Sex and the Ivy

A Letter To My Assailant

Filed under: Feminism, Life, Men, Women — Elle August 31, 2006 @ 12:44 pm

Dear Fellow Passenger on the Metro Rapid 720,

Today was supposed to be remembered as my last day of work at my summer internship. But after our encounter this morning, I’ll fondly look back on this Thursday as the day I got my ass grabbed on the bus down Wilshire.

At first, I wasn’t certain that anything inappropriate was going on. It was a crowded bus, I had a headache and a cough, and I was thirty minutes late on my last day. Being assaulted was the last thing I worried about. But after you brushed up against my hip one too many times, I began to take notice. I realized that despite close quarters, you were much closer than you needed to be. You positioned yourself so that my back was flat against your chest. I didn’t intend to vertically spoon with anyone on public transportation this morning. I looked down and you were wearing running shorts, which led me to deduce that it was your erection causing the uncomfortable sensation.

You don’t fit the typical profile of a pervert. You’re not middle aged, balding, wearing a trench coat. You’re an attractive black male about 6 feet tall with an athletic build. And most surprising of all, you’re young, no older than 25. If you had asked for my number, I would’ve probably given it to you.
I was willing to ignore the constant brush-ups that occurred every time the bus jolted. I was willing to walk away irritated, but optimistic about human nature. Besides, I could just scoot forward a little bit. If I wasn’t positive that you had inappropriate intentions, why cause a fuss? But then I felt your fingers graze my rear and you confirmed every suspicion, so I whipped my head around and asked loudly, “What are you doing?” Immediately, you apologized and looked sheepish more than anything. You didn’t even try to play it off like you were innocent. I have to give you credit for that.

Unfortunately, when you’re dealing with a slightly instable, fed-up-with-men feminista who was having a bad day as it was, “I’m sorry” just didn’t cut it. Because this is the first time I’ve spoken up against behavior I’ve been subjected to countless times before, your apology just wasn’t enough. So forgive me for not letting you slide with your “I’m sorry.” Forgive me for insisting on making a scene in front of the 30 other people on that bus. When you tried to leave at the next stop - coincidentally, my stop - I had every intention of leaving this incident behind. But forgive me for turning back around, grabbing you by the collar, demanding, “Why are you touching me on the bus?” in front of all those onlookers. Forgive me for screaming repeatedly, “What makes you think it’s okay to touch women like that?” while pedestrians stopped and looked on. Forgive me for refusing to let you go, for kneeing you in the crotch repeatedly - I was trying to go for where it hurt the most. Forgive me, because you have to understand - you got me where I hurt most.

Do I feel empowered? Hardly. I’ve been recounting this tale to friends and coworkers (”I kicked the pervert’s ass!”) But the truth is, I don’t feel any more empowered for fighting back. My reaction today was the exception not the rule. This once, I didn’t stand for it. This once, I spoke up. But for this single instance, for every time I yell “fuck off” at an unwanted come-on, there are countless other occasions when I remain silent. For every woman willing to fight back, there are many others too scared to say anything. If it was just the two of us on the bus, would I have summoned up the same courage? If this happened at night, would I have dared to grab you by the shirt on the corner of Fairfax and Wilshire? I don’t fool myself into thinking that I’m any safer because I fought back this one time.

So no, I don’t feel empowered, and no, calling you out on your behavior doesn’t make me feel like I’ve reclaimed the dignity I lost when you invaded my space. You walked away embarassed, but I walked away a little less whole than I was when I left my house this morning. I hope you realize that every time you and other men touch me, honk at me, leer at me, call to me, or otherwise mistreat me, you add ever so slightly to the collective fear of women in the world.

I am just a young woman trying to get to work in time. I am 5′ 2″, small-framed, and not very intimidating outside the boardroom. Everyday, I have to brace myself when I pass a man on the street because invariably, two or three will make a comment or give me a lookover that leaves me feeling victimized. So I’ve taken to mentally preparing for these instances. No one should have to look away hoping to escape notice on the street. No one should have to prefer invisibility to acknowledgement. You are just another concern on my already long list of worries. Last week, I had to laugh off a honk when walking my little sister to school. Last month, I had to maneuver away from a man who cornered me for my number on the Metro Rail. And because of you, tomorrow, I will have to worry about being groped on the bus.

17 Responses to “A Letter To My Assailant”

  1. christine Says:

    omg pretty much exactly what happened to meeee on the 720! except i chose to give him the benefit of the doubt and just text message people my freaked out status. i wish i was that bold. i was standing next to the middle door between seats and poles and i could NOT move. and the door hit me twice. it was ouch, and he still didn’t move so that i could shift even an inch. i am taking the bus no longer. i hate public transportation so so much. i hate perverts even more.

