There are three parts to this story. You don’t have to believe them all. In fact, if you don’t believe any of them it doesn’t matter much to me. There are many of you I love and respect, but few who I rely on for the kind of intimacy I’d expect of a partner or friend. But if you’re my friend, my lover, or anyone else who cares about me, I need you to believe me when I tell you about my life.
Part one: women who eat on tubes
It’s a tiny thing, really, part one. It starts on the Jubilee Line, when I – flustered and hungry on the way to work – take a croissant out of my bag and start eating. I used to eat on tubes quite a bit. I hate being late, and I hate being hungry, and sometimes the only way to avoid one or the other is to grab a croissant or a sandwich on the way to the station, and snaffle it while I’m waiting on the platform. Or find a carriage at the front or back, sneak into one of those blissfully-usually-empty seats right at the end, turn away from other travellers and eat.
A man takes a photo of me.
At least, I think he does. He’s holding his phone in his lap to read it, and out of the corner of my eye I see him slowly lift it up – pointing the lens directly at me. Frowning, he adjusts the angle, and presses a button. I look right into the lens, and he twitches in surprise, before fumbling and putting his phone away. His face glows red.
Part two: once more with shaming
A couple of months after that, same thing. Same train line, same carriage, same hunger. Same eerie feeling of being watched as I take a bite.
This time, I’m certain I hear a click.
I didn’t confront either of these men: I was too ashamed. Because, hey! Eating on the tube is naughty, right? So naughty that there used to be that Facebook group ‘Women who eat on tubes‘, to shame women like me who couldn’t keep their hunger at bay until they got off. Or women who were too busy in the morning to grab breakfast before their commute. I never fully understood why this was shameful, only that it was, and that it was worse for me to do it as a woman. Women are meant to have better control over their bodily functions. We aren’t meant to feel hunger.
Anyway. Those are parts one and two. Entirely unsurprising: I suspect most other women in London have stories of similar things. What’s more, both of these incidents happened years ago. I rarely get that tube line any more, and I very rarely eat on tubes now (I freelance, so I don’t usually need to, which is lucky for me because it means I don’t have to confront the uncomfortable fact that perhaps I don’t do it because I’m frightened). I hadn’t thought about these surreptitious photos in any conscious way for two or three years. It had never occurred to me that these events were shocking or unusual or… well… unbelievable.
Part three: believe me
I’m drunk. On a train platform with a man I know well. We bought sandwiches from the overpriced shop in the station to keep us going till we each get home. As we’re choosing a train carriage I ask him to keep walking along the platform, because we’re more likely to get empty space if we go right to the front of the train.
Him: Why? There’ll be spare seats here.
Me: I always feel a bit uncomfortable eating if the train’s crowded.
Me: At least a couple of guys have taken photos of me eating on trains in the past, and it creeped me out.
Him: I think that’s unlikely.
It’s such a tiny thing, this. Teeny tiny. I didn’t demand he step up to challenge sexism. I didn’t ask for his help in reporting an assault. I didn’t enlist his help in seeking vengeance upon the guys who did this. I didn’t request that he call out a friend who had said something crass and misogynist, or ask him to overturn any of his deeply-held beliefs. I just asked him to move along the platform. I asked him for a tiny bit of consideration, in light of something icky that had happened to me.
At worst, if pressed, I could imagine him offering a counterargument: “if we sit in this middle carriage, we’ll be nearer our stop when it’s time to get off” or “the drunkest blokes tend to sit at the end, maybe we should pick the second-from-last carriage?”
Never in a million years would I have predicted he’d simply not believe me.
It was so bizarre. Dude: you know me. You have known me for years. You tell me, repeatedly, that you love me. And yet when asked to believe that this tiny, insignificant, common thing happened to me, your immediate reaction was ‘Nah.’ I must have been mistaken. My experience can’t be trusted. Where’s the evidence?
In the wake of #MeToo, I’ve had a lot of conversations about trust: can we trust men now? How can we rebuild trust that has been lost? When is it OK to trust a man again, after he’s expressed remorse for bad behaviour in the past? My answer to this is nebulous and unclear, but somewhere in it we have to recognise that trust needs to be reciprocated. Our experiences need to be believed, not dismissed.
As I said at the start: I don’t really care if most of you believe me. I could receive ten thousand comments in response to this post, from men questioning whether I was paranoid when I thought I heard a camera click, or wondering if the guy sitting opposite had been taking a snap of a particularly witty advert instead of my face. It doesn’t matter. But this man… this man loved me. He loved me! Yet he couldn’t trust my experience or judgment, instead choosing to offer the benefit of the doubt to two total strangers he had never met in his life.
Like I say, this is a tiny thing. But it gave me a powerful jolt of shock. This guy said he loved me, yet couldn’t take my word on something tiny and simple and entirely unsurprising.
Did he love me? Maybe. Did he believe me?