What I Wish I Said to the Man Who Sexually Harassed Me on the Subway

Because sometimes you're too tired to fight back right then. And that's okay.

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Sexism happens every day in ways both large and small. Today, in honor of International Women's Day, we're standing up and calling it out. Here, and in the linked stories below, four women share powerful essays about the moments they wish they could go back and rewrite—join in on Twitter and share your own. #WhatIWishISaid.

When I got on the train headed north, I sat down in the brightly lit subway car, and exhaled. It had been a pretty good day, until it wasn't anymore. One comment can do that to a person. But here I was, at least, seemingly home free.

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That's when it happened. A stranger came on board and immediately started staring at me. I could feel his gaze coming for my body and face. He crossed the subway car and hovered over me, only a few feet away. Then he turned and started checking out my reflection in the window opposite where I sat. I could still see his eyes on me. He started licking his lips, like I was his feast.

"I've been harassed and abused by men so many times it's like I'm supposed to be an expert both in experiencing misogyny and fighting back."

I have been catcalled and street harassed more times than I can count. Once, literally out of nowhere, a stranger shoved me as we passed each other. Another time, I was walking downstairs at a concert and a guy just squeezed my chest…right there…with plenty of people around.

This has happened so many times, actually, that usually I do an adequate job of standing up for myself. I've been harassed and abused by men so many times—in the work place, in my bedroom, on the street—it's like I'm supposed to be an expert both in experiencing misogyny and fighting back. Except no one should have to be an expert at that. It is exhausting to remain resilient in the wake of being objectified and traumatized. Someone has to tell these misogynists to stop. But who? Society? Their parents? Their teachers? Their friends?

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I had already fought back once that day.

I was walking down the street, headphones in, practicing poetry for a performance later. I felt energetic. I felt empowered.

I noticed three men outside a church, one leaning against a pole. As I strolled past, the pole guy screamed at me, "You should be raped!" He bellowed it from the depths of his core. "You should be raped because you're a woman!"

I thought to myself: Caroline, keep walking, don't let this trigger you. I was raped in college and molested in high school. And despite knowing firsthand how wretchedly rampant those abuses are all over the world, I couldn't fathom that someone was actually shouting this. It was so guttural. So raw. It was the unrelenting voice of misogyny in my face.

I turned around, took out my headphones, and said, "What did you just say?"

He screamed it again. "You should be raped because you're a woman!"

"I've already been raped," I said firmly. "Don't tell me I need to be raped again."

"One harassment experience a day should be the cap, you know? Feels like a reasonable request of the world."

I turned and kept walking, now starting to cry. One of the other guys ran after me to apologize. "I'm so sorry," he said, "my friend is on acid."

"That's not an excuse," I assured him. "Drugs or not, your friend has those thoughts in his head." It was already too late. Once I got far enough away, I sat down on the sidewalk and sobbed.

And now, here I was on my subway ride home, and it was happening again. One harassment experience a day should be the cap, you know? Feels like a reasonable request of the world.

When I got up to leave the subway, the guy looked me up and down. He inched closer and closer to where I now stood. And then, he whispered over my shoulder: "You're beautiful."

I was too tired—from being verbally assaulted, from dealing with this all for so long—to say anything other than, "Thank you."

Thank you? For licking your lips? For adding yourself to the list of men who have objectified me, or made my body a crime scene, or made my body their prey?

I don't wish for an alternate ending. I was exhausted and traumatized and in shock. I know that in that moment, I did the best I could. But if I did have an alternate ending, I wish I told him to stop licking his lips. I wish I said, "I'm not a piece of meat."

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