I often refer to my daughter Mary in my musings. Mary’s life has been an incredible journey that has taken her on “roads less travelled” in more ways than one. Her courage, in the face of life-long challenges, continues to surprise and inspire me.
Mary wrote Instagram post for International Women’s Day, after an experience on the train last night. She asked me to read it to “check for mistakes”. When I agreed, I had no idea what it was about. I didn’t know what had happened to her on the train a few hours before. What I read was so brave and so inspiring, I found myself welling up with tears. I had to share it with you. If you feel moved to, please share it with your daughters, your sons … with any person who has ever cared about or been cared for, by women.
My name is Mary. I am a 29-year-old, mixed-raced, cisgender, brown-skinned woman. My brilliant mother is Indian, and my wonderful, late father was Caucasian.
I want to share an experience I had on the train last night. An experience I feel is important to share.
It was around 7pm, the usual train line I take to get to and from my home, a few times a week. My carriage was not busy; there were just a few seats taken. I had headphones in, and I was listening to a podcast, but it was quiet, so I could hear the few people speaking around me.
Two men were sitting on the opposite side of the carriage to me, a couple of meters away. They were not sitting together, but one had initiated a conversation with the other.
The conversation starter, a middle-aged, shirtless, white man with a bicycle, asked the other man what he had been doing today. I overhead that they had both been at the beach. Conversation-Starter complained, quite loudly, that everyone is constantly glued to their phones on trains, nobody talks to each other anymore. I was the only person sitting close enough to them to hear this. I felt his gaze move towards me.
I heard Conversation-Starter continue to talk about how people are so stuck to their phones. I felt his comments being directed towards me. The man he had been speaking to got to his train stop and exited.
I took my headphones off. I looked up, and I said, to Conversation-Starter, “excuse me, I overheard what you were saying, and there’s something I’d like to tell you. I can’t speak for everyone, but for myself and many other women, we don’t feel safe on public transport.
“When I look down at my phone and don’t make eye contact with anyone on the train, I do this to purposely not invite men to approach me. I feel safer when I have my phone between them and me.
“Myself, and other women, we don’t do this because we think every man is dangerous or a predator. We do this because there are enough dangerous, predatory men out there that we don’t know who we can trust. So, we are protecting ourselves. By looking at my phone, I am protecting myself. When I don’t talk to you, and I don’t look at you, I am protecting myself.”
I was terrified as I said this.
Conversation-Starter listened to me. He said that what I was saying was interesting, that he understood, and that it made sense. He told me that if it makes me feel safe, I should keep doing it. From the genuine surprise on his face, I could see that this perspective had never occurred to him.
I said to Conversation-Starter, “I think it’s important to know and understand that sometimes people do these things because they move through the world differently from you.”
Conversation-Starter nodded. He then began to talk in a way that I didn’t quite comprehend.
“You have to be careful; you don’t want to end up like them, people that it’s already happened to.”
I replied, “I’m confused by what you’re saying. I don’t know what you mean.”
My mind was spinning. I felt my spine and my stomach prickling with discomfort. Did he mean I don’t want to end up like women who have already been assaulted? Did he mean to shame these women, as if I was doing something that they weren’t, and that’s why, in his mind, nothing bad would happen to me? I didn’t know what he meant. But I knew I felt immediately unsafe.
Then, Conversation-Starter said, I’m John. I didn’t owe him my name, so I returned to my phone. He said, I guess you don’t want to be talked to right now? I replied, “Yes, I don’t.” I gave a small smile.
John left the train. We had been stopped at Perth station for several minutes, waiting for the train line to change to the line that I take home, and he was getting off at Perth. It seemed he had only stayed on the train because I was there.
I started to feel my anxiety build. The interaction had left me feeling strange and unsettled.
A young, black woman got onto the carriage at Perth station, where the train had been sitting for a few minutes. She sat a couple of seats down from me. Turning to the young woman, I asked, “excuse me, could I please talk to you for a minute?” She said yes. I moved a couple of seats down, so I was closer. I asked, “do you know the feeling when sometimes you are on the train, and you feel unsafe around people?” The young woman replied, yes. I said, “that just happened to me. Would it be ok if I sit with you and talk to you so that I can calm down?” I felt tears building up in my eyes.
The young woman said yes, I could sit with her. I thanked her.
I asked the young woman, “what do you do when this happens to you, and you feel scared?” She told me that if she can, she will move seats. I said, “what if he followed me?” She said that happened to her once. A group followed her. But she found transit guards on the train, and she stayed by them. They waited with her until she got to her station. Remember, she told me, that before anyone could get to you, there would be other people around that would intervene. I nodded. Her train stop was close by, and she got up. I thanked her for talking to me as she left. She said, no problem.
I got to my stop. By this point, there were transit guards by the door of the train, inside my carriage. I paused as I left the train, and I said to them, “thank you for doing your job. I don’t always feel safe. But I know that if you are on the train, I am safe.” They smiled. I could see this in their eyes, despite their masks. They said I was very welcome and wished me a good night.
I got home safely.
Today is International Women’s Day.
I want to feel safe.
If you’d like to support Mary’s own post on instagram, here is the link: International Women’s Day – Mary Parker