Why creeps are always sitting next to you on the train

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It has happened more times than I can count. The doors slide open on a train car full of half-occupied pairs of seats. As the newcomer enters, we all set our features to maximum stoniness, flick the dimmer switch behind our eyes. 

New Guy picks his way awkwardly down the aisle. He is praying for an empty row to suddenly materialize, a resentment-free zone rich in the traveler’s most treasured resource: space. No luck. He comes closer, closer. Here he is. Here is his stupid bag being stowed against my feet. 

Here is his stupid arm on the armrest. Here is his stupid aftershave in my nostrils and his stupid music leaking out of his barely muffling headphones two centimeters from my ear.New Guy, why do you always sit next to me?

When I raised the possibility, with a few lady friends, that I exude some mystical nonsexual ‘‘sit next to me’’ pheromone, they didn’t shoot me down. Several insisted that they had it too. All of them agreed that, in their experience, the newcomer to the train car customarily parks him or herself next to a woman, not a man. 

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A smaller woman, especially. A smaller, younger woman most of all. In other words, the person New Guys deem least likely to intrude into others’ personal space. Personal space is a big deal on public transportation. 

The Tumblr Men Taking Up Too Much Space on the Train administers a dose of public shaming to real-life dudes who somehow cannot make it through the first five minutes of the train trip without splaying their legs like colossi or cavalrymen. The archive offers ‘‘an interesting visual representation of the way that men feel totally empowered’’ to assert their physical presence, writes Huffington Post’s Nina Bahadur. 

Meanwhile, according to the sociology professor Lisa Wade: A feminine person keeps her body small and contained. . . . She walks and sits in tightly packaged ways. She doesn’t cover the breadth of the sidewalk or expand herself beyond the chair she occupies.

A quick survey of coworkers both male and female supports the hypothesis that, given a choice between sitting next to a man and sitting next to a woman, most people opt to sit next to the woman. All but two of the 16 staffers who answered my email query confirmed this. Of the outliers, one colleague declared himself indifferent to gender but sensitive to age: He avoids older passengers, on the theory that they can be chatty.

A second colleague, male, would sooner abut an XY seat than an XX one, for fear of ‘‘being perceived as rude, aggressive or creepy.’’Of those who vote women with their butts, a few cite the comparatively slighter physiques. Other reasons were more insinuating: a belief that women won’t retaliate if disturbed, for instance, or that they are more inclined to share. Ladies don’t ‘‘throw their weight around,’’ someone ventured. 

They are ‘‘socialized not to take up too much room,’’ and are less likely to be ‘‘a horrible jerk’’ or ‘‘a talkative chatterbox’’ or ‘‘disrespectful.’’ ‘‘Women on average are more considerate,’’ wrote one colleague.For female coworkers, that consideration sometimes took on a very specific meaning. 

‘‘I believe I’m less likely to be bothered if I sit next to a woman,’’ someone wrote. ‘‘I probably would pick a woman in my age range with the hope she’d be less of a creeper, won’t try to talk to me or hit on me,’’ explained a second. 

A gay colleague added: ‘‘Basically, I assume that women are much less likely to be homophobic and be offended (perhaps to the point of aggression) by my presence than men are. A crowded train with a free seat only between two straight-looking dudes is anxiety-provoking in the extreme. I will stand.

From Slate

95 comments

  • What a pointless, petty article full of neurosis and selfishness. I hope someone was paid only pocket change for this.

    Commenter
    GR
    Date and time
    September 20, 2013, 7:36AM
    • Yea they need to get over themselves.
      Do they sit next to people when there is no spare seat?

      Commenter
      J Walker
      Date and time
      September 20, 2013, 12:47PM
    • The problem with feminists is that they read sexism into everything, and in turn become sexist. Because they research and write articles about how the patriarchy oppresses women for a living, they increasingly see women as victims and men as oppressors. Hence, any man who sits next to a woman on public transport becomes a creep, not just some guy sitting next to a woman on public transport which most often is the case. I have had one or two creeps actually sit next to me on public transport. One kept brushing my leg so I aked loudly so everyone could hear, 'excuse me, could you sit a bit further away? Your hand keeps brushing my leg and it makes me feel uncomfortable.' I didn't keep letting it happen, go home angry and write a low-quality article on Daily Life. By the way, your research for this article consists of other peoples opinions, and the opinion of one sociologist...great work, really.

      Commenter
      Lyla
      Date and time
      September 20, 2013, 2:59PM
  • I hate sitting next to the jerk women who talk loudly on the mobile, do their full makeup, wear too much perfume, want to know the full plot of the book I'm trying to read, or seem to linger over my chest,or discretely ask questions, glance across to see if I'm single and have no ring, or want to tell me about their day, or work, etc.
    I just want to get from A to B! Leave me alone!

    Commenter
    david
    Date and time
    September 20, 2013, 7:50AM
    • I met my partner of 5 years when she sat down next to me on a tram. So don't negate the social aspect of seat partner choosing.

      Commenter
      Web
      Location
      phloem
      Date and time
      September 20, 2013, 7:59AM
      • Its got nothing to do with gender and everything to do with size.

        If Gilbert Grape's mum was on the bus I wouldn't sit next to her either.

        Commenter
        Freddie Frog
        Date and time
        September 20, 2013, 8:01AM
        • How about talking to these creeps. I think you'll find most of them are actually just normal human beings.

          Commenter
          mrtransfield
          Date and time
          September 20, 2013, 8:18AM
          • I'd rather she didn't as I'm rather shy.
            I'll just rather pretent to read my book while admiring her legs.

            Commenter
            Hubert
            Date and time
            September 20, 2013, 10:39AM
          • I'm not interested in talking to people on public transport. I dont care how nice they might be. I'm an introvert and after dealing with people at work all day (which I don't mind), I just want to be left alone when I'm travelling home. I'm tired, I'm hungry, I have a gym workout which I'm not looking forward to but still do every day. The last thing I want or need is to deal with some mouthbreather who thinks I'm fair game for a chat.

            Commenter
            Audra Blue
            Location
            Brisbane
            Date and time
            September 20, 2013, 1:33PM
        • I'm a big guy, 1.91 tall, well built and I don't fit in the front of some cars let alone public transport. Sometimes I carry bags and the bags plus me leave not much space for anyone else. It used to be that I'd stand up rather than sit next to a princess and invade her space, but I'm not a creepy guy so if she thinks I'm creepy that's her problem.

          This woman puts it better than I can...

          http://judgybitch.com/2013/09/16/people-need-to-stop-being-dicks-on-the-subway-by-taking-up-way-too-much-space-oh-wait-no-just-men-need-to-stop-doing-that-more-equality/

          Commenter
          JohnA
          Date and time
          September 20, 2013, 8:22AM

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