Sometimes I work at home and usually I don’t. I’m really lucky that my job provides me with a big heavy laptop, because it’s part of my strategy to maintain personal space on public transit. Despite having a chronic back injury, I deal with the weighty laptop bag every day to ensure a reduction of anxiety and an increase in my sense of safety on public transit by using the bag to ensure I have adequate personal space.
I didn’t even really realize how deliberate my strategy was until I thought about why I was bringing home a large, heavy object more often than necessary.
My Strategy For Ensuring Personal Space On Public Transit
The laptop bag fits next to me in a seat. It serves as a barrier between me and another person. Since I’m not very large, there is still exactly one half of a seat for someone else to enjoy. I keep my valuables in a separate purse or in the side of the bag that faces me.
Every now and then, someone violates the mores of personal space and interaction on public transit. Do they sprawl or stand too close in a manner that is intentional and creepy? Well, they get ‘ball-checked’ by an ‘accidental’ swing with my monstrously heavy bag. However, it does truly have to seem accidental – because that’s the only way I feel I can defend my personal space AND prevent the dude in question from following me off the train.
This isn’t limited to men, either. Occasionally, women also violate personal space. I’ve been elbowed by a gesticulating mall shopper and once I was nearly shoved off of a train platform by a woman in a hurry. You know what happened? They got ‘boob-checked’ – that is, the laptop bag went up in defense and hit them in a vulnerable area.
So I have a strategy. And it’s pretty fucked up that I have to have a strategy, because I’m sure if I just spoke up and said something like, “Excuse me, sir? Could you please stop constantly scratching your balls? I understand that it’s hot outside and you’re probably experiencing some serious chafing, but there are little kids here,” it would shame the offender into getting off the train at the next stop. Plus, I’m also sure that most of the women and men on the train would certainly take my side in that situation.
So Why Are We So Afraid To Speak Up When Our Personal Space Is Being Violated?
We are already experiencing anxiety from the offender’s aggressive behavior. Plus (especially for women), we feel like others will judge us as rude if we speak up. On public transportation, it’s also possible that an offender will follow you off the train. That’s not something I would want, especially not if I was getting into my car alone or walking several blocks to my destination.
Solutions To Public Transit/Personal Space Problems
Many others have dealt with this issue and I’ve seen a lot of women in particular share personal experiences online, and one such account on Facebook actually prompted me to write this. Even when it’s being joked about, the fear is real. A small minority of men do feel that they can just expand in a seat, take up space, trap you between their leg and a surface – or worse, trap you in an unwanted conversation while they expect you to sit there as they leer at you.
Two women have come up with solutions to this problem: the spiky dress and the expandable dress. Kathleen McDermott, inventor of the dress, said she did it because she “began to look for ways women could take more ownership over their personal space in public.”
According to the Daily Mail:
“Indeed, The New York Times reported a major New York transit hearing in 2009, which found that sexual harassment is the number one offense which ‘affects the quality of urban life’ on subways. Police said the peak times for those arrests was during morning and afternoon rush hours.
Ms McDermott’s dress, while comical to behold and admittedly entirely impractical, was designed more to establish a point than to actually manufacture and sell.” [Click here to read the full article.]
Ultimately, the most ideal solution would involve just saying something. After a long day at work, I just may muster the courage to loudly and publicly vilify the next egregious offender – or politely ask someone to stop encroaching on my space.
How do you deal with people encroaching on your personal space or harassing you on public transit? Please comment below.
- Good To Know When Traveling: NPR: How Different Cultures Handle Personal Space
- Westside Toastmasters: Space Invaders
- 12 Types Of People You Reluctantly Meet On Public Transit
- Men Taking Up Too Much Space On The Train
- The Flounce: Men Taking Up Too Much Space on the Subway 7 Turkey’s “Close Your Legs” Campaign