love thy neighbour?

Commuting is always a trial of sorts.  Seat reservations and noise cancelling headphones provide some comfort, but minor irritations quickly accumulate: the person talking blithely on their phone in their outdoor voice; the person eating a stinking burger,; the wrong kind of leaves/snow/wind … This week I encountered a new commuting challenge: sitting next to a besuited, late middle-aged man surfing soft porn on his phone.  I tried to focus on my work and avoid catching sight of repetitive shots of young women in so called ‘erotic’ poses. To be fair, my neighbour made an (ineffective) attempt to shield the screen from time to time, but the LED glow and something about his rapt intensity was distracting.  I wondered whether he did this every night on his train home; whether there was anyone at home; whether they knew or minded what he did: whether I would do something similar in a public place … ?  And more.  Did I feel objectified?  Theoretically yes, but in the same resigned kind of way as when walking past giant billboards of women in underwear or watching X-rated music videos at the gym.  Did I feel angry?  Mainly awkward – and I felt sad for those young women in their ridiculous poses.  We reached his stop and as he got up to leave, my neighbour politely apologised for disturbing me.  Indeed…  I found myself smiling politely back as I let him pass.

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Published by

Kate Carruthers Thomas

Research Fellow, writer, poet.

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