how to handle aggressive women on the subway?
November 28, 2018 11:22 PM   Subscribe

I seem to be having more problems recently with people getting aggressive on me in the subway. Stuff like, shoving me aside for seats, stepping on me, hitting me with bags and umbrellas and strollers. The difficulty comes when these are women, often small and white, sometimes quite old. I am not these things, and am concerned that responses which would be only appropriately confrontational with men might be seen as excessive. Could the hive mind help me calibrate my response? Or better yet, avoid this stuff in the first place?

Recent examples:

1. Stood over me with a box in a tote bag, hit my head with it. I figured the train must have lurched without my noticing, so I just waved it off. She then hit me three more times, once while we were stopped in the station, until I pushed her bag firmly aside and asked, "Miss, are you deliberately hitting me?" To which she said, "No," but also didn't hit me any more.

2. Sat down next to me by flopping down on me and bouncing off into the seat. The train was stopped, so I don't think she just missed the seat. Then crossed her arms and legs so that her knees and elbows pressed against me. (Before you ask, my thighs were less than parallel.) I had no idea what to do, so I just kept reading.

3. I was holding onto a pole s.t. my arm was between her and an empty seat. She put her shoulder under my elbow and forced it upward so that my elbow hyperextended and I had to let go of the pole. She then ducked under my arm and sat down.

4. We were queued up at the sides of the door waiting for people to get off. She rammed her stroller into my ankle. I looked back and she waved me forward. People were still trying to get off. After a moment, she tried to steer the stroller around me. I wedged my foot before one of its wheels until the doorway was clear, then got on myself. She rammed me with the stroller again as I boarded.

5. Stepped on my foot. Not that it had been out before, but I pulled it farther back, well under the seat. She sat down next to me. I tapped her on the elbow and said, "Ma'am, you stepped on me. Please be more careful." She said, "Okay, fine."

Could the hive mind suggest any specific language or actions for responding to such behavior in a way that would not be considered excessive or threatening?

Although asking for guidance on the response almost seems like the wrong question: in many cases, once I've been stepped on / struck / rammed, the deed is done and there's not much to be said about it. Is there any way to prevent this stuff?
posted by meaty shoe puppet to Human Relations (65 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
1. I think she wanted you to get up and give her your seat without having to actually ask. What you said was a fine response and fixed her poor behavior. I would consider, though, if these women are often quite old if they feel they have stronger need for seat space. A number of seats on public transport have preferential signage for elderly, disabled, and pregnant people but often in crowded situations they can get claimed by happenstance and then aren't relinquished when someone in such a category shows up.

2. I would assume the intended subtext is that you were taking up too much space, but you indicate you weren't. I think again you can just say something like, "Please don't invade my personal space." Sometimes people just behave uncomfortably for whatever reason.

3. It sounds like you were blocking access to an open seat and may not have noticed earlier, more subtle cues to that effect and she got exasperated and acted rudely. Try to not physically block desirable locations as much as you can. Even if you need to hold onto a pole to stabilize, for instance, you might temporarily let go when the train is stopped if your arm otherwise blocks access to an open seat.

4. I would say something like, "Please stop hitting me with your stroller, people are still getting off of the train and I can't move yet," right after the first hit while turning my head to make eye contact. People in crowded cities use strollers as shields/weaponry sometimes. It's a pervasive behavior.

5. This one sounds like an accident to me. She should have preemptively apologized, but may not have even realized it was a foot rather than a bag or just the train lurching... What you said was fine though I would prefer just speaking to rather than also tapping the person.

You can't fully prevent this sort of thing, but being mindful of your and everyone else's needs in the moment helps, as does carrying a large, full bag that you can position between yourself and everyone else as a buffer. Also, people who shove other people aside for seats are definitely being hostile, but are also clearly desperate for a seat for whatever reason. If you head to a less desirable area in the train (not the seats, not right in the door zone, more in the back/middle) I think you'll have fewer of these incidents.
posted by vegartanipla at 12:12 AM on November 29, 2018 [18 favorites]

I don't know if I managed to fully articulate what I was trying to get at so - when people perceive someone else as having already broken the social contract (driving slowly in the left/passing lane, for instance) they tend to be much more likely to respond in a way that also breaks the social contract (tailgating or passing on the right and then merging too closely in front of the slowpoke in the left or brakechecking) than if you're following it (driving slowly in the right lane). I think #1 and #3 definitely and possibly #2 perceive you as having already broken the social contract.
posted by vegartanipla at 12:37 AM on November 29, 2018 [52 favorites]

I think vegartanipla is probably correct in those responses, but reading your question made me realize that I basically view public transportation as a kind of free-for-all, where there is likely to be random stepping-on, bumping, rude or borderline rude behavior, boundary-pushing, etc. I try really hard to be mindful of my space and considerate and apologize if I bump/step on others, but it does happen, and sometimes it happens without me realizing it.

Sometimes, as vegartanipla points out, if someone breaks the social contract, I might dramatically break the social contract in return (example, I was once on an empty bus with a big suitcase and someone decided to sit RIGHT NEXT TO ME forcing, forcing me to put big heavy suitcase on my lap, and I rode a couple of incredulous stops before making a big show of forcing them to move so I could flounce to another seat). But...I've been riding public transportation regularly for more than 20 years, I've done it in cities all over the world, I've seen all kinds of outrageous behavior, and I'm struggling to think of a time I've *ever* verbally responded to someone's behavior. Sometimes if I'm really exasperated I might roll my eyes or sigh (or flounce), see above, but I just don't think any of the situations you described require a response. It's public transportation, everyone's tired and grumpy and crammed on there and just trying to get where they're going, and some of them are ruder/more oblivious than others. The only situations where I'd speak up would be if someone were groping/harassing me or someone else.

Okay, looking back, I would want someone's bag to stop hitting me, so for #1, I would probably say to the person, "Sorry, your bag is hitting me." Asking someone if they're deliberately hitting you definitely sounds overly aggressive even if you think that's what's going on.
posted by tiger tiger at 12:57 AM on November 29, 2018 [8 favorites]

P.S. If it matters for the context of my responses, I *am* a small white woman (though I am not elderly). And writing that also makes me realize . . . small women tend to get crushed a lot in public transportation? So, uh, we may appear to be fighting for our space a bit sometimes.
posted by tiger tiger at 1:00 AM on November 29, 2018 [50 favorites]

None of your examples seem particularly aggressive. Accidentally hitting someone with a bag or stepping on someone's foot is completely normal occurrence. I mean, it's a cramped small, MOVING, space where everyone is stressed at getting to work/ school/ somewhere.

You may have better coordination or muscles than most people, well done you, but these accidents do not seem to be particularly directed at you. It's just happens. It's public transport.

Choosing to bring it up is aggressive. If you go looking for a fight, you will get one. Do what everyone else does, get some noise cancelling headphones and music and ignore everyone and everything.
posted by moiraine at 1:19 AM on November 29, 2018 [30 favorites]

4 and 5 sound like accidents to me that just happen on public transport and I wouldn't say anything, unless it's more than an annoyance and it hurts a lot. In that case, I would say something like "Ouch, that really hurt". Strollers are difficult to operate in public transport, you have to mind your stuff, your baby, it's hard. Traditionally, that meant that people gave mothers/grandmothers with strollers some extra space, offered to help them, etc.

Stepping on your foot, I don't know, maybe I live in a space that's more crowded than you, but that's definitely just a thing that happens sometimes and it's annoying, but not a reason to tell grown women to "please be more careful" as if they're your child. I'm curious what you would say to men that you feel is "appropriately confrontational" for a situation like this, and I wonder if that's a thing that you would say to literally all men who do that or if there are also men where you think "yeah no, probably not, better to just let this go". If there's, say, a big group of drunk football supporters and one of them happens to bump into you, do you really confront him? I wonder if it's possible that you feel more wronged when a small older woman is inconsiderate because you feel like they're not supposed to be.
posted by blub at 1:21 AM on November 29, 2018 [19 favorites]

In the case of the first woman, you could/should have offered her your seat, especially if her bag was particularly huge.

In the second case with the bodily spreading, that is a preemptive defensive maneuver that I, a small woman, have employed myself. It's a tired of this shit very long day spiky spiky don't fuck with me kind of thing. I think that actually your response of doing nothing was the right choice. You could have also stood up and moved to a different seat if it was available, or just stood up and moved away and held onto a pole. Another thing that you can begin to do in the future is cross your ankles and tuck your knees in, which can help even the thickest thighed person take up less perceived space (this is part of why women were taught to do so for generations.) But really, I wouldn't read much into this one. Sometimes people just have bad days, and have bad coordination and you can't do anything about it.

For the pole thing, try to have better situational awareness. It sounds like you didn't realize that you were blocking a seat. I've definitely spaced out like this before and that's okay, but if there are empty seats near you try to notice them and make sure you're not blocking them off. You could try holding higher onto a pole so your arm is further out of the way of shorter people, maybe.

