. It's important to validate that assholes and creepers aren't restricted by gender.

      Of course, you (in theory, I don't know the specifics) were at less risk of physical violence, and men generally don't have the social expectation of niceness. However, it's still not expected for men to say no to sexual advances, and the unwanted female creeper is always played for comedy, not sympathy, in our society.

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    2. I think there is also the part about being polite to your elders coming in to play with the notion of boys/men are always ready for sex or can well defend themselves.

      Yep, women can be assholes too.

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  62. yup, total badass. deal with it. and thank you. <3

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  63. Another nominee for the lost link: http://feminspire.com/why-i-never-play-hard-to-get/

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  64. Very funny. Good story. You are a hero. As for the woman, I still think a firmly stated "fuck off" could have been effective, too.

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    1. I don't know. Look how angry the guy got at Chris, who wasn't being openly hostile. That kind of anger is scary.

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  65. You are a hero. Thank you so much for this. You inspire other men and women to follow in your footsteps.

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  66. Everyone has already said this but I'll say it too -- thank you for doing this. Most women have been in that woman's position, and it really sucks. Thanks for calling the guy on it.

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  67. So, you're a writer? You should have mentioned it a few more times just to be clear.

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    1. Yeah yeah. Like I said, this isn't really a blog about this sort of thing so I wrote this trying to make the connective tissue really clear to why it was in a blog about writing.

      I made a few tweaky edits earlier today to kind of tone down that parallelism in the last paragraph. I'd have drafted the thing more times if I knew it was going to be seen by fifty thousand people in only a couple of days.

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  68. First of all that was awesome. You are just so awesome.

    But speaking of narrative, perspective and such I just kind of surfed in here and starting reading. I just assumed you were a woman like me. Reading about how you' need sex from your girlfriend I was like 'oh. so you're lesbian' and revised to that. It wasn't until the guy said 'dude I'm not gay' that I got that you were a guy writing this story, and I was real surprised. That turned my head around.Wether I wasn't reading properly, am predjudiced, with preconceived opinions, jaded or just project myself onto you the writer, I don't know. But isn't that interesting.

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    1. It is. I think we all have preconceived notions. The trick is knowing where they come from, what their influence is and actually working to minimize those forces as best we can.

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  69. You rock! Shared to Facebook.

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  70. I did write up a very thorough comment, but this stupid comment box ate it when I tried to log in to post it. So screw it, you get the short angry version from Anonymous.

    My bet is nine times out of ten you'd end up in a hospital from that interaction. You are extremely lucky. I don't think I would have the guts to do that, because I don't want to DIE. All it takes is for bus douchebag to be a little bit rich, or have a dad in politics, or something like that, and poof... You'll be dead and he'll never even get caught, even if they have the whole damn thing on camera. This world is a living hell because there IS no reliable solution. If they're more powerful than you they get what they fuckin' want in the end, unless you get really lucky - in which case they just come back tomorrow.

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    1. You should write for economic forecast journalism.

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  71. Trope, meme, narrative. How do I get on the mailing list for the required words to use? It seems that everyone has been advised to use these words and phrases under threat of obscurity.. I have not read one piece online, this decade, that has not contained either "meme", "narrative" or "trope". I'm not sure on what date these words were introduced to the general population, but the general population has been doing them to death.

    When does the list of new words come out? I hope it's pretty soon because I'm so tired of reading these words. Seriously. They are worn out!

    We had "redemption" and "low hanging fruit" in the 90s, "hero", "thinking outside the box" and "innovation" in the 2000s, and a whole host of choices for the 20teensies. Well, anyway, until the new list comes out, I'll just count the number of times I read or hear "narrative" on any given day. I'll be a very busy little chickabiddy.

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    1. You know the word I hate? "The" Seriously, that word has been around since Old English. I hope our new list of words comes out with a replacement. Seriously! (I mean even you used it like eight times!)

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    2. You know...I wasn't 100% sure this story was real until I read this reply. You kind of like giving people a taste of their own medicine when they're doing something obnoxious, don't you?

      I like your style, Mr. Brecheen. I definitely like your style.

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    3. Yes, let's all count the number of times the word "narrative" is used, instead of focusing on how to create safer public spaces for women. Oops. I used the term "safe space." How 2005 of me. Disregard everything I've said until I can get ahold of the new list of words!

