“A word is dead
When it is said,
Some say.
I say it just
Begins to live
That day.”
Emily Dickinson

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

this must be that 'negging' thing that's all the rage these days
Tue 2014-12-30 22:00:05 (in context)

And of course our train trip would not be complete without some unfortunate interpersonal incident to inspire a full-bore feminist rant. It has become clear, in my brain, that a single tweet has done nothing to relieve my feelings on this issue, so you get a blog post about it. You're welcome.

A distressing subset of the population seems to think that, to paraphrase Jane Austen, a woman in possession of a book must be in want of a conversation partner. And it is overwhelmingly the case that it's a woman who's trying to read on a bus, train, or airplane, and a man who's interrupting her. Whole multi-volume encyclopedias, indeed, whole libraries, could be filled with examples of this... well, I'd call it a faux pas, but most of the time it seems far too deliberate a disregard of social signals. Like the soft "no," the non-verbal "leave me alone" cue (e.g. reading a book, listening to music on headphones, working on a computer) is demonstrably detectable in other circumstances (i.e. when it's another man who's reading or wearing headphones) by men who pretend not to "get it" when the person sending out the signal is a woman to whose attention they feel entitled.

If you're tempted to argue with me about this, don't bother. I've been subjected to it too many times, and I've read too many testimonies by other women who've endured it. Invariably interspersed among such testimonies will be That Guy, protesting either honestly or disingenuously, about how men have to be allowed to interrupt women reading in public, or else potential missed connections, and yes in most cases it would be rude but there's that one personal anecdote that totally invalidates every woman's experiences, feelings, and needs. "So you're saying men aren't allowed to talk to women in public transportation ever? Is that what you're saying? Is that what you want?" In your case? Yes. You in particular should not ever approach a woman on public transportation. Or in public, actually. Ever.

But I digress. My point is, today I experienced... well, not actually the rudest example of this ever. It certainly doesn't top Captain Awkward's story of the guy who waved his hand in her face while shouting "HELLO? HELLO?", or any number of women's experiences of having their headphones/earbuds physically yanked off their heads or out of their ears by importunate men. But it was probably the rudest and most clueless incident that I've personally experienced, and I've experienced quite a few. It goes like this.

I'm slouched back in my coach seat with Steven Brust's The Book of Jhereg, which is the first three Vlad Taltos novels (in terms of publication order) in omnibus form. I've got about 20 pages to go. And suddenly this hand comes out of the sky, reaching for my book. Reaching, specifically, for those last 20 pages. I flinch away instinctively, moving the book out of the looming man's reach, or at least deeper into my Personal Space Zone on the theory that he won't actually grab something that's pressed up against my boobs-such-as-they-are.

And while this almost-but-not-quite-tug-of-war is going on, he is speaking thusly:

"Oh my goodness that is such a big book! Did you really read that whole book by yourself so that there's only this much left?!"

Those are the actual words that came out of his actual mouth. To me, a grown-ass and arguably middle-aged woman.

(I'm suddenly reminded of a distant, elderly relative at the family Christmas dinner who said to me, "When you get a little older, you'll find...." Honey, in less than 6 months I'll be 39. My gut started complaining about coffee about ten years ago, my back started complaining about long hours at the computer fifteen years ago, and my knees started complaining about being knees some twenty years ago. Do you seriously think I've had no experiences thus far of getting a little older?)

Age is beside the point. Maybe, given my posture and my short stature and his top-down view, he mistook me for a young child. I don't care. That was an inappropriate thing to say to a reader of any age. Maybe if you're the child's teacher or parent and you've watched them struggle to master chapter books, maybe then you get to say, "Congratulations! I know how hard it was for you." But if you've never seen her before in your life? I don't care how young she is, your first words to her should not communicate, "I'm astounded by your ability to read! I had of course assumed you were illiterate." Few women or girls of any age will find that charming.

Besides, "Did you really read that whole book?" is kind of a stupid thing to say to someone whose eyeballs are intently glued to the 20th-to-last page. It's like saying "Did you really eat that whole thing?" to someone who is happily sopping up the last traces of garlic butter. No, sweetie, I dumped that steak in the trash, just to fool you. No, I didn't read the whole thing (by myself); I was just sitting here, posing, holding an impressively thick book open to the last chapter, breathlessly waiting for you to come by and compliment me.

Anyway, when I looked up to deliver a scathing response ("What an incredibly condescending and rude thing to say," sez I; "Huh?" sez he), I couldn't help but notice his uniform and name-tag.

That Guy was totally an Amtrak train attendant.

One: I'm pretty sure Amtrak would not be pleased to have its staff casually insulting passengers.

Two: He can't possibly have been surprised to see a long-distance passenger reading a book. Despite the prevalence of laptops, tablets, and smartphones, this is still a relatively common pastime on the California Zephyr.

So that's my rant. Boggle, ye optimistic, and despair.