When it comes to existing as a woman in the world, it can feel like there is an endless string of things we need to apologize for. Even when we use public transportation, for example, it can feel like we're opening ourselves up to a litany of unwanted critiques, conversations, and catcalling. It's important to remember, however, that there are things women never have to apologize for, including when we're using public transportation. Ever.
Regardless of why we use it, public transit should feel like a relatively safe and accessible option to get us from point A to point B. For many women, however, commuting can feel like a nightmare. Why? Because we're trapped in a small space with strangers who don't always respect our space or privacy. In general, women tend to feel pressured into entertaining the advances of strangers in public no matter what we're doing, whether it's eating alone in a restaurant, walking down the street solo, or yes, sitting on a public bus on our way to work. Our bodies become public property the moment we walk out the door, and the problem always seems to intensify when we're on the subway or bus.
When people feel entitled to the attention of women, it can be really, truly exhausting. That's why it's so important to remember that, no matter what our culture might try to convince us of, there are some things you never have to apologize for as a woman. Here are just a few.
1. Taking Up Space
We talk a lot about how frustrating it can be when someone is "manspreading" on public transportation. Less often do we talk about what this specifically means for women. While men generally acquire extra space, this often leaves women feeling squished and uncomfortable trying to claim any room for herself. If you are small in stature, it can be even worse, though it happens to pretty much all women at one point or another. So stake your claim. You deserve as much space as the person next to you.
2. Being On Your Phone
I can't count the number of times I've been on public transit and had men "jokingly" tell me to get off my phone. The fact of the matter is, you don't owe it to anyone to appear "available" for conversation, and what you do on your phone is your own business. Whether you're checking your work email or texting your best friend, you don't owe it to anyone around you to put it away so you are more available to chat with them.
3. Reading In Public
Similar to the phone situation, I've noticed men in particular love telling myself — and other women — to stop reading. If they're not literally "teasing" about me being a "book nerd," it's questions about the book. Now, making friendly conversation is one thing, but when people are invading your personal space bubble, it can be really frustrating. If a woman is actively engaged in a solo activity, like reading a book or magazine, this isn't an open invitation to talk to her about what she's reading, why she's reading it, and so on.
4. Not Removing Your Headphones
Whether you're actively listening to music or not, it doesn't matter. There is nothing quite like the annoyance that comes when someone tries getting your attention while your ears are seemingly occupied. As a woman, you should never have to apologize for signaling that you're not up for a conversation, whether it's because you're listening to music or a podcast. In fact, many women wear headphones and don't listen to a thing, simply hoping that it'll decrease the odds that strangers will bother them. For some reason, it doesn't — a lot of people seem to have difficulty understanding that clear, "I don't want to talk to you" signs actually mean that someone doesn't want to talk to you — but if someone bothers you, it's not on you to apologize for not wanting to be interrupted. It's on them to apologize for interrupting you.
5. Keeping Personal Information Private
If you have a regular commute, it's likely you'll notice the same people on your journey again and again. While friendly conversation and small-talk is one thing, you should never feel wrong for wanting to keep your personal information personal. If someone asks you where specifically you work, or what your next bus transfer is, or things of that nature, you are valid in not wanting to give out those details.
Even if people are "just asking" in an effort to get to know you or be friendly, these conversations should happen on your terms, and if you aren't comfortable, there is nothing wrong with that.