It all happened quickly, so quickly, in fact, that I wasn’t – at the time – sure that it had happened at all.
The tram was full to bursting. There were people squashed into every corner. I had an outside seat … you know, the one where you get slapped by all the shoulder bags, purses and backpacks of all the others who climb on after you. It was hot. It was noisy. It was peak hour in The Hague (which, in general, is much better than peak hour in Vancouver, but still…). The guy standing behind me was sweaty. That much I remember. And I also remember him rubbing up against me. Subtly, at first, and then with more insistence.
There was nowhere to go, and really, it might just have been the edge of a bag. And honestly, it was much easier to think of it that way, anyway. On later reflection – and there has been much reflection – it’s pretty clear what was going on. I got off at the first possible stop.
I thought about this episode again yesterday as I read this piece in The Guardian Online.
It was one of the more interesting pieces in a paper otherwise completely devoted to the birth of the new British prince, 3rd in line to the throne, 43rd since William the Conqueror and further, according to this article, “also 41st in direct line of descent from Egbert, King of Wessex, who ruled from 802 to 839.” That’s some family tree, all right.
I don’t care much about Baby Cambridge.
But I do care about bodily integrity and bodily authority and the relationships between bodies and spaces. Sadly, Ellie Cosgrave’s experiences are all too familiar. Like me, she felt powerless in the moment. Indeed, as one of the posters to the article commented:
On tubes at rush hour, it’s often difficult to tell if someone’s rubbing against you because of the lack of space, or if there’s a more unsavoury reason. And as Ellie said, it often happens so quickly, it’s difficult to decide what to do.
But Cosgrave’s response – to reclaim both that space and her right to bodily integrity – is unique. And it demonstrates one way that bodies can make a resistant noise.
Of her decision to dance her resistance, Cosgrave observes:
I was responding with my body in the exact place that my body was abused, and that while I couldn’t sing or shout very loudly, I could dance loudly.
British Transport Police are listening and they’ve launched Project Guardian, a new campaign (based on similar – apparently successful – American campaigns) to encourage victims of sexual harassment and assault to come forward, in the process working to reduce the level of street harassment that women continue to experience. It’s a start, and I’ll look forward to hearing how it progresses.
Baby Cambridge likely won’t ever take public transit (unfortunate, because when it’s good, it’s a really decent way to travel). Plus, as a boy, he is unlikely to share the experiences of so many women (fortunately, because who wants to?). But perhaps he’ll be in a place where he might be able to comment on it; perhaps he can use his position as a platform for the eradication of sexual harassment and assault in all of its forms. We can only hope, right?