This Halloween a bunch of guys were The Patriarchy and scared the shit out of me. They didn’t need any fancy costume, or prop, or a particular backdrop. The character they portrayed was inherent in their slow gait between streetlamps, their passing gropes on the dance floor, and their ability to put me ill at ease. I ran into the first phantom of the patriarchy at an ill-lit bus stop near my dorm. Anxiously checking my phone for when the next bus would come, and scrolling past all of the cats on my Instagram feed, I didn’t notice him until he was too close. His voice made me jump. He wanted to know where I was going, what my name was, and did I know I was gorgeous? I wanted to melt into the shadows of the stop. He eventually gave up just as the bus arrived. Stepping into the halo of its well-lit interior, I felt a rush of relief.
I went to the second floor of the bus and collapsed into the seat. The tension in my shoulders eased. I had the second floor to myself and relaxed into the cushion of my chair. I was soon joined by two men. The next two perpetrators of the night. Instead of occupying a different corner of the empty floor of the bus, one sat across the aisle from me and the other directly behind me. I was cornered and once again uncomfortable. My phone had never been so fascinating. I made eye contact only with the dark English alleyways we passed. Still, somehow I was not invisible. The one across the aisle leered, legs spread open, as he sucked on a candy noisily. I could feel his eyes. I saw and heard a camera flash, still I kept my face averted. Despite my anti-social body language, he began to pepper me with questions. Where was I going, could he and his friend come, and did I know I was gorgeous?
He wanted to know my age and what my costume was. I was dressed as a Black Panther, complete with an afro, and despite being dressed as something powerful and strong, I felt weak and defenseless. I wanted to get up and go downstairs, to sit amongst other people, but I felt like that would be admitting defeat. I mentally kicked myself for going up to the deserted second floor. How dumb I thought, to have isolated myself in such a vulnerable way. I fought the urge to pull my skirt down, and immediately was angry with myself. My default was to get mad at myself for putting myself in a situation where I could be easily harassed rather than to get angry at the ones making me uncomfortable. I had every right to occupy any space I chose. Again, I breathed a sigh of relief once they got off of the bus, and took a moment to examine my knee-jerk reaction. I had blamed myself for the actions of men I didn’t even know, so deeply had the patriarchy embedded itself in me. Perhaps it was a part of my costume as well.
I contemplated these dynamics later that night as I found myself on the tube. I had headphones in, but no music was playing. The headphones were enough to deter the drunk guy at the tube station from continuing to yell at me about what party I was going to. I wanted to play music to drown out the voices, but it wouldn’t have covered the looks and I couldn’t afford to waste battery. I kept my eyes averted. I anxiously checked my phone’s depleting battery. Using it as a distraction from questions and undressing eyes, were detrimental to the battery percentage and I needed it to last.
I wondered if guys ever stressed about phone battery like me and my friends do. Not because we want to be able to take selfies all night (although that’s an added bonus), but because we want to ensure we have a means of rescue, escape, direction if we find ourselves alone at any point in the night. We go to the bathroom in groups because we don’t know what creeps we’ll encounter on the way there. I put my phone in power-save mode in the hopes of having enough battery at the end of the night to call an uber, if I once again found myself cornered at a bus stop. And not just to call the uber, but to google map my route home from the inside of the uber so I could be sure the driver was taking me to my intended destination and nowhere else. I’ve never been one for scary movies, or haunted houses. I think I’ve just always known that some things, not quite as seasonal as Halloween, are far scarier.