Being a woman on the Metro isn’t easy

It’s hardly a Parisian dream


In Exeter, where I go to university, you can walk almost anywhere in ten minutes, Paris is somewhat different. Its sheer size requires daily Metro trips and hours working out which line you’ll need next. It’s relentless. It’s tiring. It does not stand still. To give you some context, I’ve eaten pudding every day this week and still lost weight. Like any city filled with millions of commuters, it demands your attention and seems to highlight any of your weaknesses.

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It’s easy to see the Metro, like all other things Parisian, in a romantic, rose-tinted way. I felt empowered shooting around the city with my Navigo pass and Metro map. That was until I realised that actually, being a girl on the Metro in the capital of France is no fun at all. In fact, I’d go as far as saying it’s pretty horrible.

You’re stared at 

There’s very little need to elaborate on this point, really. It’s quite simple. Be it at 10am or 10pm, women seem to be the object of the male gaze on the Metro. Of course, I am aware that not all men are the same but on this occasion, you must allow me to be so bold and employ such a generalisation. Last night a couple got on the Metro dressed as blood drenched zombies and the men seemed to pay more attention to the beautiful girl stood next to me wearing red lipstick. He did not take his eyes off of her.

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You have to be careful of what you wear 

Women in Paris, like in so many other places, are taught to be aware of how they dress and for a simple reason: clothes have connotations. Wherever you go in the world, someone will have something to say about the fabric garments you choose to put on your back. Short skirt or low cut top? Oh, she’s asking for it. Turtleneck jumper and long trousers? Prude.

Last weekend I watched a woman got harassed by a man on the Metro because she had shorts on. Now, this isn’t me jumping to conclusions. He told her that her shorts offended him. He made it quite known to the entire carriage that he thought she was dressed inappropriately. What is worse, he proceeded to call her a prostitute in front of her little boy and hurled abuse at her. She sat in silence with her head bowed until a Spanish tourist with his wife and baby stepped in and defended this woman.

Part of me wanted to stand up and scream on her behalf. In theory, I should have but the reality is, women are conditioned to accept it. Instead of rejecting it, we’re told to tailor our lives, be practical, and put things in place to prevent it. It’s exhausting.

If you have a baby, you’re the devil 

Another day, another anecdote. Picture this: a woman gets on the Metro with her tiny baby. Revolutionary? Hardly. Controversial? Definitely.

This poor woman was sat trying to hold the baby, keep her hand on her bag, watch the buggy, and shuffle out of the way each time we came to a stop. The baby then started crying and people started to stare. She rocked the baby for a few minutes until she realised he was hungry. She found a seat and covered her chest with a thick muslin cloth as she fed him. Despite the fact that the baby had stopped crying, people’s vexation at her exposing some of her skin was all too apparent.

As I got off the Metro, she came behind me. I looked ahead, realised there was no escalator or lift and asked (in my best French), if I could help her carry the buggy up the stairs. She was so flustered, she could hardly look me in the eye and then, when she did, her eyes filled with tears. She declined my offer and struggled. For a while I couldn’t understand why but now I realise it was her pride and bravery talking. The only person on that train that she and her baby could rely on was herself.

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People want to touch you 

Self explanatory, unfortunately.

You have to pretend to be invisible 

Since investing in an iPad and Spotify, I seldom used my iPod touch. That was until I came here. Now I carry it everywhere and get upset if I forget it. Why? Well, life as a girl on the Metro is a lot easier if you’re a little bit invisible. Putting your headphones in seems to equate to locking the world around you out. Carrying a book is also essential because it gives you a focal point when people stare. Scarves are equally handy as you can cover your chest and if the scarf is big enough, pull it up around your mouth.

It’s taken me very little time to realise that most women do the above whilst clutching onto their bag that is, obviously, going across their body so that it’s harder for people to snatch.

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Don’t get me wrong, Paris is a dream and commuting is normally very, very easy. It can also, on occasions, be pretty enjoyable, especially when you unexpectedly bump into friendly faces. Not all men stare at you and not all women are victims.  People don’t become monsters as they go underground – but that doesn’t mean it’s always an enjoyable experience.