For the stroller ramming and foot stepping, that just happens. There's nothing you can really do to prevent it if you're traveling at rush times. I mean, I recently spent a week in Tokyo and was pretty much on trains the entire time and even though it's one of the most polite and well organized public transportation cultures in the world I still got bumped into a bunch and got my bag smushed into a few times. I mean, you could revisit your commute and see if there are less busy times or routes you could travel, if this was really something you were looking to control. You could be on constant lookout for strollers and avoid them. But sometimes feet get stepped on.

I guess my real advice to you is to try not to let cognitive bias work against your inner peace, here. For every time you get jostled or you feel pressured to give up your seat or whatever, there have surely been many more times that you've had a perfectly fine commute where nothing untoward occurs. I think that we all must endure the communal indignity of public transportation together. People can't be expected to be at their best there - and you don't have to expect it of yourself, either. Just give your seat to people who need it more, be aware of your surroundings, and let bygones be bygones.
posted by Mizu at 1:26 AM on November 29, 2018 [19 favorites]

It's easier to do something that can be passed off as an accident than to ask someone (who is bigger and male) to move - that can start a conversation where the response is a violent, agressive refusal. In number 3, if she asked you to move, there was the potential for you to come back with verbal agression or a whole number of other things; shoving past you is both tacitly acceptable on many public transport systems, and also means that if you challenge her she can respond with "oh, sorry, I didn't mean to/didn't see your arm". The act can be dismissed and the situation defused with an apology, which is actually less easily done if she opened with a polite request. It's a variation on "it's better to ask forgiveness than permission" - in this case, asking forgiveness is the option which is perceived as safer for the woman concerned.

You also say that you're not a small white woman. Everyday racism codes non-white men as more threatening to white women than white men (untrue, obviously). Therefore, there may be an increased liklihood that you'll experience the above than other people, which might be what you're noticing.

As for advice: ride the London Underground in rush hour for a week (or similarly epically crowded transport system). There you will be stomped on, pushed past, hit with bags and jabbed with elbows at minimum once every two minutes for your entire journey. You can then return to your usual commute able to pretty much ignore it whenever anything like that happens.
posted by Vortisaur at 1:36 AM on November 29, 2018 [10 favorites]

So move out of the way ya big lug! Look, I've spent a couple decades on subways and in busses and they are jostle - y places. If someone goes all the way to act aggressively towards me, I assume the fault is mine - I'm... well now I'm older but for a while I was a regular bigger, blue-er collar joe and not always attuned to other people, so if someone is shoving me, I know I've probably inadvertently crowded them. It's easy for me to give up my seat to some old lady or someone pushing a stroller or what have you. Because I can and if I can make someone else's day a bit easier, I've found, someone will return the favor. We're all in the subway together, help each other out, generate some good feeling, everything is better.
A couple years ago I had to get a driver's license here, in Germany, and one of the ideas they put forward is that you as a car driver are responsible for the well-being and safety of the people on bicycles and motorcycles or on foot - because you have this big thing you're moving around, you gotta look out for the people you might accidentally crush.
Same on public transport. I'm not the biggest but I'm among the strongest and most mobile, so I try to look out for those less strong and less mobile. And I feel good showing off that power by helping out. Sometimes that's all I've got to show for my day and, you know, you take it where you can get it.
posted by From Bklyn at 1:39 AM on November 29, 2018 [50 favorites]

1. Just because you stopped getting hit by the bag doesn't mean she was hitting you on purpose, after you pointed it out she may have made more of an effort to keep the bag still. Also consider that if she was loaded with bags and you weren't, especially if she was an older lady, maybe you should have offered her your seat. That would have solved the problem

2. Not sure what you mean by your thighs being less than parallel... do you mean your knees were together so you were already taking up at little space as possible? She may have missed the seat, just because the train wasn't moving doesn't mean she didn't lose her balance or misjudge things - I'm dyspraxic so my body doesn't always do what I want. Clumsiness exists. Are you saying she sat cross legged on the seat like you would sit on the floor? That's a little odd but I suspect there's an element of paying for the crimes of your gender here. "Man-spreading" has been a hot button issue for a while now. She's encroaching on your space to prevent you encroaching on hers (although if she was a small lady, its hard to see how crossing her arms would take up more than her "fair" space - if you're a large person - I get it, I am too - so even if you're making yourself as small as possible, you might be taking up more than your "fair share" of space) - without seeing you and her and the situation, its hard to make a call there.

3. You were 100% in the wrong here. You were blocking an open seat with your arm, and didn't move it when a person approached to use the seat, and only let go when your arm was forced. Yes, she could have asked you to move your arm, but she shouldn't have to. Also as has been pointed out, a smaller lady politely asking a large man to move, is not always responded to politely.

4. Some people are just rude and weren't taught that you should let people get off before you get on. IMO, she was totally shoving you on purpose to get you to move, however you shouldn't have blocked her stroller with your foot. You should have just let her go around you and deal with trying to get on with a stroller while people are trying to get off.

5. Someone stepped on your foot, it happens, get over it. Keep your feet tucked under your seat if it bothers you that much.

You're calling these women aggressive but that does not seem to be the case in most of these examples. Maybe a little rude or brusk but hardly aggressive. 1 and 5 could have apologized but there's no evidence they were being actively aggressive. 3, could have asked you to move but she may have been afraid that you'd be aggressive to her and again, she shouldn't need to ask, you should have moved your arm as she approached.

In terms of prevention - 1. if someone is standing over you with a bag at head height, either protect your face with your hands - because bags are gonna swing or offer your seat to the person overloaded with unwieldy bags.
2. If you're genuinely taking up as little space as possible and not spilling over into adjoining seats, if someone is poking you and they could sit in a way that they're not, you could politely ask them not to poke you.
3. Be more aware of other people, don't block open seats and if you are, move yourself before they're forced to move you
4. Someone that aggressively wanting to get on - move out of their way and don't actively block them. You weren't wrong for letting people get off before trying to get on but after the first jab you actively put yourself in her way
5. Keep your feet where they can't get stepped on or accept that accidents happen and not everyone apologizes when it does
posted by missmagenta at 2:40 AM on November 29, 2018 [10 favorites]

I'm a woman, but not small or white, and I am appalled by this behaviour! Of all of them, I would only give 2 (the spreader) and 5 (the foot-stomper) the benefit of the doubt. But having said that I would not advocate verbal confrontation for any of the examples you've cited.

As a fat girl with a big bag I am very mindful of the space I take up on crowded London underground tubes - I really try to kind of fold myself in and make space for people before they can ask me to move. All I would advise to you is to cultivate a sense of spatial awareness (i.e. whether you are blocking the path to entrance or exit of the carriage, or a path to an empty seat) and proactively try to make space for people. People can be dicks on crowded train carriages, but it's a difficult environment and everyone's uncomfortable and no one wants to be there so there's no point picking an argument. Just practise being your best self.
posted by Ziggy500 at 3:01 AM on November 29, 2018 [16 favorites]

It's not entirely clear who's in the right in many of your examples -- I wasn't there, and while I empathize with you absolutely (to the point I was surprised at the chiding other posters have given you!), I can't quite picture the spatial situations at work here. None of us can.

But! But public transit tends to bring out the worst in people, especially in big cities where the sense of individuals interacting with one another (pleasantly or otherwise) gives way to a sort of angry me-against-the-masses feeling. When I find myself hating humanity indiscriminately and thinking horrible, judgemental thoughts about some fucking asshole [who isn't bothering me or anyone else and isn't even in touching distance of me], it's usually on BART after a long workday.

Though it's hard, usually the best way to deal with this sort of thing is to be nice. Not because you "should" or whatever, but because 1) it turns the situation back into two individuals interacting with one another, rather than each of you representing something you hate about the faceless masses of commuters to the other; also 2) it's really disarming! If I'm fuming at some fucking asshole [see above] and then someone [maybe even the fucking asshole!] engages with me to take me out of my jerkspace, often I discover they're a lovely human who I have something in common with! Sometimes I get into great conversations with those people! Plus, in all honesty, I think of chatting with strangers [in an overtly non-transactional sense, like I don't expect to get anyone's number or that anyone's has "the right" to ask me for theirs] is an important civic duty! And we get so little practice in it these days, in our increasingly atomized lives, interconnected only symbolically.

But really, what I mean is that if you're friendly and engage right away, rather than 1) feeling like you have no right to say anything because you're a man or 2) stewing until when you do say something, you're a jerk about it, it'll re-humanize you to one another. This can be, "Hey, please be careful with that bag!" said smilingly, or it can be "Would you like to put your bags on the ground? I can hold onto them so they don't fall over," or whatever. I know it feels iffy to offer favors to someone who's been poking you in the eye, and I'm not saying you should give up your seat to someone because they're a small woman (you shouldn't unless there's some other reason, like they're pregnant or older -- though I [female, no visible disabilities] regularly try to give up my seat to construction workers [who never accept], housekeepers, and obviously working class WOC on BART because I know they've likely had a longer, more physically draining day than I have, which is a good enough reason!), but I am saying that if it's no skin off your back, a kind gesture will really help in lots of these situations.
posted by tapir-whorf at 3:10 AM on November 29, 2018 [15 favorites]

You don't say what city you're in, but your experience matches mine (small, non-white women) living in NYC. Jostled, stepped on, ankles rammed with a stroller - - it's not you, it's over crowded transit. You seem to think that these women are doing it deliberately, which is almost certainly not the case.

