Sometimes, accidentally making eye contact with a stranger can already be too uncomfortable for many. Unfortunately, countless women have experienced way more than just awkward eye contact — they receive unwanted attention to the point that it becomes borderline harassment. Recently, female commuters at the Subway somewhat found a solution to avoid creepy stares, flashers, catcalls, and come-ons: Subway shirts.
But do Subway shirts address the root cause of the problem?
“Subway shirts” are currently trending on TikTok. The majority of those who wear these Subway shirts are women. These are baggy clothing that hides the woman’s more fashionable wardrobe underneath. Subway shirts also conceal the silhouette of the women who wear this. There seems to be one main reason why some women opt to wear Subway shirts: to avoid unwanted attention from those who may objectify or sexualize them while they commute via MTA.
The topic of “Subway shirts” also already found its way on Reddit. Under the r/nyc, “u/CSGOW1ld” shared the article by The Guardian regarding this new trend. “u/mtempissmith” responded by sharing her overall experience while commuting in NYC.
In the user’s first paragraph, she shared, “I’m not even young and cute like that anymore and I still have had men stare and even touch themselves looking straight at me on the Subway. I’ve been flashed multiple times. I had one guy try to rub himself on me from the side while I was sitting and he was standing next to me at the end of the handicapped seat. I’ve seen pervert guys do stuff like that even in cars with kids.”
Not many think that Subway shirts are the permanent solution to harassment. Another response was by “u/Ok_Prior2614”. The user said, “I was wearing an oversized t shirt riding the a train last Memorial Day weekend and a “normal looking guy” reached over to squeeze my breast when I was about to leave the train… and the t shirt wasn’t used as a deterrent so idk what this is going to accomplish I’m sorry”
However, the reality of it is, even as women get off the train, they’re still vulnerable to being harassed and being a victim of cat-calling.
Many have seen the 2014 viral video, “10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman” that Rob Bliss directed for Hollaback!. In the video, actress Shoshana Roberts can be seen wearing a crewneck shirt and jeans — yet several men can still be seen harassing her as she walked the streets of New York City.
Furthermore, the Manhattan Borough President’s Office conducted a survey back in 2017. Among the two-thirds of women who participated, 63% of NYC women said that they have been sexually harassed before — and one-tenth of them said that the harassment took place in the Subway or Subway station.
Moreover, it’s not just NYC residents who experience street harassment. In 2014, SSA commissioned a national survey — they found out that 65% of women received unwanted attention in the form of street harassment. Moreover, 23% of them have been touched inappropriately, 20% were followed, and 9% were even forced to do sexual acts.
In a Plan International article, Sophie Sandberg (founder of the Chalk Back movement and Catcalls of NYC) explained how to react when you’re being harassed on the streets. Here are some of her main key points in dealing with unwanted attention (based on the content of the aforementioned article):
The feelings that a woman may experience — when she receives unwanted attention — can range from mildly uncomfortable, to downright frightening. However, as much as possible, ignore those people. When you reciprocate the attention that they’re giving you, they may feel as though they have power over you — which they have no right to have! Additionally, some may even fail to understand that you dislike unwanted attention. They may even think that you enjoy it.
If you’re comfortable enough to pull out your camera by recording a video or audio, you can document the unwanted attention you’re receiving. Those who are harassing you may feel intimidated once they realize that you have evidence that you can use against them. If documenting the harassment doesn’t phase them, still, you will have proof to show, in case you want to file a report or seek legal action.
In some instances, you can call out the person or people who are harassing you. If you’re surrounded by people who will protect you or help you, you can tell the person harassing you to simply stop — and that it’s an offense to harass people.
*However, we would like to emphasize that you only do this if you’re certain that you will not put your own safety in jeopardy! Stay calm first and think about what you will say first before you clap back at the person you’re getting unwanted attention from — and if you do call them out, do it calmly but firmly.
You are not alone. Plenty of women have been in the same situation before. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is talk to someone about your experience. More often than not, they will be able to understand you. Some may even relate to you. If you’re annoyed, angry, or bothered about it, vent it out!
It’s not unusual to sometimes blame yourself in a street harassment situation. After all, many women have been told to wear “conservative” clothing so they won’t receive unwanted attention. While you’re entitled to wear whatever you want to wear, and have the freedom to walk around NYC without being harassed regardless of your clothing, victim-blaming is very much a real thing — and you should not be blamed for it!
Far too many women are getting sexually harassed every day. Recently, Subway shirts are being discussed on the internet. It’s somewhat of a solution to avoid unwanted attention. However, street harassment will most probably still occur. Additionally, if a person has the intent to harass, they most likely will still harass individuals — regardless of what the victims wear. On the other hand, women, for now, have options on what to do, in case they receive unwanted attention.