  2. kay Says:

    on behalf of women everywhere, thank you for not letting him get away with it.

  3. jeane Says:

    yeah, this is why i hated taking the bus to school, let alone wait for it. and this was around alhambra! i hated walking down main street or any big street. and if it wasn’t for my car, i would be afraid to go anywhere.

    the reason why i’m afraid to go out by myself is because of this.

    what you did was so brave. i don’t think i’d be able to muster enough courage to do that.

    it sucks how there’s no way to avoid this. i feel like i’m going to be in situations like this for the rest of my life. i wish they’d just stop.

  4. jb Says:

    I don’t often give thought to the complaints of women. I didn’t live in a time when women were denied the right to vote and even though I do not personally support abortion, I can not conceive it being illegalized. And although I do live in a time when women are paid less than men for doing the job, I am strongly against this practice.

    It is scientifically proven that women are smarter than men, so when I hear that women are an “underprivileged minority,” it is hard to wrap my head around it. However, this really changes that.

    I often make comments about “barefoot and pregnant” and admittedly, I freely use the word bitch. I may not actively discriminate against women, but by doing even just that little thing, I am supporting this type of behavior that has made you, and, from the comments left on your post, so many other women, uncomfortable enough to skip public transportation.

    For my carelessness, I apologize. And, on behalf of my sub-par gender full of assholes and perverts, I apologize. No woman should ever have to feel afraid to take the bus.

  5. Johnny Says:

    If you were on time, he probably wouldn’t have been there.


  6. Johnny Says:

    lol sorry. heres to more hits

    oh and he shouldn’t have done that. shame on all men

  7. mandy Says:

    Thank you for kicking his ass Lena. Strangely, I had never really thought much about this sort of behavior before our human sexuality class. Back home, it’s just not the way people behave. And then I moved to Boston. And then we watched that movie where a women actually interviewed men and asked them why they thought they had the right to cat call and ogle. And you know, that is the main question.

    I don’t care why you did it, but what makes you think you have the right to do that?? And the thing is, like you said, this isn’t an isolated case. This has happened to every female we know, in one fashion or another. Just yesterday, I was returning a movie–1 block from my apartment–and was cat called twice. What makes men think they have the right? And that they can joke about it?

    I refuse to be afraid. And I’m very sure of myself and my ability to handle whatever comes my way. But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t anger me. That doesn’t mean that’s it’s excusable. Because it’s not, nor should it ever be.

    I feel like this should be required reading for all males once they reach a certain age. Maybe then they would understand what it’s like from the other side. Or maybe they should just ask their mothers and sisters–they know.

  8. Lorna Says:

    God, did the asshole even try to deny it?

  9. yh Says:

    Sometimes I really wonder why losers do that…
    BAH. Perhaps I’m not of that ‘certain age’ yet so I truly can’t understand why older males do that.

    It sounds horrendous though, and I will never ever do something like this.

  10. Meh Says:


    boring, and made up, what a waste of letters

  11. elle Says:

    I assure you, I most certainly don’t lie. Who needs to when the truth is so much more intriguing than fiction?

    Sorry you’re disinterested — why don’t you take a break from reading the blog and I’ll send out a memo when an entry pops up about you?

  12. blackman Says:

    nice ass

  13. julie Says:

    you’re a liar.

  14. case nel tempo Says:

    case nel tempo…

    Sex and the Ivy » A To My Assailant…

  15. Jess Says:

    To those of you who have said this isn’t true - even if this wasn’t, what’s your point? I assure you that this experience is not unique. I’ve had similar experiences, and I guarantee you that for every one blogged about there’s a hundred more. Or would you rather pretend that there aren’t slimeballs in the world? that’s even more naive.

    So anyway, props to you Elle, I usually go with a ‘Leave me alone!’ and then immediately feel foolish and like I’m overreacting, then feel annoyed at myself for feeling that way…! Poor guy, he’s probably still befuddled.

  16. range Says:

    Good for you for not just letting it go by without addressing it. That’s really filthy, fondling women on public transport. It happens a lot in Asia, in fact so much, that they have separate compartment for women who want to use them, where men aren’t allowed.

  17. Amber Says:

    There is definitely a connection between feminine modesty and masculine restraint. Of course, even if a woman is dressed provocatively, this does NOT justify cat calls and assault. The man is still responsible, but we as women must teach men to respect our bodies by first respecting our bodies ourselves. When women act with modesty, we then create a culture in which men respect women as persons…not as objects. By dressing like objects and by having sex in a way that is impersonal, we invite men to see us as things to be used, touched, groped for their own satisfaction.

    Lena, it is great that you stood up to that man. Now maybe we all ought to learn how to demand dignity by refusing to dress and act like sexual playthings.

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