Harassment or Performance Art? My train ride home

Photo Credit: pameladrew212 on flickr

As I boarded a Flatbush Ave-bound 2 train after a long day of school and studying, I was looking for nothing more than a peaceful ride. I have become quite used to panhandling subway performers, and as such, they don’t normally disrupt my ride. However, tonight was different. Three young men boarded the train with a boombox, and expecting the usual show of tricks and acrobatics, I tucked my bag under my seat, and sat back. I was immersed in my reading when the music started and one of the young men began to gyrate in front of the woman sitting next to me. 

She didn’t say anything, and I thought she clearly looked uncomfortable, but felt it wasn’t my place to stay anything. I only peered out of the corner of my eye as I tried to avoid drawing attention to myself, but it made little difference. The “performer” moved in front of me, his knees almost touching the edge of the seat on either side of me, his pelvis disturbingly close to my face. Channeling the feminist energy of this class, I looked up. Though I was put off by the fact that the man was wearing a mask, I said firmly and clearly “This is harassment.”

While the two men with the masked performer immediately reacted to my statement (“What’d she say?” “She said that’s harassment yo!”) the masked man himself simply moved on to another woman. He went throughout the car, performing his lap dance routine on various passengers, occasionally getting creative and hanging from the handlebars or sliding down a poll. I had only been re-immersed in my reading when I heard laughter on the train–it appeared that what I had clearly interpreted as inappropriate behavior was now being enjoyed by most of the passengers on the train. The woman sitting next to me gave the performer some money; for this her reward was an especially impassioned lap dance.

As the performer took his bow and most of the train car applauded, I came to a sudden realization that I was the only white woman on the train, and that all three men were black. While I know I wasn’t in the mood for anyone’s pelvis to be in my face on my train ride home–be it white or black, male or female–I wondered how my statement has been interpreted in this space.

But I stand by it. I bought a $2.25 train ride, not a $2.25 lap dance.

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About Kaitlyn O'Hagan

Kaitlyn is a Macaulay Honors student at Hunter College, where she studies History and Public Policy.