If you're physically hurt, it's fine to say what you did in #5. But don't expect profuse apologies, ain't gonna happen in a crowded environment where everyone has less space than they want.
posted by basalganglia at 3:29 AM on November 29, 2018 [6 favorites]

I think it's easy to get very transactional - even tit for tat - on public transport. Lord knows I do it myself sometimes with people who think their bag deserves a seat more than me, for example.

However, I always try to be mindful of escalating in retaliation. Blocking the stroller with your foot, is escalating. You don't know what someone is dealing with on a particular day, maybe she's missed trains before, maybe she's so tired with baby she didn't even notice, maybe she's really anxious. Maybe she's just a pushy bastard, but you just don't know.

Public transport is generally not a great situation, I try not to sweat the small stuff and be a good commuter and friendly. I don't want to make anyone's day worse (unless I'm making it worse by asking then to move their frigging bag, heh). I would be wary about creating a narrative here when these events aren't necessarily connected except by race and gender. If someone went on about black dudes on the train you'd raise an eyebrow right? This is not to paper over racism you no doubt experience daily, but everything you describe can and does regularly happen to people on busy trains without race or gender being involved.

Also, it must be said, women are always the victims of this kind of retaliation with the stroller, with people taking up the majority of a two seater space etc. When I'm tempted to retaliate I always internally ask myself, "would I behave this way if it was a guy who was fifty kilos heavier and a foot taller than me?" - cause reality is, we "retaliate" when we think we can get away with it, and that usually means with women. That's not your or my misogyny, it's society's - but that doesn't make it right, even when the women are in the wrong.

If you can, keep reading that book and let the train ride stop when you exit the carriage. Carrying around grievances from a daily commute is not good, I know cause I used to do it regarding a heavy traffic area when I drove from work. And one day I got so pissed with someone flagrantly breaking the rules for the billionth time I nearly caused an accident because I wasn't paying attention. Sometimes those drives would poison my mood for a good hour or more after. That didn't help me and it didn't help the traffic. Let it slide, you, and they, have better things to think about.
posted by smoke at 3:33 AM on November 29, 2018 [8 favorites]

Overcrowded public transit is the worst, and does not bring out the best in any of us. I’m sympathetic to your annoyance. But for whatever it’s worth, this all sounds like pretty standard public transit stuff to me (a large white woman) and isn’t anything I’d personally feel compelled to address if it happened to me. I think you might get more mileage out of being a bit more mindful of your personal actions (like not blocking seats while people are boarding) as a preventive measure for what you can prevent, and letting the rest go. There’s not much else you can do preventively.
posted by Stacey at 3:46 AM on November 29, 2018 [4 favorites]

After ten years in a city with transport like this - you're best served getting out of the mindset of policing others' breaches of etiquette / the social contract / whatever, even when these breaches end up affecting you. Either you'll be publicly dressing down someone who bumped you by accident, or someone who bumped you provocatively looking for exactly that response and will relish the row. Neither will make you feel good, and neither will make anyone else in the carriage feel good. You're not the subway police and you'll feel much, much better as soon as you realise that.

Don't retaliate if it's a small woman, don't retaliate if it's a large man, just don't retaliate. You'll be happier and your chance of saying something snappy to the one person who might just punch/mace/stab/shoot you will be drastically reduced.
posted by ominous_paws at 4:07 AM on November 29, 2018 [8 favorites]

I think that in each of your cases I would pretty much just silently seethe to myself and resolve not to give up so much as an inch of my personal space. I would become a stone. A grumpy, irritated stone.

Passive-aggressive rudeness just seems par for the course on public transportation and I'm not sure there's anything to be done about it short of provisioning more vehicles so that it's not so crowded and fraught.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 4:32 AM on November 29, 2018

1. “Ma’am, please watch your bag”
2. Ignore
3. Next time pay more attention and let people by you if you’re in front of a seat
4. “Ow” and a dirty look
5. Nothing. It was an accident and wasn’t going to happen again. Also NEVER tap people. I get the impulse but it comes across as incredibly aggressive in NYC. The only time it’s justified is if they’re losing their wallet or something.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 5:04 AM on November 29, 2018 [7 favorites]

I think the problem with labeling such behaviors rude is that there's just no way to really know from the answers given how deliberate most of these behaviors are or why they are happening, particularly since the OP says they are "sometimes quite old." If that's the case, they may be unsteadier on their feet than the average commuter and attending primarily to their personal safety from that standpoint. I mean, maybe all of them were assholes--the point is--why assume malice in such low-stakes situations when it's just easier not to?
posted by tiger tiger at 5:04 AM on November 29, 2018 [5 favorites]

Also. Re: 5 and 1, you can push people’s stuff off of you or put your hand up to keep it from hitting you IF it is actually hitting you, like, with force. You can’t touch them or their strollers or their kid, though. Also, if something is just touching you either move out of the way if you can or ignore it.

And generally, don’t underestimate the value of “OW” really loud and then rubbing the affected area of your body.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 5:10 AM on November 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

Some of this behavior does seem bad but public transit is often a free-for-all and I trust you that you felt these interactions were rude.

My take on these: The first example could just be obliviousness -- and she stopped once you pointed it out. I'm not completely sure about the second and third examples -- it does sound like you were blocking the seats and just didn't realize it, but I wasn't there. The fourth sounds like you were both in the wrong, but I have some sympathy for the woman with the stroller. The fifth seems like an accident and I get my foot stepped on all the time on public transit.

Yes, in some of these cases, it probably would've been better for these women to apologize or say "excuse me" or whatever, but sometimes there's no time or we're not heard or we're ignored or that's taken as an invitation to a conversation.

I would urge you to be more aware of what's going on around you.

While neither of these were on public transit, I have two examples of men not paying attention to the fact that I was there. The first was at a crowded show. Yes, I understand it's crowded and that often, people are going to bump into each other. However, this man in front of me kept dancing into me and elbowing me -- he didn't ever seem to know I was there, even when I tried to push back a bit. Around the sixth time he danced into me, I flat-out shoved him because I was tired of it. I'm sure he reported it as "this woman just shoved me out of nowhere!"

The second was when I was in a beer/wine store. Two men came in after me and had to go around me to look at what they wanted to. I have to assume they knew I was there. We were both in a corner where two refrigerated cooler met. I was reaching to open one of the doors and one of the men opened the doors straight into me, almost knocking me off my feet. I pushed back against the door a bit, maybe a bit harder than I needed to. Yes, I know this was a tight space but it's not like I had magically appeared in this space. I was there before they were.

I guess my point is that women often suffer from men not knowing they're there. We just get used to being more aggressive in ways that have plausible deniability in order to get men to acknowledge our existence. It's not personal against you.
posted by darksong at 5:13 AM on November 29, 2018 [21 favorites]

I’m going to assume that your judgment is good enough to tell that there was bad behavior, as opposed to ordinary close quarters, going on here (except for the woman who moved your arm so she could get to an empty seat. You should have let her through without needing to being moved; if you didn’t notice her at first you should have reacted as soon as she touched you. Someone trying to sit down in an unused seat has the ‘right of way’ over someone standing and blocking it.)

You asked two questions — how should you react, and how should you keep it from happening. The answer to the second question is that you probably can’t — there are some rude people, and you’re having a run of bad luck. If it keeps up, maybe think about whether you’re consistently doing something that rightfully or wrongfully is making people angry? I can’t think of what it might be (using your phone with the sound on? Wearing a T-shirt with an inflammatory slogan?) but if you’re getting directed hostility, maybe try to figure out why.

If it’s just bad luck, what I (middle-aged woman, fairly physically solid) will do in the case of subway shoving that seems outside the norm (which is very rare for me, and I’m on the subway for two hours every workday) is go all Miss Manners-y. Verbally object to what’s happening in full, formal sounding, polite sentences, in a cold tone: “Excuse me, your bag is repeatedly hitting my head. Is it possible for you to keep that from happening?” It doesn’t seem to escalate things, because it’s formal, and it does seem to get people to move away from me (because it’s weird? Dunno.) But I’m not sure how that sounds from a man rather than a woman — you might need to adjust the tone to get the same effect.
posted by LizardBreath at 5:16 AM on November 29, 2018 [8 favorites]

When someone bumps into you, there's two people involved. I'm a very tall, physically fit, though not particularly wide apparently cis white guy and when I'm on public transit I am on high alert at all times about how much space I am taking up and whose access I am blocking to the aisles, exits and seats. As a physically (and socially) privileged person, it's my duty to ensure people who are less fortunate are at the very least not untowardly inconvenienced by my presence. And ideally if I can help make their trips more pleasant, I should do so. For god's sake every other aspect of my life is catered to by the system. And I basically never have people doinking into me accidentally or on purpose, because I'm always aware of who wants to move where and already getting out of their way. And I usually stand because, unless I'm feeling like shit, I can do so.

