If you’re a woman who exists in the world, you might have the persistent issue of strange men talking to you when you’re trying to enjoy your morning commute. “Hey sweetheart, how are you today?” If you ignore them, they get offended that you weren’t blown away by their affection. Even headphones or having your nose buried in a book don’t necessarily discourage men who think they have a right to your time and attention. However — I’ve found picking the right reading material can work wonders on keeping your time on public transport peaceful. The key, in my opinion, is to appear as scary as possible. Here are five of my recommendations to get started on this project of unapproachability:
This was the book I brought for my first ever plane trip alone and it didn’t disappoint in either the entertainment or intimidation category. Clover’s feminist investigation into the horror, slasher, and rape-revenge film genres is fascinating (if a little heavy on the psychoanalysis, no surprise) and made my five-hour trip pass by quicker than I could have hoped. The gentleman who was seated next to me also glanced at the cover when he sat down and then didn’t make eye contact with me for the rest of the flight.
Crackpot: The Obsessions of John Waters by John Waters
If there’s anyone who knows a thing or two about maintaining an aura of fear, it’s the Prince of Puke himself. This collection of his essays might be somewhat lackadaisical, but it also contains some of his most hostile screeds on everything from dinner party etiquette to his love of the Fassbinder film The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant. Sometimes the best defense is a good offense and Waters has plenty of excellent advice. Cultivate a good sneer while reading and it’s unlikely any men will try to call you cute, especially if you take his fashion tip to wear Band-Aids instead of jewelry.
The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum
The trick for effectively reading The Poisoner’s Handbook for solitude in public is to appear very, very interested. Give it all of your concentration. Perhaps underline a line or two. The appearance of the book is what’s most important here—it’s less about murder and more about birth of the modern relationship between science, law enforcement, and the medical-industrial complex. It’s also not nearly as dense as I make it out to be—there’s still plenty of Prohibition era sleaze and sex to go along with the explanations of the chemistry of wood alcohol and politics of medical school professorships. If someone does in fact interrupt your study to ask about the book, just say you’re fascinated with the methodology of detecting chloroform in the bloodstream.
SCUM Manifesto by Valerie Solanas
Okay, hear me out—Valerie Solanas might be the most underappreciated comic writer of the twentieth century. Yes, she did shoot Andy Warhol. Yes, she did technically advocate for the elimination of men as a whole. However, reading Solanas literally (or not at all) means missing out on her satirical genius and extremist wit. The Society for Cutting Up Men isn’t as well known as it used to be, so if a guy still interrupts you with an unsolicited personal question merely reply with whatever sentence you happen to be reading at that moment. Rest assured, there won’t be a follow-up.
Fat Shame: Stigma and the Fat Body in American Culture by Amy Erdman Farrell
The scare in this book is perhaps less immediately obvious—it’s not about murder or fashion or fashionable murders. It is, however, a book about fatness that isn’t about eliminating or otherwise demonizing fat people (more specifically, fat women). Farrell’s analysis goes deep into the annals of pop culture and government policy, revealing the ways fatness as a negative has been used as justification for everything from military colonialist intervention to the anti-suffrage movement. Essentially, Fat Shame is a history book that encourages women to take up more space—so widen your stance, lean back, and enjoy the ride.