Women — on planes, on trains, in automobiles, or on the street — don’t owe anyone anything. But due to an unfortunate sense of entitlement that’s rampant in our society (see the recent viral story "How to Talk to a Woman Wearing Headphones," which rightly caused outrage all over the internet), this sentiment must be repeated every so often. On Friday, actress Sophia Bush dispatched her own iteration of this message.
Bush, who rose to fame on the TV show One Tree Hill and currently stars on NBC’s Chicago Fire, was apparently responding to an unpleasant encounter she had with a man on a plane. She wrote on Twitter:
Dear Random Dude on a plane,
When you make a woman so visibly uncomfortable, that after you’ve ignored all visual cues to please leave her alone (one word answers, she pulls out a book, puts on a hat, she actually asks you to not speak to her with the tone and words you’re choosing to use) that she finally GET UP and MOVES SEATS, leave her alone. Do not continue trying to make conversation. Stop turning around and looking at her.
The message goes on a bit longer; you can read it in full in the tweet below:
Because Bush is an actress, there is undoubtedly some element of fame and celebrity to this encounter. She allows that the "Random Dude" in question may have recognized her from her work, and firmly explains that recognizing her does not give anyone license to bother her.
"Stop believing that you are entitled to make me uncomfortable because you ‘watch my TV show,’" she writes. "I make it, you watch it. After that the ‘exchange’ is done."
But Bush is hitting on something more ubiquitous here: the idea that women constantly have to deal with — and are frequently expected to welcome and indulge in — any unsolicited advances or interactions that come their way. These advances and interactions might manifest as catcalls on the street, attempts to hit on a woman when she’s wearing headphones or otherwise visibly "closed off"/uninterested in striking up a conversation, or the creepy and unbroken gaze of a random dude on a plane.
As my colleague Emily Crockett has written, the concept of sexual harassment and putting a name to it is relatively young; a group of women at Cornell created the term in 1975. Treating women as sex objects is a behavior that’s been ingrained into society, and though we’ve gotten better at spotting and calling out blatant transgressions and examples of it, society has a long way to go toward empowering women and treating them with respect. (An imperfect example might be the catcalling video that went viral in 2014, in which a woman walked around Manhattan for 10 hours and received more than 100 catcalls.)
Sophia Bush is relatively famous, and perhaps the dude who harassed her on the plane is simply a glaring violation of human decency that thought he was being a fan; it’s possible that when they shared an airplane cabin, it made the situation even worse and inescapable.
But the point Bush is making is very important: Harassment is real, it’s a reality for women all across this country, and we need to do better.