Anyway what I am saying is that if you are noticing a lot of people doinking into you on transit, the right response isn't to get up in their business about it -- it's to not be in their way in the first place.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:18 AM on November 29, 2018 [16 favorites]

Also... the line in the OP about responses that would be appropriately confrontational with men but inappropriate with women struck me weird. That is, if a woman is being rude, you’re allowed to respond verbally the same way you would to a man. What you’re not allowed to do is threaten violence, either implicitly or explicitly.

If that’s the kind of response you’re feeling cramped by not being able to use, possibly you’re kind of touchy generally? And you really shouldn’t be reacting to men like that on the subway either, it’s way too cramped and with too many other people around who can’t get away from the situation.
posted by LizardBreath at 5:43 AM on November 29, 2018 [3 favorites]

I am a 5’7 thin white woman. I am quite clumsy (also dyspraxia as above). I often flip into train seats and bump people because I can’t judge where the seat is but I think I can (usually this happens when I’m most tired and sore and really feel I need the seat and nobody else is moving for the seat, I’m feeling defensive about this). If I notice that I’ve bumped someone, I apologize. I don’t think many people are deliberately being rude and tossing themselves into you for grins. There’s a potential focal error going on here. When good things happen to ‘me’ or i succeed at something I attribute to my good work ethic, my good disposition, I take credit. When something bad happens to me or is done by me, I look for blame outside of my character and effort. When good things happen to other people, the temptation is to attribute that to their good luck or their scheming or connections. When other people experience bad luck or make choices we don’t approve of, its very human to attribute those things to lack of effort, lack of caring, lack of skill on the other persons part. But it turns out that circumstances are a good place to put your money in all four scenarios. Tired people bumping each other on the train is not because their assholes. It’s vecause the trains are late, crowded, and people are tired and anxiety is higher now socially about all kinds of things. So if you’re not ready to attribute getting bumped to your bing in the way, opt instead to attribute it to folks being hurried and harried and feeling hemmed in and pressed from all sides everywhere.

The things when people bump me is notice that I’m in the way. If I can’t reposition myself in my immediate location, I move to another place in the train or platform. I can control what I do, attempts to control what others do is uncertain at best, dangerous at worst. (More than once I’ve seen the male companion of woman with stroller get Very Agressive in response to requests to not bump ankles.) I will verbalize an offer of my seat, being careful to ask ‘would you like to sit?’ Instead of ‘do you need to sit?’ Even said in the same tone, they are Very different questions and women know it.

There is no reason I need to get on the train ahead of anyone else or occupy a seat, except when I was on crutches and needed seats. Sure, I prefer to be on first. But a woman with a stroller probably has a schedule to keep, is probably exhausted, and definitely needs to find appropriate real estate for the carriage. I’d rather not get the next train but i have enough social capital to be able to be a little late. And here’s a bit of magic in NYC - often the next train is a minute later and nearly empty.

Standing at the pole in a way that doesn’t block seats is really only possible if you’re alone there, maybe one other person.

It sounds to me from your question that you might be a person of color. I am aware that white women continue to be shitty to people of color in nearly every environment. I want to validate that if you’re feeling like race plays into this, you’re absolutely correct and don’t let anyone gaslight you. Micro aggressions are Real. At the same time, they often stem from implicit bias, so I don’t know how you can address the issue of race on the train. As a woman on the train I definitely get a lot of stuff accidentally done to me that I don’t observe men doing to each other. Leaving almost always seems like the best option. The question ‘hey could you stop?’ Will someday lead to a person having a medical condition or some other reason they can’t. Or violence. Or yelling.

My pet peeve on the train, not that you asked, is door blockers. Riders who don’t move away from the door while people get in and out of the train car.

I’m heading to the dentist now so I can’t edit this into something cohesive. But my point is, this is a true thing you’re noticing. The only thing you can do about it is move. That sucks because having more agency would be nice. But it’s good because you at least have the agency to move.

I meditate on the train. I work on mudita because it’s harder than compassion. Maybe spend 5 minutes of each ride meditating on compassion for yourself. Give yourself permission to be stressed and disappointed and lonely and not beat yourself up at your disappointment in white women who sometimes bonk people with bags and strollers.
posted by bilabial at 5:50 AM on November 29, 2018 [3 favorites]

Often being often at rush hour when trains are super packed. There will probably not be a train a minute later at 2am.

posted by bilabial at 5:52 AM on November 29, 2018

In the Midwest we just say "Excuse me!!" If it really was an accident and didn't notice they'll apologize. If it was on purpose, it serves as a 'fuck you'. You've now drawn attention to their behavior and taken the higher road.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 6:04 AM on November 29, 2018 [8 favorites]

I'm really surprised that so many of these responses are people telling you that you shouldn't be annoyed at this rude behavior OR that you should have just given your seat up OR that actually, it's you who are rude and not these women. OP, I agree that the women in your examples were rude as hell, especially #3 and the women who weaponized her kids' stroller. In your #3 example, blocking a seat doesn't give her the right to literally try to go through you and hyper-extend your arm. She really could have hurt you.

Okay, so to actually answer your question, which was "in many cases, once I've been stepped on / struck / rammed, the deed is done and there's not much to be said about it. Is there any way to prevent this stuff?"

- Can you try to get a spot at the end of car so that you're in a less crowded spot? And hopefully less people will mean less bumps and bruises.

- What about trying to board at a less crowded door? I know it's not always possible but may be something to think about.

- For example #2, where she dug her elbows into your space, would you consider moving to another seat? Not ideal, but at least you would have your space back.

- Would you feel comfortable calling out the behavior? "You're hitting me/you stepped on me/etc. Please be more mindful."

- Can you try to re-frame their behavior into something like 'it's not personal'? (Though, again, I agree that they are being rude.) This might help you take some of the perceived aggression out of their behavior.

Anyways, I'm sorry that people are treating you badly. I know living in a crowded city and taking crowded public transportation can be stressful, but it doesn't excuse rudeness.
posted by pumpkinlatte at 6:50 AM on November 29, 2018 [9 favorites]

The etiquette answer for 2, 3, and 5 is "get over it, don't say anything." You're not their parent or teacher. Rude or not, chastising people after the fact doesn't accomplish anything. It probably doesn't even make you feel better. Honestly, in the 3rd instance you can avoid this issue by taking empty seats or making sure there's a clear path to them; possibly even make eye contact with someone and gesture for them to sit down. Not sitting in a crowded train does no one any favors if they can't get to the seat.

For instances 1 and 4, use your words but in a way that assumes good intent or at the worst just inattentiveness. For 1, "Excuse me, your bag keeps hitting me in the head." For 4, "I'm just waiting for everyone to get off. Do you want to get ahead of me so you can get on first?" Or, just move to a different door or car.

Public transit is rough on everyone at times, especially when it's crowded. I'm a small woman, which means taller or inattentive people are constantly hitting, jostling, and crowding me because I'm short enough that I'm not in their peripheral vision. My arms aren't long enough to reach overhead bars or stretch along distance to reach a pole. I've had my foot stomped on by a large man so hard I silently cried for a few minutes because it hurt so bad.

I also ride my bike to work frequently, and in many instances lack of attentiveness by drivers is not only rude but endangers my LIFE. Still, aside from flipping them off I have to let it go or my brain would be nothing but a list of all the times someone did something shitty, which is now how I want to live my life.

I'm sorry you think this is personal, and maybe there is a pattern, but in terms of etiquette and your own mental health the best thing to do is probably just let it go. Certainly don't let it take up brain space after you're off that train.
posted by misskaz at 6:55 AM on November 29, 2018 [5 favorites]

Like others have said, I feel like some of the situations you describe are the result of being on a crowded train where people accidentally bump one another, step on feet, etc. Others sound like you (were perceived to have) broke(n) the social contract and fellow passengers reacted accordingly. Others do sound like you encountered rude passengers.

I'll just add this:

"Miss, are you deliberately hitting me?"
"Ma'am, you stepped on me. Please be more careful."

These responses are pretty obnoxious and condescending. It would be FAR more appropriate to just say something like "Oops, you're hitting me with your bag" or "Ouch, that was my foot!" (Actually, there's no reason to say anything to someone who steps on your foot once - just treat it as an accident and move on - but if you must say something let it not be a holier-than-thou scolding.)

