Space on the Bus

Video belongs to TotallyBiased

Street harassment is not flattering. It is annoying and gross and even terrifying, and it happens all the time. This is how it feels.

A group of men in team jerseys sit in the back, catcalling up the aisle as women board. A group of men in suits tell a woman to sit by them, then laugh and yell insults when she ignores them. A man sits behind me, then again when I switch seats. Another man sits across from me, and follows me off onto a deserted street. They are all old enough to be my father.

Can’t we get some space on the bus?

One bus driver smirks at me when I board. He ignores my stop request, even as I stand at the front of the aisle and point out his mistake. He only pulls over to pick up a new passenger, two stops later.  I take the bus at a different time. When I see That Passenger, I am glad my haircut renders me unrecognizable. Instead of rambling about virginity again, both flirting with and infantilizing me, he barely glances up.

Can’t we get some space on the bus?

People don’t sit next to me as often when I wear my baggiest hoodie. One man jumps when he sees my skirt, and changes course to sit next to instead of across from me. I dress to pass as male. It works. I get some space on the bus.

Men stare at me one the bus and subway. I watch their reflections in the dark windows. They never look above my shoulders. I turn around. They refuse eye contact. Their reflections continue to dart glances at my legs, my butt. I plan escape routes in case one follows me again.

A cab driver at a red light honks as I pass him. A teenage boy smacks my butt as he runs past. Young men elbow each other as I walk past and stare at me as they discuss the various merits of my body. Older men leaning against walls tell me to smile. I walk quickly so they won’t bother talking to me. I practice expressions in the mirror until I find the most intimidating one that isn’t actively threatening. I consider buying mace.

Home is sanctuary, and outside that cage is the zoo. Can’t we leave home without being put on exhibit? Can’t we exist in public as humans with things to do instead of objects of amusement?

Can’t we get some space on the bus?

Surveillance Culture and (Not So) Digital Harrassment

Cyberspace is a place of visibility where producers lose control of their content at an viral rate. It is the stage of mass exhibitionism and mass voyeurism, a surveillance culture like those explored in We Live in Public, and that openness has given birth to cyberstalking.

Image by Paintedrose13

How easily can internet users separate their digital presences from “real life?” The web seems like the perfect place to escape from the oppression of a person’s physicality. It is a place where anyone can adopt any identity, regardless of their offline appearance—except that the digital and physical worlds often play off each other. We use email and Facebook to augment our IRL relationships, and friendships (and romances) formed online frequently lead to physical meetings. Even when we separate our online personas from our offline identities, we often talk about our lives: annoying coworkers or customers, family difficulties, funny stories about friends. Maybe we discuss romances and school, or mention the current weather or a local store offhand.

Our anonymous accounts begin to describe us. References to being female on Reddit are oft-met with comments announcing whether or not the woman has posted nude pictures on the site, and pictures of “attractive” (slim, White, clear-skinned, apparently close to the age of consent but on which side is dubious) women are met with sexually harassing private message and photographs of penises (“unattractive” women are harassed publicly and violently). Implicating oneself as female in FPSs inspires enemies and teammates alike to abandon strategy in favor of (team)killing the trespassing woman.

The digital realm, allegedly an escape from the inequality and danger that women face offline, is transformed into a minefield, where a single misstep can permanently destroy a persona. A single instance of revealed (or mistaken) identity results in days-weeks-months of harassment, depending on the victim’s continued use of a given persona and the location in cyberspace that the victim identified as: a woman/person of Color/ transgendered person/non-heteronormative/having a mental disorder or physical disability/a combination of any of these.

The harassment does not always end with the deletion of a given online persona. Woe betide the person who utilizes the same username for different webspaces. And if a harasser locates a victim’s Facebook, workplace, real name, telephone number, or address, the rest is relatively easy to discover. If the victim is unfortunate enough, isolated harassment becomes full-blown stalking, complete with cyberbullying across multiple websites, defacement and take-downs of their personal sites, and threatening phonecalls. Reddit is fond of financial attack by “pizza bomb.”

The digital is inextricably connected to the physical, because it is produced by people who exist offline. The internet enables instantaneous global communication, and can thus provide a safe space for people living in homogeneous environments, but also provides a record of its users’ activities and opens users to the threats of harassment and stalking. Prosumers do place not only their content, but also themselves, before the eyes of the online world—and all its offline users.