You’re saying it’s my duty to respond to a complete stranger because they find me attractive?

This past Saturday, I had a peculiar encounter with two men on the metro. I was on my way to see a friend, it was a sunny day and we’ve had few of them lately so I wanted to be out to soak up the sunshine. I boarded the train and sat in one of a few empty seats. There were men and women with children. I sat on a corner seat near the door for a quicker exit, with my earphones on as usual, taking in the tunes and staring at the emptiness passing by outside the train.

There was a man standing in front of the doors to my immediate right who looked as if he was waiting to exit the train. I saw him lean towards me saying something, I looked up at him, pulled out my right earphone and looked at him asking to repeat himself. “Is this train going towards barranca del muerto? I just want to check I’m heading in the right direction.” I nodded and responded, “yes,” putting my earphone back in its place. A few seconds passed and again he leaned over mouthing something. I glared straight ahead as if I had not heard him, but he continued and leaned closer, so again I pulled my earphone out with a look of inquiry. “…Are you heading home from work? Tired much?” is all I could make out. I smirked, “I’m actually headed to see my boyfriend,” to which he nodded in acknowledgment, returning to his place, standing tall in front of the door without any further questions. He got off two stations later.

A guy sitting immediately to my left had been glaring at me since I’d sat down. He witnessed what happened, and after the man standing in front of the door had exited the car, he laughed and said “you cut him off.” I had my earphones on with music still playing and ignored his comment. He then tapped me on my shoulder to repeat himself. I took my left earphone out with a look of inquiry and he repeated himself, “you cut him off.” I smirked in acknowledgement of his comment and placed my earphone back in my ear, observing the little girl and her mother sitting directly in front of me. I sat tall with a stern look on my face, thinking to myself, “if I look bothered or annoyed when he tries to talk to me, will he get the point?” the answer was no. The music playing in my earphones was loud, but he chose to ignore it and continued speaking, though all I made out was gestures and not a word of what he was trying to say. I rolled my eyes and stared ahead, calm and collected enjoying my playlist, but he continued.

I took my earphone out, let out a deep sigh of annoyance and turned over to him. “What’s wrong why can’t you just say hi, I already heard you have a boyfriend, no big deal, soon you’ll get off the train and I’ll never see you again” he said. “Right,” I acknowledged, “but what if I don’t want to have a conversation with you?” “I’m just being friendly, trying to talk to someone on the train, what’s wrong with that?” he replied. “That’s fine and all, but some people, like myself (I emphasized), just want to take a train ride from point A to point B, thinking about the things they want to think about, listening to music and keeping to themselves,” I tried to reason. “Where are you from? what do you do?” he inquired. “I really don’t feel like being interviewed,” I responded with an assertive tone. “But you’re in a world full of people, who want to interact, and I’m just being a gentleman trying to strike up a conversation, it would be rude of you to ignore me,” he responded.

Something inside me went off on hearing his misuse of the word “gentleman.” I thought about moving to another seat, but I wasn’t intimidated and the last thing I wanted was for him to think he could move me. Calmly, but quite annoyed I stared straight into the mother’s eyes who’d sat across from me all this time, responding to him, “what makes you think that I am rude for not responding, as opposed to you who are trying very hard to strike up a conversation with a complete stranger who is making it clear they do not wish to speak to you?” He paused for a few seconds, attempting to formulate a response. The mother stared at me with a slight smirk on her face.

With an air of accomplishment he responded slowly, as if the words coming from his mouth were spoken just as soon as he thought of each and every one of them, “You’re an attractive female, on a train full of people. There are going to be men who want to speak to you. You cannot be rude and just ignore them.” Time seemed to slow as he uttered these words, and in my mind, “Whaaaaat? Is this really happening? Did he just say that? What year is it?” Calling on all of my patience and serenity, I laughed.

I stared at him, confusion in my eyes and my mouth wide open as if staring at some unconscionable phenomenon. I then glared across at the child playing wistfully, her mother intent on our conversation. Slowly enunciating each and every word I said, “You’re saying it’s my duty to respond to a complete stranger because they find me attractive?” I paused, “That makes no sense … I owe you nothing, I owe all others who may think they have the right to a response, absolutely nothing … are you understanding me? … Nothing,” I repeated as the train pulled into my station. He blurted something out, but I’d tuned him out, aware of his determined ignorance.

I turned to him, smiled and said “have a nice day.” I walked out of the train laughing lightly. All I could think to do was laugh at the situation, though inside I was mad and shocked at the same time.

Daily I feel the gaze of men as I walk along the street or on public transportation. It’s very uncomfortable. To have someone say what this man said to me on the train was astonishing, but I almost wish I could have had more time to reason with him, to make him see it is not ok to put that burden on me of having to answer to anyone just because they believe I should, be I female or attravice, or both. He seemed so convinced of what he said. He genuinely believed that I was rude, and not he for pushing me to converse with him. It makes me wonder how the women he encounters in daily life deal with it, do they ignore him? do they fall for it? How did he ever come to believe he is entitled to a response? How many others like him are there? And, how many others like me?

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