Also, it seems like you are really primed to notice bad behavior from small white women. As such a person myself, I'll point out that people of all genders, races, etc. can be rude at times. So perhaps you should try to check your own biases a bit; are you being hyper-vigilant about some people's behavior, but not others'?
posted by schroedingersgirl at 6:58 AM on November 29, 2018 [36 favorites]

I'm a small white woman in an East Coast city. All the stuff that you mentioned happens to me all the time. Honestly, I don't really think much about it.

1. Stood over me with a box in a tote bag, hit my head with it. I figured the train must have lurched without my noticing, so I just waved it off. She then hit me three more times, once while we were stopped in the station, until I pushed her bag firmly aside and asked, "Miss, are you deliberately hitting me?" To which she said, "No," but also didn't hit me any more.

Good job for actually saying something, but you used pretty aggressive phrasing. Why not just inform her that she's hitting you with the bag, rather than jumping into picking a fight by asking if she's doing it deliberately?

I would not take this personally or even assume she did it intentionally. This kind of thing happens to me routinely. Maybe it happens to you less because you're taller? But ideally, if someone is carrying bulky stuff and it's not awkward to do so, you should give them your seat. Otherwise, just let them know that they're hitting you, and they'll stop it.

To be frank, I usually just duck out of the way and wait for the person to get off the bus/train *shrug*

2. Sat down next to me by flopping down on me and bouncing off into the seat. The train was stopped, so I don't think she just missed the seat. Then crossed her arms and legs so that her knees and elbows pressed against me. (Before you ask, my thighs were less than parallel.) I had no idea what to do, so I just kept reading.

Good response! Irritating -- and who knows, maybe she was even coming onto you -- but it's still within the bounds of normal jostling that you should just ignore. I mean, I agree that it's creeping toward the edge because there's so much touching/personal space invasion involved, but still within the bounds. Besides, if you respond, it's just going to encourage more interaction and likely make things weirder.

3. I was holding onto a pole s.t. my arm was between her and an empty seat. She put her shoulder under my elbow and forced it upward so that my elbow hyperextended and I had to let go of the pole. She then ducked under my arm and sat down.

Why did you get into this weird battle of wills with this lady about how long your arm was going to stay there blocking the seat? This woman was rude, but I don't get why you didn't just move your arm when you saw her barging toward the empty seat. It's not like it's a mystery what she was trying to do (sit down). I think any further response on your part would have been escalation and inappropriate. Next time, just move your arm and/or have more situational awareness.

4. We were queued up at the sides of the door waiting for people to get off. She rammed her stroller into my ankle. I looked back and she waved me forward. People were still trying to get off. After a moment, she tried to steer the stroller around me. I wedged my foot before one of its wheels until the doorway was clear, then got on myself. She rammed me with the stroller again as I boarded.

Again, what's with the battle of wills and you ramming your foot in front of the wheel? She sounds like she was just incredibly anxious to get on the train for some reason. Rude, but very normal and common. You should have just gotten out of her way and let her plow forward. If she really hurt you when she rammed your ankle, say "ouch" or something. But if she didn't, then let her go ahead without a lot of fuss.

5. Stepped on my foot. Not that it had been out before, but I pulled it farther back, well under the seat. She sat down next to me. I tapped her on the elbow and said, "Ma'am, you stepped on me. Please be more careful." She said, "Okay, fine."

Getting your foot stepped on is a non-event, and almost certainly accidental. I don't think you should have taken any notice of it at all, let alone scolded her. Scolding an adult, especially in a public place like that and for a very minor and likely accidental transgression, is very aggressive and really not appropriate.

In general, I think that you need to let pushiness on public transportation go. If you're feeling threatened or getting hurt, that's different. But regular pushiness for seats or to get on the train or whatever (which all this seems to be) is just normal life and not something that you can take personally or let get to you.
posted by rue72 at 7:29 AM on November 29, 2018 [22 favorites]

Although asking for guidance on the response almost seems like the wrong question: in many cases, once I've been stepped on / struck / rammed, the deed is done and there's not much to be said about it. Is there any way to prevent this stuff?

Honestly, I think the only way to prevent this is to stop using public transit.

Nearly all of these instances of "bad behavior" read to me more like simple "rush hour" - the "standing close to you so that the bag was hitting you" may have been because people were pressing against her from behind trying to cram into the subway behind her, so she had no choice but to stand close to you. "Sitting down by bouncing from my lap onto the seat" may have been because she was trying to sit down properly, but the subway lurched before she was all the way seated and she lost her balance. These are things that happen on public transit.

You also asked how to respond; it depends, but honestly, I think in some cases you may just have to let it go. If someone steps on your foot, say something to them the minute it happens (like "ow"), but waiting until they sit down and saying "by the way, you stepped on my toe earlier" is kind of....snooty. Similarly, someone ramming a stroller into your heel maybe could get an immediate glance and "ow", and a second infraction could get "might I have just a little more room please?" But actually blocking them from entering is kind of a jerky thing to do. ....So they cut in line ahead of you, so what.

If someone is actually using some kind of force upon your person (like the person who physically pushed your arm up to get to a seat instead of them saying "excuse me"), maybe a sharp "excuse me!" is warranted; or, if you notice that you're blocking an empty seat and don't want to sit yourself, maybe look around and see if someone is trying to sit there. But otherwise - seriously, let some of this go, some people are just jerks and nothing you say is going to change that. Stick up for it if you get physically hurt, but otherwise just let it go.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:29 AM on November 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

Taking public transit sucks.

Somebody upthread said you maybe should have given up your seat or moved or whatever.

If you're obeying the rules and basic courtesy, this is not your fault and don't let anyone tell you any different. You're already getting bumped and trod on, FFS.

You're probably just going to have to accept that this sort of this is going to happen on transit.

You could also review your body language, and see if there are ways to be more assertive (squaring shoulders, taking up all of the space that's rightfully yours) to prevent some of these interactions.

But, if you're following the rules, under no circumstance should you try to figure out what you're doing wrong Anyone who tells you to assume some of the blame is gaslighting you.
posted by JamesBay at 7:43 AM on November 29, 2018 [5 favorites]

I am not a small white woman, though I am a woman. I ride the NYC subway on a daily basis and this is how I would handle these situations:

1. Tote Bag Lady: I would have told her that her bag was hitting me the first time it happened.

2. Floppy Poke Queen McGee: I've done the fall into the seat, misjudge the space thing myself. I would ignore that part (though she probably should have thrown you a quick sorry for that). If the poking was really bothering you I would have said "Excuse me, you're poking me with your arms". If I was in a grumpy passive-aggressive mood I would probably just say nothing while shifting around a bunch and shooting daggers from my eyes at her.

3. Pole Lady: I sometimes try to get to a seat by saying excuse me, but for whatever reason the person doesn't hear me / respond, so I tap their arm and point at the seat. She had no reason to get so aggressive with you, but you also could have just let go off the pole when she started jarring you. My sourpuss reaction would probably be to take the seat before she could get to it.

4. Stroller Lady: This was totally obnoxious on her part, but you really shouldn't have stuck your foot in front of her stroller in retaliation. I would have just let her pass and chuckle while she gets cursed out by the other passengers.

5. Foot Stepper: This is not something I would respond to at all.
posted by Julnyes at 7:48 AM on November 29, 2018

My point is that yeah, people are often rude or obnoxious on public transportation, but you don't have to be rude or obnoxious back. Their lack of "decorum" is not a challenge to you or a personal affront. You have total freedom to just ignore it or deescalate any conflicts and go on with your day. For the sake of your own happiness, I think you probably should. If nothing else, I think that being more aggressive is unwarranted and likely to just lead to more conflicts (and get you even angrier).

If you're worried that you're being treated this way because of your race/gender/etc, then of course I can't know, but my data point is that this stuff happens to me frequently, and I'm in a different demographic.
posted by rue72 at 7:57 AM on November 29, 2018

The subway is so full of this and it only gets worse as the trains get more packed. Ugh! But I do think maybe sometimes you're in the way and don't realize it. I also think it's not ideal for anyone (like small women carrying boxes and bags, pushing strollers, etc.) so you may want to pick your battles.

In cases where a bag or package is smacking you, "Excuse me" seems to be the phrase if you can't brush it off. "Are you deliberately hitting me" sounds needlessly confrontational to me, at least in writing.

I'm a small woman and I get stepped on, shoved, elbowed, manspreaded on, sat upon, cut off, etc. ALL THE TIME and...nobody has ever apologized. It's actually kind of eye-opening to me that there are people who expect apology and correction of the behavior. If I said anything like what you say, it would possibly endanger me. So be aware that even being able to confront/correct someone in public without being called a bitch or worse is great privilege, and use it for cases where someone's really out of line.
posted by kapers at 8:00 AM on November 29, 2018 [17 favorites]

Courtesy applies to everyone, regardless of gender.

The OP should not be told to "just step aside" after being rammed with a stroller. Nobody should. That hurts! In the other instances, unless OP is towering and scowling like Godzilla over the rest of the commuters, in which case he'd most likely have a circle of space around him anyway, a simple "excuse me" wouldn't hurt anyone as does, say, whacking or shoving someone to get them out of their way.