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    4. I hate that Eleanor hasn't heard anything that doesn't contain either of those three words.

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    5. It'll probably sound awfully hipster of me ('90s hipster, I mean, not '40s hipster), but there are those who have been using those words since before they were cool, and will continue using them long after they're proclaimed "worn out".

      Not because they're fashionable, but because they're the words that fit. We're the kind of frightful nerds who care about getting just the right word for just the right effect. Whether it's buzzword-compliant or not.

      Because sometimes, in a world that's obsessed with the dance between conformity and counter-culture, using a concept rebelliously even when everyone else is using it conformally can be about the most transgressive - and progressive - thing you can do.

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  72. I really enjoyed reading this. I commend you for making a stand like you did, that's the sort of thing I do to and it's great to feel supported by not being the only one to do such a thing :) of course I would be grateful to have someone do the same for me, if I wasn't already just enjoying being badass standing up to an arsehole :)

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  73. Thanks for doing that. Thanks, also, for admitting you were nearly obliterated by adreneline. Entering any kind of conflict deliberately, the way you did, is difficult and scary as hell, and I think one of the problems with our cultural narrative in general is the implication that it should be easy to do something like that if you're a Good Person, or that we'll be cool and collected and smooth when we do. I mean, hey, it looks easy in the movies, right? So thanks in particular for talking about the emotional charge there, and the shaking voice and everything.

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  74. I'd like to point out that the WRITING in this story is really good.

    The events make a good story, and the way you recount the events makes it an even better story. Not to mention the fact that you created a great persona to play there on the BART train. (I would categorize this as "actual writing", not "writing about writing" . . . but that's just me.)

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    1. Awwww. Thank you so much. If I'd known how viral it was going to go I'd have done more revisions, but I'm glad you liked it.

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  75. Can I get some opinions on something?

    I have this idea that creeps get a little less hostile . . . or maybe less insulting or dismissive . . . when a bystander calls them out than when the target of their creepiness rejects them. Maybe because they're facing public opinion instead of just one person? Maybe because the rejection isn't as personal? I don't know. What do others think?

    (For demographic purposes: I'm a woman; I've been hassled and chosen to talk back; I've been hassled and been afraid to talk back; and I've been a bystander who intervenes.)

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    1. I think you're onto something, as I've noticed the same tendency, both in (some) of my own experiences and in other people's anecdotes. When harassment is implicitly sanctioned by the silence and inaction of bystanders, it's a lot safer for the creepers to be bold and aggressive. But when people speak up, it makes it just a little riskier to behave badly.

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  76. "What's your name?" "I really like your hair."?! What a monster! I'm glad you were there to save the poor little girl.

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    1. As evidenced by how pissy dudebro got when the same questions were directed at him, these are not innocent questions.

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    2. I think you missed the important part.

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  77. I am a very tiny woman, I barely top 5 feet tall. Everyone is bigger, stronger, and taller than I am. I regularly get picked up and carried off by friends like it's some kind of joke, and even drunk strangers think it's funny to just pick me up and move my like I'm a piece of furniture. Back when all of this first started happening in High School, I remember completely freezing up in fear whenever guys came around. I'd hide in my book and close my eyes and pray and pray and pray they'd leave me alone if I ignored them. Sometimes they did, but I wasn't always lucky. After a bit, I realized I had to say something. Maybe they just didn't know I wanted to be left alone.
    One day (my senior year of high school), a guy picked me up and started carrying me off. Normally, they'd put me down after a few feet but he didn't. I realized he was carrying me in the direction of a dark, unused hallway so I started kicking and screaming. I got a few good kicks and hits in when a teacher came up to us and I thought I was saved. All she did was yell at me and tell me to be quiet and then she walked off. Didn't bother to ask me if I was ok, ask the guy why he was carting off a small woman like a sack of potatoes, or even ask him to put me down. It ended with me finally getting away after a decent beating (it may not have done as much to someone bigger than I am).
    The point is, ten years later, I'm still terrified when strange males feel the need to catch me off guard.
    Maybe you didn't save a woman that didn't want to come off as a bitch, maybe you just saved a woman that was terrified.

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    1. Yeah, I think Amy (above) said something similar, and you're right.

