“Look at that pig nose. I bet no one takes you home,” he spit at me, his ego clearly bruised by my rejection. I was crowded into the backseat of an Uber with two mid-twenties men. I could feel the anger welling up inside me, my eyes glistening with rage and a hint of shame that he had so easily brought back my childhood insecurity over my button nose.
I’m a bartender. That means that I keep odd hours and am well acquainted with late night car services. My usual routine is to check the bus schedule and then proceed to compare prices on the 4 or so car apps I rotate between. While I know Uber is a shitty company, sometimes the price just can’t be beaten!
The trip started delightfully— the car pulled up and an incredibly gracious driver offered me water and piña colada tic-tacs in a British accent. It was the picture of customer service. 5 out of 5 stars!
Of course, we all secretly hope that our Uberpool will end up a solo ride, but you have to assume that we will be joined along the way, after all, we are paying a fraction of the price to share the ride.Usually, someone climbs in and silently looks at their phone or makes a bit of drunken conversation before parting ways. This night was different. No sooner had they opened the door, than one of the two men cooed, “look at those legs.” It startled me out of my post-work iPhone revelry. I ignored it at first, a difficult task when jammed in the back of a car with the very people you are attempting to ignore. But he continued to press me, even going so far as to reach across his friend and stroke my thigh. Not one to stay quiet for long, I found myself using banter as a tactic to make myself feel in control. I started asking questions like, “Does this ever work for you? Do you actually get quality women this way?" And then the real zinger, “I liked you guys better when I thought you were a gay couple,” which I had, for a very brief second.
At first my driver had been enjoying it. He was smiling to himself as I prodded back, too busy being amused by my feisty responses to notice the escalating tone. On the bus or train, I may have gotten heckled, but we wouldn’t be in the intimate bubble of a car. I could have moved seats. The whole scenario would be unlikely to play out. If I had been in a yellow cab, the driver (hopefully) would have kicked them out for such aggressive behavior. But in an Uber, trying to get and maintain the best possible rating, my driver pulled over and simply told me to move up front. He couldn’t risk kicking them out, not with a rating at stake!
Uber has a well-documented history of not protecting women, as riders, drivers, and developers. Susan Fowler, a former Uber employee wrote a viral blog post about the sexual harassment she endured and watched be dismissed as a part of the toxic boys club atmosphere of the company. This sexist culture trickles all the way down, leaving female drivers and riders vulnerable. Drivers have reported cases of sexual assault and found the company to be unresponsive at best. Former Uber driver Becky Graham gave an interview in which she detailed two men grabbing and licking her. She fought them off but not before sustaining serious injuries to her ribs, neck shoulder and even cracking her front teeth. She filed a police report, but Uber refused to release the names of the riders. Their privacy mattered above all else.
I knew all of this as I exited the car.
I made it upstairs before the tears started, humiliation and anger coursing through me. I started taking cars because well-meaning men (and women), had expressed concern over me walking home. And I've had bad experiences walking at night, so the concern wasn't unjustified. But what those well-meaning people don't understand is the claustrophobic feeling of being trapped in the back of a moving vehicle with the type of men you hope to avoid and a person who feels like they can't help you because they are beholden to the ratings of those very same men.
As a bartender, I hate Yelp because every dissatisfied customer has a chance to take to the internet. And I'm sure that nice British gentleman feels the same way.
Image via Núcleo Editorial
Miriam Mosher graduated from Smith College before moving to New York where she is a writer by day and beer maven by night. She is a proud feminist, a champion of the semicolon and an avid thrifter. See more from Miriam at Bushwick Daily and Two Cities Literary Review.