Another Creepy Lyft Driver
By Bre Cruickshank, Radical Girl Gang Founder
I’ve struggled (i.e. procrastinated) for months trying to decide whether I wanted to recount my recent experience being creeped on by a Lyft driver. The truth is, it’s an uncomfortable story to recall. And it feels small. I feel small just beginning to write this. But I know, deep down, it’s not small. This story deserves to take up space, because only when we speak up can we begin to deconstruct and dismantle sexism, misogyny and the ultimately, the patriarchy. Before I go any further, let me share what happened.
It was a sunny day in Austin when I hopped in the Lyft I had called to take me to the airport. Because I was alone, I was already on edge. Ever since I can remember, my “friendly” demeanor and long legs have elicited unwanted attention from men. Most of the time, the worst of it happens when I’m alone, without my boyfriend to serve as a buffer.
The driver was a middle-aged white man who looked harmless enough. After a few minutes together, I noticed that he was particularly chatty. A dull siren went off in my head, but I told myself to stop being paranoid. He was just being pleasant—I should be polite enough to reciprocate the conversation. I was wrong.
For the next fifteen minutes I was stuck in his car, he proceeded to hit on me in that rude, sloppy way that men do when they think they’re being subtle and unoffensive. It began with a line I’ve heard many times before: “You look like an actress.” He continued on with unfettered confidence, “She’s really cute. The actress you look like.” I pursed my lips together, as if summoning an invisible forcefield to prevent me from hearing him.
I struggle to recount every comment lazily slewed my way, but some have stuck with me, like gum on a shoe. He told me, completely unprompted, that his dog was in heat and he liked it. He noticed that her “lady parts” were swollen and she was being extra affectionate. The reference to a vagina felt intentional and it made me recoil in discomfort as I sat there.
He also told me about the time he worked at a bar and had refrained from hitting on an attractive woman (even though all his friends were), because he was “a professional.” In his version of this story, the woman strolled up to him after his shift and hit on him—the valiant knight who had kept his dick in his pants during his entire shift.
As we finally approached the terminal, he told me he often has attractive women like me in his car, and that he tries his best not to hit on them…but it’s not easy. Lastly, he said his rider before me was “also a cutie” and that she made him blush profusely because he was incredibly attracted to her. “I needed to splash some water on my face,” he chucked to himself obliviously.
I felt torn as I sat there, seething in discomfort and anger. On the one hand, I wanted to tell him off, ardent and outspoken feminist I am. On the other hand, I resented the position I was in. I hadn’t signed up for this; and it didn’t seem like my responsibility to chastise a grown man. I felt furious, victimized (a word I rarely use) and desperate to leave.
As I gathered my belongings, I tried to summon the courage to say something, but I couldn’t. I stepped out of the car and closed the door shut, ready to forget it had ever happened. Then, all of a sudden, I remembered something I had recently read. It was another woman’s story—about how her dentist had flirted with her during an appointment and she had spoken up. She took control of the situation and used it as a teachable moment.
In that instant, I felt the rush of courage I needed and opened the door back up. Looking the driver dead in the eyes, I said, “Hi. It’s me again. I just want you to know that I was extremely uncomfortable that entire ride. You should never insinuate that you’re attracted to a female passenger and the way you spoke to me was disgusting and inappropriate.” Then, I slammed the door shut and cursed out loud in relief.
As I waited for my flight that day, I shared my experience on Instagram before hopping on the plane. Four hours later, I took my phone off airplane mode and saw that I had dozens of messages from women who wanted to share their own stories of feeling uncomfortable in rideshares, many of which were more nausea-inducing than mine. I had unintentionally created a domino effect, just by speaking up.
In the weeks months after, I struggled to decide what to do next. I had already reported the incident to Lyft, so the case was, in essence, closed. Still, I struggled to find “closure.” Sure, I won’t be paired with that driver again. Sure, he could potentially face some type of repercussion (although Lyft refused to share specifics…or refund my ride). Sure, I’ll opt for Ride Austin in the future and request a female driver. But the problem, the real one, persists. It’s the reason I’m catcalled when I walk my dog and the reason I’m called “pretty” during business meetings. It’s also the reason women are assaulted, raped and even killed. The problem is sexism.
As women, we’ve been conditioned to accept the microaggressions as a routine, even unchangeable. It’s part of the price we pay to simply exist as women. And we’ve become really good at tolerating it, myself included. After all, being told you’re cute by a middle-aged man isn’t that bad in comparison to sexual assault. So why should we even bother to talk about the ordinary, run-of-the-mill sexist bullshit?
In the words of Rebecca Solnit, author of Men Explain Things to Me, “I think we would understand misogyny and violence against women even better if we looked at the abuse of power as a whole rather than treating domestic violence separately from rape and murder and harassment and intimidation, online and at home and in the workplace and in the streets; seen together, the patter is clear.”
In order to create a more equitable world, we need to pay attention to all of it: the big and the small. Although I can’t singlehandedly destroy the patriarchy (that work is best done together), I can continue to use my voice to challenge the status quo. This experience served as a reminder of the power of my voice—and I intend to keep using it. Consider this an invitation to join me.