We teach children not to push, shove or hit in kindergarten. It seems to me that in situations such as the ones described in this question, the same standard ought to apply to adults.
posted by Armed Only With Hubris at 8:02 AM on November 29, 2018 [3 favorites]

I was inclined to believe that all your examples fall into the realm of accidental jostling on public transit, and that there isn't much you can do. But then I read this comment:

Mizu: "In the second case with the bodily spreading, that is a preemptive defensive maneuver that I, a small woman, have employed myself. It's a tired of this shit very long day spiky spiky don't fuck with me kind of thing."

And I learned that apparently other people preemptively, unjustifiably, and deliberately shove other people just to assert themselves and acquire more space.

So that sucks. But I'm still not sure what you can do about it. I think the best you can do is ask someone in a faux naive manner, "Did you just shove me?"
posted by crazy with stars at 8:07 AM on November 29, 2018 [4 favorites]

I've lived in New York for the entirety of my adult life, more than 20 years, and I've ridden the subway the entire time. I've got about 3 incidents that still stick in my craw from this time frame in which I still believe the other person to be in the wrong. Three. And those were people of all races and genders.

The way you've held on to five separate incidents from white women SPECIFICALLY really makes me wonder if you have some sort of unhealthy expectation as to the way white women should be acting at all times.

It's the NYC subway. There are millions of people who are all from different backgrounds and countries for that matter all with different standards for politeness and etiquette.

I think you've got to let some things go, have better situational awareness and try to get out of the way frankly. The best behavior on the subway is to try to make it better for everyone and a lot of times that just plain means getting out of the way and getting on with your day. I have to say that a lot of your reactions sound aggressive and accusatory to me and in general it's not a good idea to police other people's behaviour on the train in order to comport with your particular sensibilities.
posted by rdnnyc at 8:16 AM on November 29, 2018 [25 favorites]

So--mostly, people are not thinking about you at all. Your examples don't seem that out of the ordinary for NYC (people are assuming this is NYC and I also am assuming this.)

I used to get dudes with giant backpacks who left them on banging into me on the subway and I would say "Could you stop hitting me with your bag?" but that's a dude with a giant backpack who should know better.

I don't know--this stuff happens. Then again, after 17 years I was fucking sick of it and moved away. I don't think there's anything you can do.
posted by Automocar at 8:17 AM on November 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

My gut feeling is this: we're all just sentient, hairless apes trying to get from point A to point B in a giant tin can. That's not always comfortable, especially during peak hours. Some people handle it better than others. So unless people are being unrepentant jags, I try not to ascribe malevolent intent to what is probably just run-of-the-mill obliviousness, and I'm all the happier for it.

As far as your first question about how to respond, I would first think about whether or not you even NEED to respond—honestly, #5 doesn't strike me as being anything more than an accident, and certainly not worthy of that level of response.

As a small, white lady, if a strange man on a bus or train tapped my arm and told me I'd accidentally stepped on his foot and needed to be more careful, I'm not sure whether I'd be more mortified or more furious, but more than either of those two things, I'd probably be SCARED, or at least worried. Because if that guy was willing to breach transit etiquette so egregiously over this minor slight, what other social norms might he not adhere to? Now I'm trapped in a tube with someone who could be a ticking time bomb, and spending the entire commute worried about possible escalation.

Women have absolutely been killed by strangers for less. It's extreme, yes, but it does occur. I might recommend bearing this in mind when considering whether a case of mild transit rudeness or accidental imposition even warrants a response. Also, for real, I wouldn't do something like block a stroller ever again—see above re: the fear and uncertainty of dudes breaking social norms. Let her live with the consequences of her poor decision to board against traffic. (On preview: kapers has it.)

All that to say: I do appreciate your interest in seeking out ways to respond assertively but not aggressively if the situation does require it. Personally, I think it may help to try to re-frame your responses in more of a Standard Neutral Transit Interactions™ script, because many of your example responses seem to assume bad intent rather than cluelessness. A simple statement of facts ("Excuse me, your bag is hitting me,", "Excuse me, I'm waiting for these people to exit," etc.) is usually all that's ever warranted if someone is imposing on your space.

As far as avoiding this goes, if you have a more flexible schedule, not riding public transit during peak commuting hours will definitely give you more elbow room in transit. But if that's not an option, I'm not sure there's any avoiding pushy people when you're all crammed in a large tin can together.
posted by helloimjennsco at 8:21 AM on November 29, 2018 [13 favorites]

I'm going to come at this from the other way, just to give some perspective. I was once standing on a very crowded subway train, holding onto the pole, and was holding my purse on my shoulder in the usual way. (Like a lot of women in NYC, I have a large purse, but it's not especially oversized, nor was it a backpack.) Suddenly, a young woman turned to me and said in a very cross voice, "Excuse me, your bag hit me." (Not "Is hitting me," suggesting that it happened repeatedly -- "It hit me,"suggesting that it happened once.) I thought this was waaaaay out of line; the train, as I said, was extremely crowded, and yes, once in a while, my bag will touch someone. So I looked at her incredulously and said, "Oh, gosh, my BAG hit you? Yeah, well, excuse me -- it's a crowded subway train. Maybe next time you'd be more comfortable in a cab." She didn't respond.

I mean, I was rude, but so was she, and I had just been standing there in good faith not trying to bother anyone. The point is that there are far better ways of dealing with crowds on the subway than getting all up into their face because they did something completely inadvertent that results from the conditions on public transport. For example, when I get annoyed on the train, I try to think to myself something like, "You know, probably if that lady and I met under other circumstances, she'd be really nice; maybe she's stressed because something difficult it happening at work today" or what have you.

Taking these things personally isn't doing anyone any good. Everyone is just trying to get where they're going just like you are, and 99 percent of the time they're not trying to annoy you.
posted by holborne at 8:32 AM on November 29, 2018 [5 favorites]

On preview, rdnnyc brings up an interesting point. While I'm not saying women can't be jerks on the subway, the cultural anecdata tends to skew more towards men behaving obliviously (or poorly) on public transit. Have you had similar encounters with men in transit? And if so, delicately, is it possible that you may perceive those encounters a little differently?

Also, I'm certainly not excusing rudeness here, but as other small ladies in this thread have mentioned, it's possible that what you perceive as an over-aggressive jostle might be, for her, a desperate over-correction in an environment where, by dint of her size and gender, she is FOREVER encroached upon at all sides, all the time. I have lost count of how many times I've been elbowed in the head on trains because someone JUST DIDN'T SEE ME THERE, but I can count on one hand the number of times I've been apologized to because of it.

Again, I think a possible solution might be to try to view these transit incidents through a more charitable lens and see how you feel after assuming the best rather than the worst. Good luck!
posted by helloimjennsco at 8:34 AM on November 29, 2018 [4 favorites]

Well, I‘m a small, non-white woman in a rude-person-city and I believe the default response to such behaviour is „HEY!“, „OI!“ or „WATCH IT!“. The other person will ignore you, at which point you solicit the moral support of bystanders by rolling your eyes or shaking your head. A few times, they will swear back at you and it gets loud for a few minutes.

I gather that things are more dangerous for woc in the US, but here it is the socially approved, nay, expected way of reacting to subway rudeness.
posted by Omnomnom at 8:36 AM on November 29, 2018 [3 favorites]

Also in NYC and I agree that a lot of these things happen all the time and are often accidents -- I'm a klutz and in a crowded train, even when stopped, I can stumble into a seat when I miscalculate the distance or am stepping over feet and bonk into people. I always apologize, but I'm also extra soft-spoken and avoidant of eye contact in public spaces because Stranger Danger so I don't know if I'm always heard.

For the box to the head thing - which definitely has happened to me (usually a shopping bag or a backpack), I put my whole arm up to block my head. If that doesn't work, I will say "That's my head" like it's sort of a funny thing and clearly it was an accident. I don't think anyone does it on purpose. But I also don't think everyone who does it notices they're doing it. Ditto people who let their umbrellas drip on you when they're standing and you're sitting (ugh!).

I've never seen anyone physically move someone's arm to get past them but I've definitely been That Jerk who hip-checks people who block the doors when I'm trying to get on or off the train and they're just standing there blocking them -- if you weren't in an I'm-gonna-fall moment where you needed that pole and they were trying to get to the seat for a while, maybe you got a different variety of That Jerk doing it to you? Short answer is, they're the jerk for doing it, but it won't happen again because now they're sitting down, so try to just imagine the karma bus running over them at a later date and call it even. If that's not enough, you also have my permission to accidentally lightly step on their toes on your way out of the train, but that makes you That Jerk and I don't recommend it.

As others have said, you literally gain nothing getting in a fight with strangers in NYC, even if you win, and there's a lot to lose if you lose. Especially in close quarters.
posted by Mchelly at 8:38 AM on November 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

Small, subway-riding white woman here with another vote for "this is what the subway is like and none of the incidents you describe are out of the ordinary and most of those have happened to me all in the space of one subway ride and are not particularly noteworthy or worth thinking about."

