watching men watch women on subways
By Ciara Alfaro
You do it because it entertains you. Because it fascinates you. Because it’s funny. Most of all, you do it because it terrifies you: the dimpled man with Timberlands caked in construction dust; the one wearing a Mets cap with a single-breasted suit; the grandfather acting as a pillow for his baby girl. They each do it—watch women shuffle on and off the train. Hungry. You watch these men watch these women, amazed at the boldness of their stares, and you wish that they could feel what you’re feeling.
This game you’re playing is dangerous. The last time a man caught you watching him he took it as an invitation to follow you off your train and into the street. He asked for your number and you gave it to him because you’ve been taught plenty to say yes please. No one ever said it was okay to say no without a thank you attached.
You watch, anyway, because you know how dangerous it is to be looked at as a body before you’re recognized as a person, before you get the chance to prove that you’re more than an ass and a cute face.
Which men in your life watch women on subways? You think about the guys who are your friends, some of your favorite friends, and chuckle when they tell you their ideal situation: wifey who is loyal, chicks on the side. Cheating is in my culture, your casual hookup tells you while driving you around his childhood neighborhood. My main chick isn’t allowed to cheat because she’s mine, your ex-boyfriend says as you split fries at a midnight bar. You tell them that they’re being sexist; having an opinion, after all, is one of the best ways to prove you have a conscious. And you do it gently, with humor if you can, so as not to put them off: What happens when your side chick and main chick meet one another, realize you’re trash, and decide to get together themselves?
You quickly realize this is not foolproof. When you bring up your own date and these men grow dizzy with jealousy, you understand they really only view you as theirs, too. At what age did you lose the ability to be a friend in men’s eyes?
On the street, you watch a couple laugh together in Kew Gardens and wonder how she got him to see her as herself. When you pass them on the sidewalk, he moves her out of your way and you become frightened to think that she hasn’t gotten him to see her as herself at all.
You watch yourself cry in the mirror, sometimes, staring until you begin to look like a person behind a window rather than a reflection on glass. Until you notice the movement of your breath, falling tears, and flickering, swollen eyes. Until you scare yourself with how real you look right there. You used to ask yourself what’s wrong with me? Now you ask yourself why do I need to remind myself that I’m a person, too?