6 things men can do to be better human beings on public transit

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sara ahmed quote

  • Sriram Ananth (sriram.writing@gmail.com)

I am such a goddamn dick of a man-child.

Really.

I take up way too much space as a dude and I’m a loud, obnoxious asshole. It eats away at my soul. I dehumanize myself by being that way and I hurt others, especially women and trans folk, including those whom I love dearly.

Thankfully I have some amazing warrior-goddesses in my life – starting with a partner whom I truly believe to be the pinnacle of humanity – all of whom graciously and patiently guide me to greater humanization and being less of an asshole, even though it is none of their responsibility. To say I am blessed is the greatest understatement in the world.

So this article is quite personal.

(Hell, which one isn’t?)

Now, I travel a lot on public transit. I regularly hear and read about the daily horror stories that women and trans people have to deal with while on public transit with the unending supply of entitled, oafish men. It lit the spark for this piece. It’s written especially for men (i.e. cis-gendered men, i.e. those referred to as “men” across the vast majority of the world’s population, i.e. the overwhelming majority of asshole evil-doers on earth.)

So if you’re a woman or trans person reading this, consider forwarding this to some dudes you think would benefit from it. I don’t get enough hate mail to satiate my monstrous ego, so feel free to help out.

But really, all this focuses on is how men can be better human beings on public transit and life in general.

So, lets start with the first lesson.

(1) When sitting or standing, ensure that you occupy as little space as possible: Here’s a little practice exercise for all men to try out.

Take a chair.

Now sit on it.

So far so good?

Excellent.

Now bring your feet closer together, as close as you can, no more than a few centimeters apart.

(You’re doing great bro, keep going.)

Now that your feet are close together, bring your knees closer, approximately the same distance apart as your feet are.

Amazing.

(You’re almost there, just keep at it son. Take a beer break if you need to.)

Ok, now let’s work on your hands.

Tuck your elbows against the sides of your torso and hips.

Now place your palms on your knees.

Voila! Perfect seated position that takes up as little space as possible.

Try the same exercise standing and then again standing while holding onto something. Just remember that the best way to take up as little space as possible is ensuring that opposing limbs are brought close together and with reverence to the women and trans folk around you.

Practice makes perfect, so practice, practice practice.

Way to go man-child! What say we work on your facial expression and eye line now?

Onward, kind sir, to lesson 2.

(2) Look away or look down and make efforts to show you are not a threat by practicing your “pleasant face” (don’t be overtly friendly by default): Looking away or looking down indicates that you’re not really interested in interaction, and ipso facto not interested in being a threat to anyone. It is an easy way to ensure that your fellow women and trans travellers feel safe and comfortable to travel. (You know, one of those gosh darned “human rights” that the bleeding hearts are always going on about).

This may seem unfriendly, but I beg to differ. I am of the opinion that, due to global gender-oppression, it’s really important for men to refrain from being overtly friendly, because it can often make women and trans folk feel extremely unsafe. Practice the simple art of speaking only when you are spoken to, ensuring that you are polite and thoughtful. Only engage to the limit that makes the other person comfortable, and then go back to looking away or looking down.

But remember to also practice your “pleasant face” for this. All men are capable of pleasant faces. It’s less to do with your countenance and more to do with your attitude really. Below is shown a simple exercise for you to try out.

Stand in front of the mirror and think of something that makes you smile. Then practice making that smile slight, i.e. not super obvious but still noticeable. The Mona Lisa is a great template to practice with for that perfect slight smile. Don’t smile too wide (that could get creepy). Once you’ve got that down pat, remove traces of a scowl or furrowed eyebrows as much as possible. Then look at your eyes. Try to get a sense of calm and peace of mind to get those eyes into a lovely peaceful gaze that shows the same level of threat as The Buddha (the real one, not the pot-bellied garbage hawked to eager white folk who recently returned from a trip finding themselves.)

And there you have it, an easy practice exercise for developing your “pleasant face.” When in doubt, think of someone you really care about, and the pleasantness will show on your face with greater ease.

Practice makes perfect, so practice, practice, practice.

Way to go man-child! What say we work on tone of voice and way of communicating, talking, and laughing now?

Go forth, intrepid gentleman, to lesson 3.

(3) Don’t be a loud, obnoxious asshole (especially when children, seniors, and other more vulnerable populations are around): Now dude, before you get all whiny, please note that no one’s telling you not to enjoy yourself. Joy and laughter are gorgeous things. Just don’t take up so much space that it’s just you and your equally loud, obnoxious friends doing it. And remember that there is way less social and cultural space for women and trans folk to speak loudly, enjoy themselves, or laugh with abandon.

(Why, only recently, we had the lovely Napa Valley Wine Train episode where a group of Black women were essentially told by authorities that Laughing While Black And Female is a strict no-no from sea to shining sea.)

It is our goddamn responsibility as men to ensure that we are taking up as little space as possible to create more space for women and trans folk to be able to express joy and emotion.

(For our own sake bud. For our own sake.)

All you need to practice in not being a loud, obnoxious asshole, especially with more vulnerable populations around who might be justifiably nervous around this kind of behavior.

Again, very simple to implement.

When in doubt as to whether you are being loud, quieten the fuck up.

When in doubt as to whether you are being obnoxious, quieten the fuck up.

In fact, in general, unless necessary, just quieten the fuck up.

If you actually need a goddamn reason to do that, try to imagine someone you care about who might be more vulnerable and who might feel threatened by such behavior. Try to behave in a way that would make that person proud to share your love.