I'm nine months pregnant now, have been offered a seat exactly twice, and am hit and pushed every single day. I got yelled at for being in someone's space (yo, I'd love my stomach to be smaller too but there's a person in it?) just the other day, and was called racist and videoed by someone I gently nudged out of the way when she didn't hear my "excuse me" so I could get a seat while having contractions. I'm seriously knocked around every day. By men, women, strollers, children, the elderly. The only well-behaved creatures on the subway are dogs in bags.

Ride the subway or don't, but thinking these tiny, tiny incidents are aggressive enough to merit response is weirdly naive.
posted by Yoko Ono's Advice Column at 8:53 AM on November 29, 2018 [23 favorites]

I (medium-sized white woman) take public transit every day and all of your scenarios sound 100% normal and non-rude except #3, which sounds really bizarre and I can't imagine why someone would make physical contact like that (why didn't you move when she started heading towards the seat?? did you not see her? I don't understand why your arm was still there for her to hit by the time she got there. maybe she was rude, maybe you were oblivious to her signals to move, I don't know).

I have been both the "giver" and "recipient" of countless accidental steppings-on, hitting with bags, being partially sat on when sitting down clumsily, and touching elbows. Your verbal responses seem very aggressive to me. Your #2 response is normal. The normal response to these scenarios around here is to politely ignore it unless it's a continuing issue that needs to be stopped (stepping on your foot and staying on, pressing their bag into your face repeatedly, etc). People are crowded together, you're gonna accidentally touch sometimes, you don't have to call anyone out like they intentionally touched you. I assure you, none of these women are touching you on purpose.

Re: crossing your arms. I am totally baffled. I am staring at my crossed arms right now. My elbows don't stick out any further than my hips, and don't stick out more than in any other natural arm position (less, in fact). I don't understand the problem. Are you, like, expecting women to sit with shrunken-in shoulders, arms between their knees, squeezing their boobs together? Cause let me tell you, I have never seen a man sitting like that, and I'm not making myself tiny and uncomfortable just because some dude is unhappy that I'm taking up my fair share of the seat...
posted by randomnity at 8:59 AM on November 29, 2018 [16 favorites]

I guess what I'm trying to say is that your expectations of behaviour on public transit seem very off to me, and this is leading to an inappropriately (imo) confrontational response whether the offender is a man or a woman.
posted by randomnity at 9:10 AM on November 29, 2018 [5 favorites]

Re: #3 I would like to point out that who was in the wrong would depend on whether the train was moving at the time. You can’t be expected to let go of the pole when the train is moving because you could fall. However, if the train is stopped, you should be aware that people are going to be trying to get to empty seats and either take one yourself or move aside.
posted by Brain Sturgeon at 10:40 AM on November 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

Honestly I just kind of expect old ladies to boss me around or shove past on public transport. They are old and probably raised a bunch of kids themselves and I was kind of raised to expect them to be that way. It wouldn't bother me at all (beyond mild amusement) and I wouldn't dream of retaliating. Old ladies are pretty rude, in general but I figure they've earned it.

If someone was hitting me in the head with a bag, I'd probably say "ouch" and they say "sorry" and it would stop. But if someone shoved past me to get to a seat I was blocking with my arm I'd think I probably missed them asking or indicating for me to move and not worry about it.

Strollers are the devil on public transport, if you've never had to maneuver one you can't imagine. I definitely give people with strollers the benefit of the doubt, in fact I usually help them to move them around if I can easily.
posted by fshgrl at 12:18 PM on November 29, 2018 [6 favorites]

I have a lot of sympathy for you. I'm a small white woman but one of the things I have noticed is that, in my city, it does often seem to be small, middle aged white women who are very rude on public transport. That said, I honestly don't think there is anything you can do aside from trying to keep your distance as much as possible from everyone and wearing headphones so you don't have to hear them.
posted by thereader at 2:08 PM on November 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

All of these are pretty normal public transit experiences. I’ve probably experienced all five during the course of a single BART or subway ride, from all ages, races, and genders, I would expect more with a longer commute or multiple transfers. One of the social skills people who commute on crowded transit systems learn is how to normalize this kind of low-grade crowded poor proprioception behavior, including your own when you block seats, without escalating, as you did with the woman’s stroller and several aggressive verbal responses. Assuming someone with a large package is deliberately hitting you with it is a pretty off the bell curve response— people are on a moving vehicle and don’t have perfect control of their bags, which are moving as the train moves even when it doesn’t lurch, or their balance isn’t the greatest. Verbally accusing someone of deliberately hitting you is in my experience a big disruption of the subway social contract, and if I witnessed that kind of accusation I would be on guard for the accuser to start a bigger altercation.

In general, a crowded subway is not a place for the kind of stand your ground attitude where incredibly minor infractions like someone stepping on your foot (and not eg grabbing your ass) merit a confrontation or retaliation. Per your previous question about distress tolerance for daily irritants, now you know why your wife insists on waiting for less crowded trains.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 3:43 PM on November 29, 2018 [5 favorites]

I am not these things, and am concerned that responses which would be only appropriately confrontational with men might be seen as excessive. Could the hive mind help me calibrate my response?

I’m not sure these are really appropriately confrontational responses with men, either, though— I’m kind of alarmed at the idea of applying 5, the “you stepped on my foot” shoulder tap, with another man. Initiating physical contact with someone to point out they had stepped on your foot earlier in the ride seems to me like an attempt to get into a screaming or shoving match or real physical fight on the subway. These responses are threatening when used on women, but imo dangerous— to you and the people around you— if you’re using them with men, they are asking “did you just get physical with me?” which is usually an invitation to continue that fight or “I’m calling the police for assault.” It seems like you’re really spoiling for a fight, and if you really are on the subway asking dudes if they’re hitting you on purpose with their bags or tapping them to say “you stepped on my foot” you are lucky people haven’t taken you up on that offer to escalate.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 4:25 PM on November 29, 2018 [10 favorites]

Here are the three subway (in Toronto) incidents that stand out in my mind (I am a white medium to large sized middle-aged woman):

1. A few months ago I was sitting on a 2-person seat when two guys were arguing and one and swung at the other guy, over me, but misjudged as the train lurched, and would have punched me instead except I am a (baby) martial artist and I blocked the punch and kind of pushed him off balance a bit as I got up. Then they both got up and were embarrassed, and got off to continue their argument on the platform, I guess. (I will say some other passengers were coming over to help.)

2. When I was a teenager I was stuck in a subway delay on a crowded train and a guy rubbed up against me and ejaculated and my skirt got damp. I didn't say anything at the time but boy would I now. This was the worst of probably weekly little "ha ha I will press up against you" incidents. Ahhh, the 80s.

3. Also in my teens, I once had a woman holding a bag over me much as you describe, but it was a cheap plastic one full of takeout...the handle broke and I got fried rice dumped all over me. I was on my way to a concert band performance and wearing a white shirt. Being Canadian, I apologized to her, especially for swearing. Being Canadian, she was mortified and pressed a $10 bill in my hand as she fled the scene.
3. a. Actually people have also vomited close enough that it's gotten on my shoes.

I guess what I'm saying is, I think the social norm for what you described is to chill out a bit, but save your ire for the big stuff, because it will come you way. Happy commuting.
posted by warriorqueen at 7:14 PM on November 29, 2018 [6 favorites]

A lot of people seem confused by (3), so I'll clarify that the seat was empty because someone stood up before the train had stopped. I wanted to hold onto the pole until the train stopped. I didn't mention this because I thought her actions would be beyond the pale regardless. If I hadn't let go quickly enough, or if the train had lurched s.t. she applied more force than she intended, she could easily have sprained or even dislocated my elbow. I'm astonished that so many people here think this is okay.

As for (2), I'm not sure I understand what happened either. Her feet were still on the ground, but her legs were turned out as if she were doing a plie. Her arms were horizontal. Like, imagine a little boy sitting at a table too high for him. It didn't look comfortable.

It's true that I have way more of these encounters with men, in absolute terms, but they don't concern me as much because I feel like I have a better understanding of both the expectations and my options. Whereas with women I don't know where the lines are (c.f., my expectations vs everyone else's w.r.t. (3)), so I wanted to hear people's opinions.

And yes, it has occurred to me that this might be becoming a problem now because things are actually getting better for women to the point where I now get to experience the normal range of rudeness from women as well as men. That's not completely un-comforting.

Anyway, there's no way you're going to convince me (3) was okay, but the other responses seem within the range of reasonable, so I'll think about those. Thanks, all.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 8:08 PM on November 29, 2018

I'm astonished that so many people here think this is okay.

