This morning I woke to the news of Jeremy Corbyn’s suggestion that he consult women on the re-introduction of women-only carriages on trains. Before all you Corbynieri and you Non D’aCorbs polish up your muskets, as far as I can see he was opening up a valuable debate and not advocating a new segregation law. He would merely be looking for opinions. I get it. And I am voicing my opinion here.
My first reaction was to tweet that India has had “Ladies Only” carriages for decades and this has not helped the general treatment of women as second class citizens in that country. I’m not for them at all. I think that enforcing segregation means that a problem is too easy to compartmentalise, trivialise and push right to the bottom of the agenda. Rosa Parks could always just have moved meekly to the back of the bus, after all.
However I can well see why many women would feel safer, especially late at night, away from the possibility of leering and groping. Mine is the point of view of someone who has not been sexually harassed on public transport. Racially, yes, but not sexually. I’m not sure why this is, but it’s just not been the case, so I was keen to canvas opinion from MsDD, who is approached all the time by lecherous men, for her opinion:
Thank you, Mum. Well, my opinion leans decidedly against segregated carriages. I have indeed been affected by what the carriages will hopefully prevent, from a well-meant, if misguided, chatting up, to sexist comments. This happens to me on and off trains so I have grown accustomed to such encounters, but one sticks out vividly in my mind:
I was chasing my friends across London on a very hot day, and I hopped onto an underground train just before the doors closed. I was at the end of the almost empty car, and just happened to be in close proximity to a small but intimidating group of very well-built men. The sheer contrast of them and me was almost cartoonish: a very short, relatively slim, not very conservatively dressed girl, and a group of very tall, almost grotesquely muscly men. As I remember, the tallest of the group said in a very low voice, “It’s got a bit hotter in here now, hasn’t it, lads?” at which they all smirked.
I felt vulnerable to say the least, but a shudder came over me when another sadistically said, after realising how uncomfortable I was, “She looks fun.” Thankfully, my stop was the next, and I de-trained with nothing more than a bad memory, but the rate of sexual attacks on trains has risen, and so many women have not been so lucky. What was clear about the men in that encounter, is that they intimidated me because they knew that they had the power.
In my previous blog post on catcalling, I felt that women don’t fight back a lot because they are worried about a bad reaction. The other day, whilst walking down the street, I told a a cat-caller to f-off but on that train, there was no chance of retaliation. You can’t really run away on a train. You are stuck in a confined space until the next stop so, at night, trains can be quite scary. But there is one important reason why women-only train carriages are a bad idea.
While it really is meant with good intentions, the segregation does’t get to the root of the problem. It’s like the invention of the nail varnish that changes colour on contact with common date rape drugs. All I think of when ideas like this are introduced is the voice of someone saying, “Well if you didn’t want to be assaulted, you should have gone in the women’s section.” This is victim blaming, adding more things for potential victims to do, rather than try to reduce the amount of potential attackers. Rather than educate boys or change the way in which society portrays women, we go to great lengths to pin responsibility for crime on the victim.
Victim-blaming is very common because it is an easier path than trying to solve problems such as sexual assault. It is easier than changing how women are displayed in the media; easier then combating the emergence of rape culture, and easier than addressing the imbalance of power between the sexes.
It also insults men. Much like the burqa, measures such as this imply that all men just can’t help themselves and are compelled to assault any woman they see. It is rather patronising to suggest that they don’t know any better and they can’t possibly control themselves. It is much like the thinking that sending your child to a single-sex school is the best thing to do because you want to protect your child. Segregation is not the answer. It’s like saying racist attacks can be prevented by having a separate city for minorities. It’s a well meant idea, but it is both impractical and ineffective.