If you catch yourself being loud and obnoxious, be open about your contrition, apologize even (don’t worry, no one really gives a shit about your posturing, only about what kind of a person you are).

And then, oh yes, quieten the fuck up.

Practice makes perfect, so practice, practice, practice.

Way to go man-child! What say we work on general demeanor and way of being now?

Stride forward, caring human being that you are, to lesson 4.

(4) Don’t ogle, stare or pass lewd comments. (Also, don’t wear sunglasses in closed spaces unless medically necessary): Do I have to actually write about how you might successfully implement this point? Really?

Fuck me. Alright, here goes.

Ogling and staring makes people feel extremely uncomfortable and unsafe. Women and trans folk, as well as many people of color, immigrants, homeless folk and others face this all the time. It’s a violation of space, it’s a violation of a person’s fundamental human right to feeling safe, and it’s just a really, really dickish thing to do.

Same goes for passing lewd or offensive comments. Again, when in doubt, just shut the fuck up. You’re not doing yourself or anyone else any good by being this way. You hurt others and you dehumanize yourself, damaging your soul in the process, eventually becoming a pathetic shell of a human being hanging around other assholes merely because it’s only assholes who will hang out with you.

(And then you die, and the great goddess Kali feeds you to her tiger companion, as she does with all assholes on earth, but that’s another trip…)

A small, but important, side-point to the ogling issue – unless medically necessary (and we know what those sunglasses tend to look like, so don’t try fooling people) please try and refrain from wearing sunglasses in closed spaces. The reason is that many men use sunglasses to cravenly cover up the fact that they are, in fact, ogling at someone.

Now, we can’t really do much about it outdoors (though if it’s night time, the unsafe creepiness factor goes up by about a million). So just try not wearing them inside. If you absolutely must wear sunglasses inside, stare the fuck out the window or away from people whom you know might feel uncomfortable with your line of eyesight. Or just engage in conversation with your companion if you have one travelling with you.

An added issue is that even if you’re not actually doing any nasty ogling, but just zoning out or something, many folks will still get uncomfortable because your man-child peepers are hidden behind tint.

(Yes, dear ol’ backward-hat-wearing, beer-brat-inhaling, pal of mine – sexism is an extremely intricate and leviathan social structure. And it’s our responsibility to ensure we’re not reproducing that shit as much as possible.

For ourselves bud.

For ourselves.)

Practice makes perfect, so practice, practice, practice.

Way to go man-child! What say we work on social skills and trying to be a more caring, egalitarian human being?

Gleefully hop-step-and-jump, oh polite and kindhearted beast, to lesson 5.

(5) Always stand the fuck up politely and give your seat to seniors, pregnant women, folks with accessibility issues, and other more vulnerable populations: This is a simple one that doesn’t really need much detailed instructions to implement. Just do it without questioning it or being a dick about it. For starters, not only is it (again) the fundamental human right of vulnerable populations who need seating more acutely than others, but it also marks you out as a decent human being, and therefore also someone who is unlikely to be a threat to anyone.

Practice makes perfect, so practice, practice, practice.

Way to go man-child! And as we wrap up this session, what say we now work on the kind of mindset that would make men better human beings on public transit?

Carry on, with a heart that brimeth over with love for humanity and the world, to lesson 5.

(6) It’s totally fine to be a nice person, but not a creepy person who doesn’t respect personal space: Be a nice person.

Really.

It’s awesome if you’re a nice dude. So do practice the fine art of being a nice person, a goodhearted person, a person who cares about people, and is keen on ensuring their health and safety to the greatest degree possible.

But also remember that it’s not anything more than should be expected from you.

(Truth be told, I’m stroking that ego so you’ll stay with me here. It’s ok, I don’t mind, I know how pathetically fragile a man-child’s sense of self is.)

Thus, just as it’s important to be a nice person, it’s equally important to not be a creepy person. Often what is “nice” behavior according to you could come off as very creepy and unsafe to someone else. The best mindset that you might occupy is one of empathy and honest-to-goodness care.

Practice makes perfect, so practice, practice, practice.

Congratulations man-child! You did it! You made it all the way through to the 6th lesson.

Oh, I am so proud of you. I wish there was a certificate I could print out or perhaps an embossed, laminated membership card into the illustrious Platinum Club Of Marginally Less Dickish Men.

Here’s a thought – why don’t you make one for yourself and carry it around with you on public transit? Check it out whenever you find yourself regressing on some of this stuff. It’ll do you wonders.

But wait…

There’s more!

Since you successfully completed the course, we have a bonus lesson…

(6a) Bonus lesson for boneheaded jocks – coming from one who is currently undergoing an intense, 12-step, Boneheaded Jock Rehabilitation program called Assholes Anonymous (we meet secretly at tailgating parties): Listen bud, it’s fine to love sports, get fit, build muscles etc. especially if you’re doing it as part of a transformation to becoming a better person.

Just don’t be a dick about it.

In fact, this entire article can be summarized with one very succinct sentiment that all men on public transit, indeed all men, all the time, would do well to implement in their daily lives. It also happens to be a great sentiment to taking that first step in purging all that misogynistic gunk that clogs their soul:

Don’t be a dick.

With that rare brevity on my part, I’ll sign off.

Bye for now, man-child.

Now go practice, practice, practice until all this becomes instinct.

(And if you expect to be applauded for this shit, consider stabbing yourself in the eye with that spork you just used to eat your Hungry Man microwave dinner.)

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