Friday, 27 March 2015

The Wandering Hands Society (more tales from Demeter)

The purse
Younger daughter elected to sit by herself on the bus yesterday. I didn't mind; she wasn't mad at me, and she is going to have to navigate the transit system by herself at some point.  Besides, I had a seat where, for most of the forty-minute ride, I had a reasonably clear view of her. I spent the time doing four things: noting who sat next to my daughter (three different women);  watching the Ottawa River, this day a mottled grey as the ice along it thins; fighting off thoughts of an unpleasant incident that happened on a Winnipeg bus last October; and remembering my mother's tales of defending herself against various pervs in London and Paris.

Demeter was a lovely young women - not that being plain exempts you from unwanted male attention; I can attest to that - and by her early twenties, was an expert in discouraging all sorts of nonsense, mostly from the members of what she called "The Wandering Hands Society". Her experience as a nursing student was somewhat of a crash course in sexual harassment in those far-off days when it was a little more run-of-the-mill and not the subject of public service campaigns.

She was (and always has been) resourceful. To avoid being groped by strange men in dark theatres, she would declare in the loudest, plummiest voice she could manage, "If you do not stop that, sir, I will be forced to call the manager!" Alternatively, she could sit between "canoodling couples", and enjoy a show unmolested. Returning home on dark streets and sensing she was being followed, she'd approach a patrolling London bobbie who would accompany her along his beat, passing her on to the next policeman's territory, and so she continued, chatting genially, until she reached her front door.  When she tried that in France, she was startled by the gendarme's response:  "If I were not on duty, I would follow you myself!"  She further discovered that the strategy of sitting between kissing couples didn't work in Paris, either. Frenchmen turned out to be ambidextrous.

One of my favourite stories concerned another cinema visit with her younger sister, recently arrived from Kenya to train as a nurse herself.  Not long into the feature, my aunt whispered in alarm: "A man is fondling my knee!"
Demeter whispered back, grimly: "Switch seats."
She had a clutch bag with a sturdy metal edge.  When the wandering hand began to encroach, she brought the edge down with a satisfying crunch.  There was a muffled whimper, and her neighbour found someplace else to sit, but perhaps not to grope.

Things didn't change much when she came to Canada.  She was walking down a corridor in her first workplace, a clinic in downtown Edmonton, when someone gave her rear end a hard pinch.  Turning, she found a small group of seated patients grinning at each other.  She strode back.
"Which one of you did that?" she snapped.
The men lost their smirks and the ability to look at her, nor at each other.
"Which one of you pinched me?"
No reply.
But they didn't try it again.

Sitting on a bus many years later, I watched my daughter furtively, so she wouldn't suspect.  She felt my gaze anyway,and shook her head at me with a grimace.  As someone living on the spectrum, she usually objects quite loudly if anyone crosses her boundaries.  I can only hope fervently that this will be a good talisman against those hands that wander.

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