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  78. This was awesome sir. As a recent person who about got into a fight over someone making rape jokes, I salute you and can entirely relate to that adrenaline dump thing. Kinda scary but... if there's ever a reason to fight, we both certainly found ours--in our own small ways. We're both badasses. lol

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  79. Real courage (in the face of real and well-founded fear), real courtesy (none of that fake civility bullshit the douchebag was indulging in) and real wit too. I love what you did, and I think that makes you a pretty damn real hero.

    I wish more blokes were like you and would do what you did (I loved the Alice's Restaurant riff an earlier commenter wrote - if dozens and scores and hundreds and millions of men would behave the way you did ... societies all over the world would embody real civilisation).

    Thank you.
    opposablethumbs (via Pharyngula)

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  80. Thank you so much. I live in the city, so I frequently have to deal with street harassment and pushy guys who ignore me when I say no. Nobody ever does anything. And I understand why -- usually the smart thing is to stay out of situations that could escalate. But you were brave and stood up for someone in a vulnerable position, and I hope you feel awesome about it.

    In a way, it's sad how grateful this post makes me -- a man understands! A man cares about this! Because it feels so rare.

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  81. Thank you for doing this. You are amazing and I shall now look for your work to read whenever I need something new. More people need to do this, not just men, but if everyone helped other people who were being harassed then it would make harassers less likely to do it.

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  82. thank you, that was an amazing thing to do.

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  83. You don't need to be a writer. lol It just takes a keen sense of perception, which not a lot of people have, but you definitely don't need to be a writer. Good work though, I would have done something similar :)

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  84. That was overwhelmingly amazing! I would never have imagined a man responding like you did. Or ANYONE responding like you did. It really puts things in a different perspective. I'm impressed beyond words.

    It makes me wonder what other ways I might be able to use your inspiration to "change the story" when it goes down that old road. Maybe I could look the aggressor in the eye and ask him pleasantly and point-blank if he is a bad guy, if he is a rapist or if he is violent or mean towards women. Then when he assures me that he's none of that, maybe I could say that's good to know because I want to be left alone and I wouldn't want to have to be afraid things were going to turn nasty if I said so. So please leave me alone now, and thank you for being nice enough to not bother me any more.

    I'm hoping that might work, as being reminded that he DOES think of himself as a nice guy might remind him not to behave like he isn't.

    You really ARE a hero for what you did! Thanks for helping me try to think of ways to change the story.

    I have to publish as anonymous, but my name is Marialla. Thank you!

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  85. There's a lot to be said for being scared as hell and doing the right thing anyway. As a human, thank you for being courageous in service of the rights and safety of others. As a writer, thank you for using your trope-inversion powers for good.

    As to the trolls, well. In my experience, writers who can sell a story on its own merits generally don't feel need to add a "No s**t man, it totally happened to me!" clause to make it seem more convincing.

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  86. From a a frequent BART rider who often gets harassed while others stand around quietly, pretending to look at their phones, Thank you. Hopefully you, or a man like you, will be around next time that it happens. Because yes, there is always a next time.

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  87. Thank you for standing up for her (in such an awesome way even if he will not get it).
    I've been harassed many times (teen years where the worst) and nobody ever stood up for me. People often think they are safe when other people are around but most people just stare or look away. Some even laugh. On one occasion even my boyfriend was present and did nothing while somebody groped me in public. We where in a group of ten people and nobody did anything against a single aggressor. I finally stopped freezing and shouted at him to piss of. After that I was told I somehow must have provoked him.

    I've got just this life and I either can shut up about being harassed and assaulted and feel ashamed or talk about it because it's not my dammed fault.

    I wish somebody would have helped me like you did.

    Thank you for moderating the comments too. I actually can read them without the need to throw up like so often.

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  88. Another fun bit of dialogue to write - turn it around.

    Woman: I'm reading "Seven Types of Ambiguity" by Elliot Perlman. Who are your favorite authors?
    Man: Uh...

    ...

    Woman: Do want to come to my book group? We're discussing "The Hours" this month.

    ...and so on, until he realizes he's not in her league intellectually, either. All done very sweetly.

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  89. Wow, just wow. I wasn't sure where this story was going (although with the people on my G+ feed I had a lot of hope) but I was almost in tears at the end. You are an awesome badass and I am so glad there are people like you in the world.

