I need some advice on what you would have done if you were in my situation.
I was on the train this morning going to work (LIRR) and I got a seat in one of the “booth style” areas where the seats face each other. There was an older guy who took the empty seat across from me when we stopped at the Lynbrook station. He greeted a couple of people who were seated in the booth style seats right next to us. They chatted for a while, asked about each others’ families, and then he proceeded to read his morning paper.
It was as we were nearing Penn that I noticed via my peripherals the older guy seated directly across from me was just staring at me. Literally just eyes fixated, unwavering, staring at me. He was slightly older (maybe late 50s early 60s?), so for a second I gave him the benefit of the doubt; maybe he has an eye condition where it looks like he is staring at me, but in reality he isn’t.
No, he didn’t have an eye problem. After a few minutes of feeling his gaze on me, I decided to stare back at him. Maybe he was spacing (morning commute; I can relate), so maybe if I stared back at him, he would realize what he was doing.
Surprisingly, as I stared back at him, he did not move, except for a blink or two. I had to look away because I couldn’t take looking at this older guy’s watery, muddy blue eyes. I looked away, and after a while, he did too. My theory that he had an eye problem was debunked when I noticed him looking around, and making eye contact with his acquaintances across from us when they asked him a question.
I was infuriated, because I was feeling uncomfortable and trapped; like I couldn’t do anything about it. I was torn between “why should I care, just let it go,” and “FUCK THIS GUY, WHY ARE YOU LOOKING AT ME.” And while I was thinking about this, not a few minutes after he looked away, I could feel him looking at me again. Just staring at me. Those fucking stupid blue eyes just looking at me like I was a thing to be looked at and almost challenging me to do something.
I was so pissed. I decided that I wasn’t going to let this guy scare me. I lifted my eyes and looked right at him with the bitchiest, coldest stare that I know I’m capable of. And in my head as I was staring at him, I was thinking, “I will fucking cut you you sonafabitch. I will kill you.”
Nope. This prick still looked a me, unfazed and looking so entitled and in control. I thought, I should say something. I should ask him in front of everyone why he was staring at me. This wasn’t some mentally ill person (that I’m aware of) that you find on the subway. This guy was someone’s husband (he had a wedding ring), father, maybe even grandfather. He seemed like a friendly guy who people knew on this morning commute.
This cycle of him staring at me, me staring daggers back at him, me looking away, him looking away, him staring at me again… went on for a couple of iterations as we traveled through the tunnel into Penn. Maybe 10-15 minutes — but it felt like a lifetime.
I was uncomfortable, angry, wondering if I was overreacting, reasoning with myself that this guy has no right to feel entitled to stare at me…
I wanted to say something. I thought about what an average male would do if they were in my situation and an older guy was just staring at them. Did I decide to not say something because as a cis-gendered female I am cultured to be used to this? Ladies can all relate: we are taught that men will look at us, but we have to be okay with it. If we say something, we are overreacting. We are supposed to be docile and shy away when we feel uncomfortable. Men are supposed to be dominating and in control. We are supposed to just deal with it.
I am so disappointed in myself for not saying something. This wasn’t someone who was just spacing out in my direction. I was simply reading (not playing music or anything that could be “disruptive”). This wasn’t a deranged man drooling on the subway; he had friends nearby, a monthly pass, and clearly on his way to work like he does every workday. This wasn’t a stare of someone who maybe recognized me, and was maybe trying to figure out who I was.
But you know what? I shouldn’t have to make excuses or explain why this wasn’t okay for someone my dad’s age to multiple times feel like he could just stare at me, making me feel trapped and uncomfortable. If you’ve been on the LIRR, you know how close the booth-style seats are. He was not far across from me. Maybe an arms length or so.
Ladies: What would you have done?
Men (especially): What would you have done? Forget I’m a girl. Forget what you were brought up to think how girls are supposed to act. What would YOU have done if an older man stared at you multiple times despite you staring back?
[TL;DR — What would you do if someone was unflinchingly staring at you, making you feel uncomfortable?]