I think most people here would agree it’s not “okay” and is quite rude but you asked about responding and/or how to prevent incidents like these, and honestly, you can’t prevent them nor is there any appropriate nonconfrontational way to visibly or verbally react to them because any response on the subway rather than “ignore”—which is the default response and expectation, whether you like it or agree with it or think it’s correct or not—would violate what others have correctly identified as the subway’s unofficial social contract/conduct code and would invite more conflict rather than less.
posted by Yoko Ono's Advice Column at 8:19 PM on November 29, 2018 [9 favorites]

Also I'm not sure that things are getting "better" for women so much as the methods we have to employ to exist in the same physical space as oblivious, larger men when space is such a limited resource can be, yes, aggressive as hell, and we're all fucking sick of having to do it so maybe we're getting more visibly pissed. LOL forever at the idea you're experiencing more rudeness from women because things are so great for us that we're now "allowed" to be equally as shitty as men. Please, please do not look at this as a comforting marker of social progress or I will just give up and die now.
posted by Yoko Ono's Advice Column at 8:53 PM on November 29, 2018 [24 favorites]

I think most people here would agree it’s not “okay” and is quite rude but you asked about responding and/or how to prevent incidents like these, and honestly, you can’t prevent them nor is there any appropriate nonconfrontational way to visibly or verbally react to them because any response on the subway rather than “ignore”

100% agree. None of these are "okay", but it is run-of-mill for public transport, where you have tired and stressed commuters in a small place. Just ignore, have headphones and music. You can scowl at them if you wish, but everything else is to escalate it for no purpose at all.
posted by moiraine at 1:12 AM on November 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

I live in London and take the overground or tube every day. Everything you described strikes me as absolutely standard public transport behaviour. I'm quite visibly pregnant at the moment and I can't count the number of times I've been elbowed in the belly trying to get off a crowded train. It's not NICE, I don't like it, but it's also not really that avoidable. You're in a hot, crowded, tiny, MOVING tube, people will bump into you. How do you handle 'aggressive women on the subway'? You just.... get over it and get on with your life the way the rest of us do.
posted by nerdfish at 2:36 AM on November 30, 2018 [9 favorites]

Would it help to think of it in the same way you'd think of driving? What I mean is . . . people do stupid shit while they're driving all the time. No turn signal, wrong turn signal, cutting in front of you, tailgating, going too slow, going too fast, it's like nobody knows how to drive anymore, amirite? But you wouldn't get out of your car and scold someone for coming to a rolling stop and hopefully you wouldn't carry around lots of rage because that idiot didn't use his turn signal the right way last week. You just accept that stuff and move on, and the rude and stupid and inattentive things people do while driving are way, way, way worse than the ones they do on the subway because most dumb driving things could get someone seriously injured or killed. You have to let that stuff go because otherwise you turn into Permanent Road Rage Guy, and nobody wants to be that guy (plus, that guy does get people killed).

So, just because you do have the opportunity to reprimand your fellow passengers for their rude/idiotic/inattentive behavior that you do not have with your fellow drivers doesn't mean you should.
posted by tiger tiger at 3:00 AM on November 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

It's true that I have way more of these encounters with men, in absolute terms, but they don't concern me as much because I feel like I have a better understanding of both the expectations and my options.

I'm not following this part at all. What do you do differently with dudes? Say nothing if he's bigger than you? Call him names?

Everything about the scenarios you described screamed to me "I'm a dude who is oblivious about how much room he's taking up and that other people need space too." Except for the aggro stroller lady--you were both out of line in that situation. (I too have had someone ram me with their stroller from behind. Like literally this lady shoved her way onto the train by ramming her muddy jogging stroller into my legs. She used no words.) Stopping her stroller with your foot was a total dick move and you're lucky that didn't escalate further.

One thing I have noticed on public transport that has added to the difficulty of navigating the social contract is the sheer numbers of headphone wearers. (I am NOT saying that people shouldn't wear headphones. I wear them all the time and they make commuting a little less miserable. I don't have a solution here.) I have found myself resorting to shoving, elbowing etc. because no one can hear you when you say "excuse me!" With the growing popularity of wireless headphones, it's also getting harder to tell who is wearing headphones at all, so I think some people just move forward as if no one can hear them, because really, hardly anyone is listening. And no one makes eye contact because it's public transit, so all you have left is to just move where you need to move and hope for the best.

The key to getting through this better is three-fold: double up on your awareness of how much space you're taking up and whether you're blocking access to something, be aware of those around you who might need a seat more than you and offer it to them, and lastly, try to let go of black & white thinking about this. All the ways you think public transit should be won't make it so. It just adds to your misery. (Easier said than done.)
posted by purple_bird at 11:31 AM on November 30, 2018 [10 favorites]

A lot of people seem confused by (3), so I'll clarify that the seat was empty because someone stood up before the train had stopped. I wanted to hold onto the pole until the train stopped. I didn't mention this because I thought her actions would be beyond the pale regardless. If I hadn't let go quickly enough, or if the train had lurched s.t. she applied more force than she intended, she could easily have sprained or even dislocated my elbow. I'm astonished that so many people here think this is okay.

Maybe I'm visualizing the position wrong. But the only way I can see you blocking a seat by holding a pole, you're standing in front of it, with an available handhold right overhead. Under those circumstances, "I wanted to hold onto the pole until the train stopped" means that you didn't want to change your grip from one spot to another to let someone else sit down and get out of everyone else's way. In her shoes, I wouldn't have done the same thing, but I know that because I've watched people doing what you describe yourself as doing, and thought they were behaving badly and wished there were some way to make them quit it.
posted by LizardBreath at 9:47 AM on December 1, 2018

[One comment deleted; sorry, metacommentary about how a thread has gone should to go Metatalk or the contact form. Folks, scenarios where OP is a villain/unreliable narrator have been pretty thoroughly aired at this point. From here on let's restrict it to constructive advice for how to handle these scenarios if you imagine that OP is describing the scene accurately and the other person was being the rude one.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 1:28 PM on December 1, 2018

I am a medium sized pale pink woman and I have seen small white women behave aggressively on public transit because they can get away with it and have a chip on their shoulder, and I have experienced them doing it to me. So my take is that you have probably experienced some people being un-careful on purpose, or feeling entitled.

I was once sitting on the bus where my forward facing seat faced some side facing seats, so there was nothing in front of me but a space where someone could have stood. Since the ride was a jolty one I put my arm behind the person beside me - who was my spouse and quite happy with that contact - and I held the handle on the back of the seat behind him. A woman got into the seat behind him and after a second demanded I not hold on there, because she wanted to be able to put her hands on the same handle and brace without contact with me. She was quite startled and taken aback when I explained it was the only place I could hang on as she honestly thought I was taking up too much space to be annoying. That's a small example of the entitlement that people can get when they are in a public place and don't have much situational awareness or empathy.

There are definitely aggressive people out there who will do things out of meaness. If you feel you are being crowded unreasonably, I think you are. And I think it is quite possible that these women attacked you, believing that if you spoke up or retaliated they could claim YOU were the aggressor.

I'm going to suggest that the next time someone runs into you with a stroller or whacks you with a bag you don't ignore it, you turn around, make eye contact and beam at them. Give them a big wide smile, as if they were someone you knew who had tapped you to get your attention. But don't say anything and turn around again.

They will know in their heart of hearts that they were aggressive and you are calling them on it, and that their pettiness amuses you. Or if they weren't being aggressive and are just clumsy, or too tired to function, your smile in that context will be friendly recognition that they are a nice person who needs some space. It won't give them anything to complain about, and it won't escalate the aggression. But it will make them too uncomfortable to crowd you again.

You can also be sugary polite, "Did you need some more space?" and then move away from them a bit if it is possible. If you can't move away from them just yet add, "I'll give you some space as soon as I can." But then don't look at them. Again, you don't want to come across as the aggressive one. "There's a lady here with a stroller needs to get off the car quick so she doesn't miss her bus," directed at the people ahead of you, is actually a reassurance to the woman running the stroller into you, and a reminder to her that you are in the space and she can't go through you.

You may not be happy to let cranky people shove you around, so the trick is to take control of the situation and condescend nicely to give them what they are asking for rudely. The trick is to come across as a really nice guy looking out for a fragile senior, or a poor clumsy lady, or a harried mother.
posted by Jane the Brown at 5:40 PM on December 1, 2018 [6 favorites]

IAWW (I am a white woman).

I read these as rude and possibly racist. There could also be a bias related to gender and size as they may think you don't have sensitivity. (Which could be borne out of their experience in other settings, but that isn't something you can address in the moment. ) And apparently, reading these comments, there's the general frustration with modern life and transit at play.

Saying "Ouch" could give the individual the opportunity to remember you're a person, not an object or obstacle.

There is a surprised tone that works differently than a vindictive or passive-aggressive one. Disappointment, resignation, sadness csn work, too. This disrupts the aggressive cycle they're perpetuating. The "ouch" is making an observation, not trying to persuade or change their behavior in the moment.

"I'm going as fast as I can."
"That hurt." (Rubbing the part they've bumped.)
posted by ramenopres at 7:06 AM on December 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

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