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  90. Slightly less bad ass but in a similar vein: I get the train to work every day and there's always this one older, slightly creepy dude who likes to check out the women on the train. One day he was openly staring at one of my work colleagues, I mean really STARING; eyes wide, gaze slowly going up and down... so I stopped my writing (yep) and moved myself to the aisle seat, so I was only a couple of feet away from him... and I stared. I STARED. Wide eyed, gaze slowly going up and down. I should clarify at this point that I'm a heavy set guy with big sideburns, long hair and a penchant for wearing heavy metal t-shirts.

    He looked at me, I smiled. He spent the rest of the journey staring at nothing but his newspaper, and since then he does seem rather less keen on the old lady ogling (at least he is when I'm around). :)

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  91. You are braver than I have ever been and did a remarkably generous thing. You were smart and creative and resourceful, and did I mention brave? I've been calling myself a feminist man for the last 40 years and I've never done anything to "put my money where my mouth is" the way you did. If someone had been there to videotape the whole thing, you would be a bona fide American hero today. Now just lose the narcissistic "I'm a writer! I'm a writer! I'm a writer!" thing and I'll speak to the pope about nominating you for sainthood.

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  92. This is such an excellent article. I've definitely had men hit on me who didn't get the hint. Even the line "I have a boyfriend" doesn't always do the trick. In fact, some of them just see it as a challenge and try to further convince me to cheat with them. Somewhere along the line, though, I developed a "don't fuck with me" kinda attitude that I can pull up at the drop of a hat. I find myself using this attitude more and more in order to rescue fellow female friends that are obviously in flustered panic mode.

    The funny thing is, this warrior attitude has less to do with aggression (though there is some) and more to do with blunt honesty. I make eye contact and I say "No" with confidence. Once they cross that invisible line of where I'm comfortable and where I'm not I don't care about hurting their feelings or what they might think of me (As I'm writing this, I'm realizing that I still play into the more submissive feminine role, I just know when it's appropriate to abandon ship. Acquiescent until proven uncomfortable?). I do still get that gaslighting "Why do you have to be so upset? I was just kidding" nonsense. If they're that willing not to listen the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd times, though, then I don't care about hurting their feelings or making them uncomfortable.

    I met a girl at a wedding once. She was probably the most beautiful girl I have ever seen in person. As in, authors would write fictional books about her and Hollywood would CGI her characters onto someone else's face. Long story short, all of the young guys at this wedding followed her around like a pack of slightly drunken puppy dogs. The man of honor in particular was quite taken with her. I knew, as a fellow girl and confidante, that she wanted nothing to do with any of these guys, especially the man of honor. Because of this I kept an eye on her throughout the night. I wanted to make sure she could handle herself in this type of situation. Sure enough later that night the man of honor picked her up and man-handled her onto the dance floor. I say man-handled, because yes, she was struggling to get down the whole 5 seconds it took for him to get there. She broke away from him as soon as her feet hit the floor and ran off to another girlfriend of ours. This didn't stop his advances, and at some point during the night she got fed up with him and said quite forcefully and directly to his face " We are never having sex. This isn't going to happen. Stop messing with me." I laughed and laughed and laughed. Partly because of the look on his face, but mostly because I was surprised that she could ever be that blunt. Surprise surprise, he didn't stop his attempts to hit on her, but he did at least get less forceful. I guess my point is that I was surprised at all. I'm used to having to come to the rescue because I don't mind offending people that won't take no for an answer. And that's exactly what I do - I offend them by saying no. I've heard a lot of guys complain about how complicated women are because we don't just say what it is that we want. Yet I've been gaslighted by guys on numerous occasions for doing exactly that when I reject their advances.

    This has become a much longer reply than anticipated. I guess you can take it as a sign of an article well-written that you can incur such a lengthy response. :)

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  93. As a guy, I couldn't have done that. I've done similar things at parties, saving women from guys they didn't like, but that's completely different.

    In your situation, I probably would have approached HER as a gay friend from her childhood. Talked a lot and rapidly, giving her a lot of information to try to play up to the story I was telling and tried to remove her from the situation. If he tried to interfere, then I would have hit on him, putting myself between him and her. Once she got away, I would have offered to stay with her until

    I wouldn't have had the stones to confront him directly. That was brave as hell.

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    1. Until she got off, or just leave her be. Incomplete thoughts come from being interrupted at work. Blah.

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  94. That, sir, was absolutely fantastic. Thank you for what you did. You are too a total badass and the owner of balls the size of Jupiter. (Figuratively, of course, otherwise walking would be a chore. As would everything else.)
    - May

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