by rubyfruit2

It was a hot day last Wednesday. I was enjoying the sunshine as I made my way to a bus-stop ready to go on a journey I’d never been on before. I had never been to the area at all. I was going for work purposes, my mind full of what I needed to do when I got there.

As I boarded the bus and approached the bus-driver, I was friendlier than I would normally be to a strange male. I have learned not to look at men, to give men no encouragement at all and to look miserable, stern and powerful as often as I possibly can in an effort to give them “fuck off” vibes. (Note: I know this is a tactic that doesn’t work but I do it anyway because the alternative is unbearable).

I was friendlier this time because I had no clue where to get off and I needed the bus-driver to tell me. I was there for work purposes and I couldn’t afford to get lost and be late. Unusually, I smiled and asked if he knew where the name of the street was. It was a conversation which lasted a while because he didn’t but he knew the name of another street which, I worked out, must be nearby. As the conversation went on, I realised he was being flirtatious. It was unmistakeable, the way his smile lingered and his eyes were intensely fixed on mine, dancing.

I gave a startled jump as I always do. No one ever told me that older women would be sexualised by men the way I am in public. I have been taught that we are ignored, invisible to men, are seen as asexual, but it’s not what i experience. This was a young man in his early 20s. Gentle in manner. Not overtly aggressive at all. Seemingly lacking in confidence and flirting in a shy, almost vulnerable, way.

It was too late for me to back down with my friendliness now or give off “fuck off I am a dyke” vibes. Satisfied he would tell me where to get off, I sat down, slightly taken aback at yet again having a man sexualise an ordinary situation but that was it. As a young woman, this was commonplace. I was never taken aback. I was used to it and had my strategies in place to deal with it. Now, I feel so unprepared, it always surprises me and I doubt myself. I feel alone with it.

I put these thoughts aside and concentrated on trying to find where I was going. Suddenly, without warning, the whole incident took on a darker twist. I was shaken out of my thoughts when I realised, to my horror, I was the only passenger on the bus. We suddenly sped along. His speed dramatically increased now I was the only passenger and I didn’t know why. My mind went into overdrive “Maybe he’s going to go off the route and take me somewhere isolated and remote. He KNOWS I don’t know where I am. I told him. Oh, fuck WHY did I give him that information? I never do this. When I jump into a taxi, I always pretend I know where I am going, even though I don’t. I told him because I had no other way of knowing when I’d arrived at my destination. Hang on a minute, he seemed gentle, yes? I mean, gentle doesn’t suggest sexual aggression.” And then i remembered countless stories about “gentle” men who turn sexually violent. Simultaneously incredulous, I panicked that I was in a hostage situation. It seemed totally unbelievable, even as my brain flashed through worse case scenarios.

That split feeling of not wanting to believe I am in danger whilst, at the same time, being filled with fear and desperately seeking escape routes is familiar to me. It’s there when I have been in danger at men’s hands. It’s there when I have escaped. I live with it. Daily.

My very slight discomfort at his sexualisation of our conversation had turned into overwhelming panic and anxiety. Here I was on a fast bus with no knowledge of where I was, or when, and how, this journey would end. My survivor instincts were on full alert.

I only calmed down when, at last, the bus slowed down and let another passenger on. I sighed with relief. We reached the end of the journey and I asked him where my stop was. All hint of friendliness completely gone from my voice. He told me it was the next one. It was. I got off.

I know radical feminists will understand the significance of this incident. I know I don’t have to explain that the ordinariness of my day contrasted with suddenly feeling trapped and imprisoned as the bus careered into the unknown. The instantaneous switch from every day life to uncertain danger unnerved and panicked me. I know I don’t have to explain that trivial moments in our daily routine can suddenly turn into possible life or death situations at the hands of men. i know I don’t have to emphasise that this happens to all women, everywhere, and that it’s a way for all men to dominate all women and that, as individual women, there are no easy escape routes. We are terrorised because of our sex. Because penis dominates, no matter how “gentle” the bearer of that weapon may seem to be.

I haven’t told any woman previously about this, though it has been playing on my mind. Not even my radical feminist friends. It’s too commonplace, too ordinary a story to tell. Something similar probably happened to them too that day. For a few minutes I was, yet again, terrorised by unwanted sexualisation and its potential consequences, just going about my daily life. And I am angry that I, like all women, must live my life like an imprisoned hostage.