Eggs column: you would certainly have acted differently there

If a woman is being harassed, you step in, don’t you? Then you’re different from the common S-Bahn passenger. I’m not.

Everybody takes the train, but is everybody watching? Photo: imago/Ralph Peters

There are two possibilities – either I’m drunk, in which case I like to interfere. Or I’m sober, in which case I duck into the next corner. And you like that? Anyone who travels along the main arteries of an urban transportation network experiences violent situations from time to time. No wonder with a few million people crammed together, but it’s not pretty either.

This week, the Bremen police reported that a group of teenage girls were sexually harassed and touched against their will by two men on the S-Bahn – and no one on the crowded train intervened. No one except a 15-year-old girl, who finally stood in between and got even more gossip for it.

You, dear men, would certainly have reacted differently, wouldn’t you? Although, it’s actually great when women defend themselves instead of letting a guy do it, right? 2017 is when women are so emancipated that they can manage their own harassment. Male patriarchal protective roles and codes of honor should be abolished. Feminism!

At least that’s what the rational part of my brain pontificates in comparable situations, while the emotional part switches to flight and makes me fold my eighty-one so small in my seat that my Pilates teacher would be proud of me. You wouldn’t think it possible how well a grown man’s body can be hidden behind a single eyelid catalog once there’s stress somewhere. I don’t like arguments, and I certainly don’t like knuckles on my nose.

As I said, you would certainly have reacted completely differently, I’m already concluding again from me to others. But what if you are not quite clear whether there is really harassment going on right now? Sometimes you can’t be sure – there are always these gray areas! It could just be a teasing game between acquaintances, right? And then it would be downright embarrassing to puff yourself up and be the moralizer, right?

What if it’s not clear to you whether harassment is really taking place? Sometimes you can’t be sure – there are always these gray areas!

At least, that’s how the rational part of my brain argues, while the emotional part practices advanced qigong: If I only empty my mind completely, then I might disappear. In the meantime, a 15-year-old girl probably intervened in an annoyed manner, everyone got off the train, and I was left with a huge guilty conscience and a camouflage helmet on my head. Where did I get the camouflage helmet? You have no idea what I am capable of when it comes to avoiding conflicts.

Of course, you would have acted completely differently. We had already clarified that. But not the people on the Bremen S-Bahn. And not the passengers in all the similar cases that you find in the police reports when you do a keyword search. They were probably all more like me.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to take heart, I’m about to take the subway.