Today I got approached by a man on the bus. Now, this isn’t the first time this has happened to me in Korea, and it’s happened to me numerous times in America, but today it was a little different. Normally, when I’m approached on the bus, it tends to be an older, intoxicated man. He tends to get up in my face, and start slurring at me in Korean. The other passengers know that what he’s doing is inappropriate, but because he’s older they don’t say anything and thus, as a young female foreigner trapped on a moving bus, I can’t either. Normally I don’t talk, don’t make eye contact, and move, and just wait it out. Today the man that approached me was neither drunk, nor old, nor spoke to me in Korean.
I was sitting on the bus in a seat by myself hunched over my book reading when I out of the corner of my eye a black square. At this point, the bus had exited Gwangju and was on the country-side highway that leads to where I live. It was a guy who had been sitting in the seat across from me, holding out his tablet and smiling. I stared at him, not comprehending, and he shook his tablet at me, indicating that he wanted me to take it. He had typed out a message in English that read “Hello. I have seen you on this bus before (terminal) and I wanted to talk with you” and listed his phone number. I, not making eye contact, shoved the tablet back at him and hunched further over in my seat, trying to look as uncomfortable as I could. He got the hint, and didn’t press the issue. Two stops later he got off the bus, and didn’t look at me.
After returning the tablet I immediately started to feel guilty. The man had done nothing wrong, had he? He wanted to talk to me, and I ignored him. I didn’t even explain why I didn’t want to talk to him, why he made me feel uncomfortable, why it’s a bad idea to approach a girl on a bus – an enclosed area with no escape path – why the idea of giving a stranger my phone number especially when he already knows my bus route and thus has a pretty good idea of where I live.
You know what? No. As women, we’re conditioned that it’s rude to say “no.” That we have to temper all of our rejections. That it’s our lot to be approached, and men’s duty to be the one’s approaching, and we should applaud their confidence. We’re told that if we don’t indulge the people who are engaging us in conversation, that if we don’t smile, and laugh, and say “I’m sorry but I’m busy” or tack on a “thank you” to our “no” (and even this is bold) that we’re the ones who are out of line. We’re asked “what our problem is”, and “why we have to be like that.” You see, the idea of someone saying “no” immediately, of not even “giving the person a chance” is apparently ruder than approaching a woman you do not know, who obviously does not want to be approached.
This guy took his rejection, or rather my blatant refusal to engage, with grace. However, I wish that instead of just looking down, I had looked him in the eyes and said “no.” Maybe then I wouldn’t feel guilty for not being nicer to him, and like shit for feeling guilty.