On the Tube

by Abby O'Reilly // 18 December 2007, 16:30

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I am not a small woman. I’m short, about 5’ 2,” but I am overweight. I have always felt that if a situation arose, I would be able to protect myself to some extent. Yesterday, however, I was doubtful, and I realised yet again just how vulnerable we are as women.

I was in central London, at King’s Cross station, making my way to the Tube to get to Paddington. I had been to an interview, so was dressed as such – black trousers, black top with a high neckline. I suppose my look could be described as conservative – plain, ordinary, nothing provocative. Although not that important, this will become more significant later. I had a rucksack and my laptop with me. As I was walking towards the escalators, a man bumped into me, and knocked me with his bag. There was nothing particularly unusual about this. The man got on the second escalator next to me, looked back, then took a double take, turned and said “sorry,” to which I replied, “it’s ok.” Sounds reasonable enough, right?

He stood a few steps above me on the adjacent escalator, and stared back directly at me. The way he was looking was intimidating – glaring down, narrowed eyes, very intense. Then he said “you alright?” to which I replied “yeah.” He continued to stare and I pretended I couldn’t notice. He reached the top of the escalator, lingered a bit as I reached the top. I then began walking to the Tube, he started walking just by the side of me. At this point I felt uneasy. Was he following me? He continued to stare across as we walked, but I dismissed it – I thought I was being paranoid.

He stood next to me at the platform, and continued to stare. Again I pretended I didn’t notice, I took out my phone and began to play with it. I had no signal, but I didn’t know what else to do. He was taller, much bigger than me – I’d estimate around 6ft. A train arrived, I picked up my laptop as people walked past. He thought I was getting on the train. He made a move to get on it too, but when I put my laptop back down he stepped back. Still I thought I was being paranoid, so I tested him. I briskly walked up the platform. I stopped there, and looked back. He had followed me. Still staring. I walked back down. He was stood next to me again. I repeated this a total of three times, and every time he was there, next to me, staring.

It was about half past one in the afternoon, there were quite a few people around, but not so many that it was overwhelmingly busy. I began to feel nervous. I had butterflies in my stomach, I felt slightly sick. Who could I talk to? Should I say something to him? Was I still just being paranoid? Would people think I was being stupid? Was he actually doing anything wrong? I felt intimidated, but was that enough to alert attention to him?

The Tube I was waiting for arrived, he moved close towards me as everyone bunched together to board. I made moves to get on at one door, then quickly walked up the platform to get on a few doors up, thinking I would loose him. He followed me. I chose to stand, thinking he would take one of the available seats. He didn’t. He stood opposite me, still staring. I glanced upwards. He had been staring at my chest, but quickly shifted his head to make eye contact with me. I looked away immediately, but still he kept staring. At each stop I thought about getting off, made a step forward, but then he would do the same. When I reached Paddington, luckily there were a lot of people waiting at the platform. As I was stood by the open door, I jumped off quickly and ran out of the station and across the road to get my train back to Cardiff. I didn’t look back so I don’t know if he followed. There were a lot of people around; I’m short so thankfully I got lost in the crowd. There was a train waiting, so I jumped straight on it.

He must have known I was aware he was following me, but he didn’t care. The knowledge that I knew he was acting inappropriately was not enough to make him rethink his behaviour. Maybe he did not intend to do me any harm, but what I do know is that I was very intimidated, and had it been night time with very few people around I can’t say I know what would have happened, or if he would have continued to follow me. My instincts tell me that if he had had the opportunity he would have continued, for what purpose I would not like to speculate. He was a very strange man. But whether there was intention or not in his actions, should it be so easily dismissed? I know that this experience is very very tame compared to other women – I was not physically assaulted, nor did he masturbate in front of me (which seems to be more common than you’d think on the Tube), but I was scared. What has concerned me more is the way I doubted my own actions – did I do anything to warrant that sort of negative attention? I wasn’t dressed provocatively, but even if I had been would that justify this sort of behaviour? No, of course it wouldn’t, but why did I feel the need to reflect on my own conduct in this way? Why do a lot of women feel the need to do this when they are the victims of male attention? Why can it never be that it was just his fault? Why does it always have to be our fault in some way?

My initial reaction was to forget about this. Nothing came of it. I was fine. It was just one of those things, right? But then again, what exactly is just ‘one of those things?’ This was a sinister situation. I was scared, and it made me wonder how many other women find themselves in similar or much worse positions everyday, and just dismiss it as ‘one of those things?’ Why is this a readily accepted facet of social interactions? Why is it that a women can be intimidated on a daily basis by the behaviour of some men, be that on public transport, in the street, or at the workplace and nothing be done about it? That we think we are not within our rights to do anything about it?

I’d really like to hear from other women who have felt their safety has been compromised on public transport or during any other part of their daily routine due to male attention. You can either message me through The F Word or send an e-mail to me on aco25@cantab.net. I would really like to put a blog together about this.

Photo by Sifter, shared under a Creative Commons License.

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