Emma Schirmer, Contributing Writer
“You work at the hospital, darling?”
“You must do a lot of walking, sweetie.”
“Hey baby, where you goin’?”
“You look mighty tasty.”
“Hey I’m talking to you, lady.”
“I like your hair, can I touch it.” It was not phrased as a question because he immediately reached out, took a piece of my bright blue hair between his fingers and held it on the crowded GRTC Pulse bus. When I dyed my hair, I was in love with it. Someone called me Ramona Flowers, and I felt so powerful. But in that moment, as that man gripped my hair in his hands, I felt weak, violated. In his eyes, I was a piece of meat. I wanted to cry, scream, vomit and tell him to leave me alone. I couldn’t breathe. I just stared forward, moved my head away and exited the bus a stop early.
Catcalling isn’t new, but for some reason every time it happens it chips away at my confidence, my strength and the person that I have built from scratch over the past 19 years. And GRTC buses are a breeding ground for many of the vulgar comments I have received. The fifteen-minute commute I take on the GRTC’s Pulse is sprinkled with at least two comments on a good day.
In an update to RamSafe, riders going from the MCV to Monroe Park Campus while the Pulse is in operation are denied ride requests. Basically, riders can only use the shuttle service to travel from and to campuses between midnight and 6 a.m. on weekdays.
I’m a student. At 10:30 p.m., when my class at the MCV campus lets out, I have to walk down Broad Street in the dark to use the Pulse, listening to comment after comment being thrown at me. I constantly have to triple check behind me to make sure I’m not being followed because it’s happened before. So, I started to develop tactics.
Getting off the Pulse, the first thing I do is call a friend. I need someone, anyone, to talk to me while I walk home in the dark. But we all know that harassment doesn’t just happen in the dark. So, I start calling during the day too.
I’ve been told not to say anything, not to talk back, not to look in their direction. To just ignore it all. If they keep throwing their inappropriate comments at you, kindly ask them to stop. And, if that doesn’t work: Tell them you’re going to call the cops.
Lately, I’ve had to use these strategies more often because of VCU’s decision to discontinue the Campus Connector, which for many students — especially women — provided a safe route of transportation late at night between the two campuses. The discontinuation came on July 1 as a result of an agreement with GRTC that lets VCU affiliates ride the buses for free.
When I addressed my concerns with VCU’s transportation department in an email earlier this semester, they said “VCU Parking and Transportation offers regular GRTC Travel Training Sessions to help riders find routes.” The problem is not that some people don’t know how to ride the bus, it’s those who ride the bus and choose to harass others. We shouldn’t have to fight our school to get the safety we deserve and need.
Now, I can’t expect a predominantly male transportation committee to understand the burden a woman carries when walking down the street, but I thought they might at least have our backs.
Instead of listening, they made it even more difficult.
Maybe it’s just me, but I thought the whole point of RamSafe was to provide safe transportation to students when they need it. Personally, I don’t think people sitting in a boardroom — who have probably never ridden a GRTC bus — get to tell me when I should feel safe.
How many women, how many victims will it take to be heard by this school? How many days of repeated comments and uncomfortable conversations with older men on the Pulse will it take for this to be seen? I sincerely hope I will not graduate before we are heard.
To the women on VCU’s transportation committee: I am disappointed in you for not being there for the women on this campus when we needed you.
To the men on VCU’s transportation committee: I implore you to think about your wives, your daughters, your sisters and about how much you love them. Then think about if you would let them walk the same routes you’re making your students and employees walk to reach the nearest GRTC station. Think about that next time you make a decision on my behalf.
And to men who are reading this who have catcalled. Let me ask you this: How would you feel? Maybe you didn’t think it was hurtful, maybe you thought it was a compliment. Maybe you saw your friends do it and you thought it was OK. But that is ignorant, and your actions were cruel. I am a human being — I’m a daughter, a sister, a niece, a cousin. I’m a woman. I am not a chew toy for you to play with just because I have a pair of boobs. How would you feel if someone told you that you had a nice ass?
Think about that next time.