Tonight, a man approached me on the train platform in Hollywood and asked me if I wanted to be his “train buddy.” He said he was going to MacArthur Park, but was willing to ride with me to wherever I was going. When I said “No,” he replied, “Are you sure? You look like we would have a good time together.” He then began to follow me as I rushed to the next approaching train car.
As soon as he made his advance, I thought about Janese Talton-Jackson, Mary Spears, and all of the other Black women who have been murdered for refusing a man’s advances. I hate to admit it, but in that moment I was terrified. As much as I like to think that I’m exempt from this type of violence, the reality is that one encounter like this could easily end in tragedy. And as much as I desire to have the answer, I’m not sure how to combat this reality. I feel powerless against aggressive men who don’t know how to respect women’s minds, bodies, and wishes. Just this morning, a man stared at me on the train and kept asking me questions and calling me beautiful until he discovered that I was “taken.” Until he perceived me to be the property of another man, he considered me to be his. The look of disappointment on his face when I broke the news reflected a deep-seated sense of entitlement. He genuinely believed that he had the right to me so long as I was single, never mind if I was interested in him or not. It was only until I was declared relationally unavailable that I was off limits.
I know that these dynamics may seem confusing to some–Why is it so problematic for a man to compliment a woman? Don’t women want that? The problem lies not in the compliment, but in the approach. It’s the complete disregard of a woman’s social cues and body language, and the refusal to take no for an answer. It’s the consistent and relentless questioning of our decisions. Are you sure you don’t want my number? You can’t have friends? Why can’t you smile? Damn.
This is why women sit silent on the train. If we dare to speak to strangers, it may end in an unwanted advance, assault, or death. It’s not a matter of being “nice.” It’s a matter of life and death. And if you think I’m being dramatic, talk to the women who have been verbally abused, stabbed and shot over a simple and dignified “no.” This world is not safe for women, and is especially dangerous for Black women. I should not have to fear for my life on the train platform, in dark alleys, or if I dare to walk alone at night. It is enough to condemn the behavior of violent men. We must train boys and men to respect women so that our girls can grow up in a world that rewards their agency instead of punishing them for it. And lastly, we must continue to fight for our freedom –one brave “no” at a time.