Being an ally can lead to uncontrollable crying on a train. Like what happened to me. But I'll do it again. And again. And again.
It’s just gone 21:30, and I’m on a train heading home. My husband is thousands of miles away in South Africa with his mother, mourning the death of his father who died of Covid a few days ago.
I’ve gone out to meet some friends who are watching the football. English vs Czech Republic. I can’t stand football. But I go. I even wear red and white to show my support to this country that has given me a safe home for two years. Go, England *waves pompoms*
I decide to catch the 21:30 train home because it means I’ll be home by 22:00 and I have to be up early. Plus, I only leave my dog alone for four hours at a time. That’s our limit. We can’t be apart from each other longer than that. Our hearts start to get sore. Also, the cat is recovering from the trauma of a routine vet visit today, and he might kill her. (No, really. He shouted at me for an hour after we got home. Ass.)
I skedaddle as the second half is starting. England are 1-0 up. I’ve chatted with some friends. The sun is still out in London, the rain has cleared away, it’s gorgeous.
I feel better than I’ve felt in a long time. Watching your spouse grieve is very hard.
The decision to catch the earlier train is either a blessing or a fat fucking curse. It also reminds me of the importance of male allies, and its enormous lack.
The carriage is quiet. I’m standing near the door. There’s a woman sitting at the end of the carriage. Across the aisle from her is a man (Man 2). Behind him is another man (Man 3). Man 1 makes his way over to where she’s sitting and sits opposite her. This is what transpires:
Man 1 (the one who's made his way over): Hello darling.
Man 1: You’re very beautiful.
Man 1: Can we swap numbers?
Woman: I have a boyfriend
I've seen this happen before. I've got involved before. I mentally prepare myself for whatever the next few minutes hold.
Man 1: Oh, come on. Give me your number, darling.
Woman: (laughs nervously) No.
Man 1: Does he treat you right?
Woman: (laughs nervously) Yes
Man 1: Good. You sure about that?
Woman: (laughs nervously)
Man 1: What would he say about me coming over and trying to get into your…
I go and sit opposite her and say to her, loud enough for him to hear, ‘Are you OK?’ She looks at me, relieved. She nods.
Man 1: (to me) Are YOU all right?
I don’t reply
Man 1: Are YOU all right, love?
Me: (turn and look at him) I’m good!
Me: (to woman) Do you want to move?
She shakes her head
Me: Where is your stop?
Hers is the last stop on the line. Mine is much sooner. I start preparing myself mentally to stay on the train with her until the end of the line. I’ll be home late. It’s okay.
Man 1 gets up and starts having a conversation on his phone. He moves away. She and I exhale together and shake our heads.
The woman thanks me. She gets up and moves to another carriage. Before she’s gone, I say to her, indicating to the men sitting opposite us: “It’s a pity these men couldn’t say anything.”
She walks away.
Man 2 is angry that I've called him out on his failure. His bystander approach. His poor behaviour. His impotence. His LACK. I've hurt his feelings. He lets rip at me. He's yelling. Then he's standing. He's standing and yelling.
I can’t remember everything he said, but it went something like this:
Man 2: What is your problem? I wanted to say something, but I couldn’t. I thought you did a really good thing there, but you just want attention. You just want everyone to look at you. You’re on such a power trip. You’re really something, aren’t you? Why’d you have to go and say that? You just want attention. You feminists.
Me: Yup. I’m a feminist. (More than that, I'm a feminist ally)
Man 2: There’s a difference between being a feminist and being sexist. You’re sexist. You just want attention. You want everyone to look at you. I was going to tell you what a good job you did.
Me: I don’t need you to tell me what a good job I did.
He continues yelling at me. I don’t speak. I’m surrounded by three men. He calls me a dick.
I start to laugh. He goes quiet.
Man 1 is sitting one seat away from me, now. He’s listening to everything Man 2 is saying. Man 3 is muttering angrily under his breath and nodding at everything Man 2 is saying.
I don’t move away. I will not move away. Fuck them.
The train slows down. Man 1 moves to the door. In the time it takes for the train to stop and the doors to open, Man 1 says to me: You're all right, love. It's all right. You're gonna be all right. (Then he says to Man 2) You talk to the pretty ones and the ugly ones get jealous and have to cause a problem. I’m mortified.
Me: You should be mortified.
Man 2: If I was your boyfriend, I’d jump off a cliff.
I want to scream at him and say, my "boyfriend" would never behave like a predatory shitstain. I want to scream at him that my "boyfriend" is at home in South Africa looking after his mother who has just lost her husband of fifty years in the most devastating way. I want to scream at them that they should think about what other people are going through instead of getting on trains and insinuating their gross entitlement into the faces of lone women who are just trying to get home.
But I don’t.
I’m surrounded by them.
So, I just cry. The tears well and spill. I don’t move. I don’t wipe them.
A woman is getting off the train at the same time as Man 1. She holds the door open and asks if I’m okay. I can see she’s as worried about me as I was about the woman sitting on the train.
I look at her and tell her loudly and forcefully that I’m absolutely fine. The tears are welling and spilling. She looks worried but lets the door close.
I still don’t move. These men must look at me. They must feel me there. I can't stop crying.
I get to my stop. I’m still crying. I get off and message my bestie. Because she knows. Other women know.
She phones me and tells me I’m okay and reminds me that what I did was good. And she also reminds me that I live in a world where men are allowed to harass and shout at women on trains. Especially when you hurt their feelings. She reminds me that I’m safe and I’m home.
I start to write.
Ashleigh is a copywriter who helps women find their authentic voices, so they can weave it into their business and their branding, and rise. Boom.
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