Catastrophe Cab

I recently cracked a joke that a girl isn’t a woman until she’s been sexually harassed, like some twisted rite of passage. But the thing is, I wasn’t really joking.

Men and guys have made me feel uncomfortable in the past. I’m actually afraid of men, because I’m scrawny and awkward and terrible at being assertive. The Isla Vista killings in May kicked up my fear a notch, especially because some people defended Elliot Rodger’s actions through statements like, “I’d be pissed if someone didn’t sleep with me either.” Even if you look up the #YesAllWomen tag on Twitter, you’ll find guys who dedicate their online lives to bashing anyone brave enough to use the hashtag.

So maybe it’s probably not right to say I’m afraid of men. I think it’s that I’m afraid of the idea that crimes against women happen and people write it off as “normal” or “expected.” Not all people think this. But enough do.

Like I said, I’ve had a few uncomfortable encounters with the opposite sex. All women do. I’ve been guilt-tripped, catcalled, and followed. Once at a party, I hid in my friend’s room to avoid talking to a boy who was very eager to get to know me -some mistake my utter lack of social skills for flirtation, it seems – and he went around asking everyone he had seen me with where I had gone.

So maybe it’s probably not right to say I’m afraid of men. I think it’s that I’m afraid of the idea that crimes against women happen and people write it off as “normal” or “expected.” Not all people think this. But enough do.

A few weeks ago, I had my first encounter with a man that actually left me terrified.

Before going into what happened, I’d like to emphasize (and really emphasize) that the situation I got into was not that bad, and I am lucky for that. I also have this disorder called anxiety that means I panic and anticipate the worst possible outcome for most situations. So this story is equally about fear and a man crossing the line.  Oh, and also about me being an idiot.

Here’s how it started: I was headed to LaGuardia and looking for the best spot to hail a cab. I find a cab with the light on, and the driver is just kind of standing in the middle of the street. But I needed to get to the airport, so I waved at him and we got in the vehicle. The typical “Where to?” was followed by another question: “Is my music okay?” Uh, yes I liked his music, it was Indian dance music. I felt like I was at a party and that this day couldn’t go wrong. I guess my driver felt the same way, because he kept talking. And because I’m stupid, this man learned a lot about me. Within 15 minutes, he knew that I was up for the summer for an internship but was heading home for a family vacation. He also knew that I had a boyfriend of three years.

Here’s where things started to get weird.

“Do you like to drink?” Is this a trick question? I said, “yeah, sometimes,” to avoid sounding weird. This whole conversation was weird, though.

“When you come back we should get a drink some time.” Let me just clarify that I thought he was kidding, so I joked back, “oh yeah, we should definitely get a drink,” and gave an awkward laugh. Then he told me to give him my phone number. I thought I’d outsmart him by getting his number and telling him I’d call him. Except that didn’t work, because immediately after I punched the number into my contacts, he cornered me by telling me to go ahead and call him now. Remember: zero social skills. Now some stranger who was at least 20 years my senior had my contact information. Great. Plus he was taking this “date” very seriously; now he wanted to take me to dinner too, and I was to never tell my boyfriend about hanging out.

I’m not sure whether people realize that they have the power to make others uncomfortable. Regardless, that power exists, and far too often it crosses a line.

Meanwhile, I was consulting in social media and trying to figure out if this was a normal thing. My friends on the Internet told me to get out. I couldn’t ask the driver to just pull over since we were going down a highway, so that was out of the question. The good thing about cabs is that drivers are required to display their information inside the vehicle, so I wrote that all down. Then I turned to one of the most intelligent and intimidating people I know: my dad.

Although there were some moments in our dialogue that scared me even more (like the text that said, “send me cab number and information in case he abducts you,”) having a real adult to talk to helped me feel like I had regained some control over the situation. Plus the driver stopped talking to me.  And contrary to my worst and wildest fears, he took me where I intended to go.

As soon as I got inside the airport, I called my dad and cried, like ugly cried. Some creep had my phone number. What if he kept calling or texting me and didn’t stop? Would he be able to find me? I felt helpless.

At the gate, my dad called me again with an idea.

“Do you still have his phone number?”

“Yeah.”

“Send it to me. I’m going to give your friend a call.”

I’m happy to say that the driver is still yet to contact me. You don’t mess with a Persian man’s daughter.

I learned a few things from my experience, such as the importance of communication. If something doesn’t feel right, you should let somebody know. You can also leave a social media trail if you fear the worst. Also, you’re not a bad person for not walking to talk to someone. Just plug in your headphones. Most importantly, all this means that women still have to keep their guard up in 2014. As awful as it sounds, we still have to expect the worst.

I’m not sure whether people realize that they have the power to make others uncomfortable. Regardless, that power exists, and far too often it crosses a line. People on both sides of the situation have to make efforts against it. There’s more to reducing sexual harassment than being careful. We’re not going to get anywhere until people start being considerate.

 

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