It started with the train carriages…
The first line in a novel about how segregation of women in train carriages to reduce incidences sexual assault led to a dystopian society in the style of Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Handmaids Tale’.
Except not really, that novel doesn’t exist, we don’t have women only carriages on our trains in the UK. Jeremy Corbyn has just mentioned that he’d like input from women on the suggestion. Which sounds nice, doesn’t it? He wants our input on how we’d like to be protected from sexual assault on crowded commutes. I’m sure his heart is in the right place. Maybe he’s trying to spark a much needed discussion. I hope so.
In his defence, Corbyn has floated a lot of ideas on this topic and asked for feedback and input from women. I like Corbyn. It’s hard not to. He’s one of the few politicians who draws attention to the fact that quite a few of his peers are horrible human beings (TTIP, the attack on unions, deaths as a result of benefit sanctions and publishing false materials about benefit sanctions).
So just to be clear, I like Jeremy Corbyn. I think he’s honest and genuine and smarter than a lot of people are giving him credit for. I’d love it if he became Labour leader and made the party into something trustworthy and worthwhile, because as it stands I’m not fan of its current incarnation. Don’t get me wrong, I like it more than I like the Conservatives, but that’s not hard. Corbyn asked for input, so:
Here’s my input Jeremy.
Personally I find the idea deeply unsettling, that anyone (regardless of their gender) would even suggest that a discussion should be had on whether there should be single sex train carriages. With no acknowledgement of the men who are the victims of assault, or the women who are the perpetrators. I posted this on Facebook and it sparked a pretty passionate debate in my comments section: from people who saw the merits of such a scheme and people who didn’t.
I’m not confrontational. I get nervous when challenged, even when I believe in what I’m saying. I’m also lucky enough that I’ve never been groped on public transport. I haven’t been as lucky in bars, at music festivals or on the street. The most uncomfortable I’ve ever felt on a train was when a drunk man engaged in conversation with and propositioned me. It was on the train platform for the University of Ulster in Coleraine. My Masters course was one of the few that ran through the summer term; I was quite alone on that platform, which was surrounded by trees, out of sight of the road and isolated. I was lucky in that this man was an amiable drunk. He didn’t threaten me, he even sat fairly far away from me when he was talking to me. I shouldn’t have to count my blessings that an amiable drunk propositioned me, but there you go.
Let me be clear though, if he had been a different kind of drunk, or a different kind of man, a women’s only train carriage wouldn’t have saved me then. It wouldn’t have done a damn thing for me. If such a thing were brought in to being, all it would do is remove potential victims from the situation. I imagine the carriages would be pretty popular as well (God help the women who don’t use them, or are unable to, and find themselves groped on trains. Maybe they shouldn’t put themselves in that situation. I wonder what they’ll be wearing when it happens).
People deserve to go about their days without fear of assault, or catcalls, or sexual comments. Women shouldn’t feel uncomfortable on their daily commute. A women only carriage is an incredibly attractive idea. A good solution for the mean time. What we’re doing here is avoiding the real issue. There is a real problem with casual sexism and sexual crimes against women (and men) in our society. We advocate avoidance enough. We police ourselves, we are careful about where we walk and when, we avoid eye contact, we keep our heads down, we travel in packs. We do a lot to protect ourselves.
I’ve had enough of just protecting myself. Accepting even consideration of a women only carriage feels like a concession, a defeat, a step back. I don’t want to accept this. How about we come down hard on perpetrators? Educate our children on equality and respect? Push for change, real change, not a quick solution that seems to work in the short term?
Maybe I’d feel differently if I still took public transport to work every day (I walk). Or if I lived in a bigger city and it was necessary to take public transport more often.
As someone who doesn’t take the train often. As someone who experiences everyday sexism outside of my daily commute. As someone who is afraid outside of the train carriage. I think I deserve more than a discussion on whether single sex carriages should be a thing.
I don’t want to be protected. I want accountability. I want change.