Friday, July 25, 2008

on the bus

I am an observer. Or voyeur. Whatever. I like watching. Pervy? Sure; I blame my mother. She would sit on the couch and watch our neighbors like she was getting paid to do so.

She'd flip the blinds a little and say, "Hmph. Mrs. Jones is spending a lot of time at home."

"So are you, mom."


Anyway, my genetically inherited practice of keeping an eye out on the world kicked in yesterday when I was riding the bus down Michigan Avenue. It was morning, one of those gorgeous robin's egg blue mornings, and the bus was not yet full. I stood by the rear exit since I was just riding up to the river and an older man sat to my right, in the seat closest to the aisle.

Halfway up the avenue, a dark haired young woman rang the bell for a stop and de-bused. (Like 'de-planed,' see?) As soon as she hit the sidewalk to transfer to another bus, the older man to my right slid quickly to the window, pulled off his sunglasses and pressed his face to the window where he began to devour that woman with his gaze.

(That's a phrase I used to read in my mother's old romance novels - 'he devoured her with hungry eyes' - and I could never picture what that looked like until now.)

I'm not kidding. He ate her up. Think of the look a person gets on their face when they pass a shop window and see something they want. I see it when I pass the Bentley dealership and a man is bumping his head on the plate glass to get closer. The man on the bus was like that. He kept his face pressed to the window, turning to keep her in view as the bus slowly pulled away. Then, when the woman was no longer visible, he just put his glasses back on and slid back to his original seat.

His face immediately fell back into the stoic, blank expression he was wearing before the woman got off the bus and he stared straight ahead, his eyes now hidden behind his glasses. He didn't even care that I had watched him do it. It was past since his object was gone.

I've seen this before. Just a week or so ago, I was standing at a LaSalle bus stop during lunch hour next to a short man in a gray suit. It was a hot, bright day. The street was crisscrossed with people rushing to and from lunch. I noticed the man had a pattern. He'd step into the street, look for the bus, grumble at his watch then, if a woman was approaching his location, he'd grow still, track her with his eyes, and as the woman passed, he'd turn on his heel and stare at her until she disappeared.

I did this with him a few times. It was creepy. It was like he was in a cuckoo clock and this is how he marked the minutes passing.

When you're a woman, you train yourself to be blind to these things. If you registered every gaze, every stare, or leer our brains would explode. It doesn't matter if we're pretty, old, young, plain, fat or thin. We still feel the eyes on us all the time.

It's maddening.
In related news, it was reported that "Nearly two-thirds of Egyptian men admit to having sexually harassed women in the most populous Arab country, and a majority say women themselves are to blame for their maltreatment, a survey showed Thursday.

The forms of harassment reported by Egyptian men, whose country attracts millions of foreign tourists each year, include touching or ogling women, shouting sexually explicit remarks, and exposing their genitals to women."

No, it's not about culture. It's about patriarchy.

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