Just Wrong

I got on the S9 on Wednesday at Stadelhofen to go to Eoin’s. He was cooking dinner. I was going directly from a photography exhibition that I had gone to after work. It had been a long day and I wasn’t feeling particularly attractive, but a bit tired and wilted.

I sat on the upper deck, as usual. A man got on and sat down across from me at HB. I was reading something on my phone and I didn’t pay him much attention. He was probably in his early 40s, wearing a grey t-shirt and jeans. I noticed a movement out of the corner of my eye and instinctively glanced over. His hand was on his jeans and I could see a pretty distinctive shape beneath. I looked away quickly, thinking he could have been, I don’t know, readjusting maybe. I looked back at my phone and noticed another movement. When I looked up again, he was staring directly at my face and his hand was moving over and back across the bulge. No mistaking it this time. It was as of he wanted me to know what he was doing. I stood up immediately, muttered “Well fuck this”, and moved to a different seat at the back. He got off at Hardbrücke (no pun intended). I met Claire off the train and she also felt sick at the thought of it, so at least I didn’t feel like I was overreacting.

I made a joke out of it when I got to Eoin’s. Both he and Brian restored my faith with their reaction of complete disgust.

It couldn’t have been more than three minutes between HB and Hardbrücke but that man managed to make me feel really…disgusting, as if I had somehow done something wrong, and I can’t pinpoint why.

When I’ve mentioned the incident to other female friends, many of them have similar stories in Zürich. One friend was running in Enge one evening and saw a man whose hand she thought was in his pocket. She noticed, as she got closer, that it wasn’t the pocket it was in and there were some distinctive movements happening at the same time. She said he stared at her as she ran past and she heard him make noises. This was on a busy street at 18:00 with children around. Another was walking home through a quiet park one evening and was confronted by a man who blocked her path and started masturbating in front of her. She turned and ran.

It’s hard to explain how this makes us feel, and I know guys who think we’re overwrought or overly sensitive about it, but it really feels like being violated. It’s as if these men have reduced us to something less than human, that doesn’t warrant engagement, that’s just there to serve some weird sexual thrill fulfilment. And no, it is in no way flattering, it’s horrible.

I’m very aware that this is not the behaviour of a well-adjusted person but I’m at a loss to know what to do if it happens again. And it will happen again. I know in Ireland it would constitute a sexual offence but I have no idea about Switzerland. And would it just be a waste of time anyway? Would the police even bother with it? So then are we just suppose to put up with it?

I genuinely don’t know and I still feel pretty gross.

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