Mexico City has become the newest city to debut woman-only buses. While the city has long operated woman-only subway cars during rush hour, complete with police overseeing the segregating of the sexes on subway platforms, the woman-only buses are new, a response to women’s ongoing complaints of being harassed, sexually assaulted and mistreated by men. Reports say that women are thrilled with the buses and being able to ride safely without worrying about being accosted.
I went looking to see if there might be a Youtube video about the new buses and instead discovered yet another reason women need them. When I did a search on Youtube using the words “Mexico woman only buses”, one of the top links was to a a video made by a perp with a foot fetish who, unbeknownst to a woman bus passenger, videoed her feet and posted the thing to Youtube under the title, “Girl on Bus (Peep Toe & Toe Cleavage)”. How disgusting is it to have to worry not only about being groped, harrassed, assaulted, treated rudely, subjected to sexist commentary while commuting — last week during my own bus commute, I was subjected to a male passenger’s loud, obnoxious, animated, misogynist descriptions of his visits to a strip bar and his complaints (directed to the entire back section of the bus like he was a fracking entertainer or something) that he always manages to show up on days the “ugly girls” are working — we also have to worry about being surreptitiously filmed with the films posted to youtube for the enjoyment of perps, rapists and misogynists everywhere!
Here is the video I pulled up (I flagged it but don’t know what good that will do):
I’m aware of all of the arguments some feminists make against such buses, that they might make it easier for sexists to force women into segregated facilities. Nevertheless, I know of no woman personally who would not appreciate and use these buses if they were available. No woman wants to be sexually harassed, groped, abused or mistreated by men.
This month, Rio de Janeiro became the third major city worldwide to approve woman-only cars and railway transportation, joining Mexico City and Tokyo. The women’s buses and railcars are marked with woman signs or with pink striping. According to this morning’s report in Women’s E-News, the cars were the result of complaints of groping and sexual assault on commuter trains and buses.
This story caught my eye in part because I wrote about my own most recent groping in a post yesterday. I had boarded a Seattle Metro bus at approximately 9:00 a.m. and was proceeding down the aisle to find a seat when a middle-aged, scruffy looking guy about my age reached out and grabbed my calf as I walked by, then joked about it to the equally scruffy-looking guy sitting next to him. Like most women who live or work in large cities, especially, I’ve been groped a number of times in my life, and it is always violating and unnerving, but it seems even worse to me now that I am getting older. I am almost 54 years old, a grandmother multiple times– does it ever end? Immediately after I was groped I had to make the split-second decision: was I going to make a big scene over it, or not? I didn’t– for all the old familiar reasons. Because I was embarrassed and in that shocked quasi-denial kind of state I (and I think all girls and women) enter into at the moment we are sexually violated, where we don’t really want to face up to it having happened in an attention-drawing kind of way, before we’ve had time to think about it and deal with it ourselves. Because I was afraid of what might happen, that the guy and his buddy might get violent or act out in other scary ways. Because I needed to get across town in 20 minutes and didn’t have time to wait for security to be called and to deal with whatever calling security entails. Because I wanted to forget it, pretend it didn’t happen, move on with my day.
News reports covering the woman-only cars in Rio de Janeiro are hard for me to read, because they contain such unapologetic anti-woman, anti-feminist commentary, including from government officials, some of whom decried the cars as discriminatory and unconstitutional. Their logic seemed to be either that officials should address the problem of groping, sexual assault and sexual harrassment in general, rather than ghetto-izing women by creating woman-only commuter cars, and/or that the woman-only cars discriminated against men. Recently men opposed to the woman-only cars have engaged in protests, standing at bus and train loading areas with signs marked “gay,” “hippies,” “men,” and more protests are planned. City officials intend to challenge the laws enacted to create woman-only transportation. In some instances, according to the reports, men have violated women’s commuter spaces uneventfully, but in general, security guards are available to enforce the laws and regularly do so with the hearty approval of the women riding. When Women’s E-News interviewed commuters in Rio de Janeiro, by far the majority of women were enthused about the woman-only transportation, while all of the men queried disliked it.
Well, of course. It either interferes with their groping plans — according to Alternet coverage, there is an online community dedicated to “those who enjoy pressing up against women on crowded buses and trains” which encourages them to leave descriptions of what amounts to their sexual assaults on women on the site for others to enjoy — or it flies in the face of what they want to believe about men, or of the excuses they make for the pandemic proportions of the problem of male sexual violation of women. A university professor quoted in the Alternet article theorizes that groping “… happens in any crowd. The proximity of bodies creates a sense of permissiveness. The issue is that these trains are too crowded, and the service provided is insufficient to give enough room for passengers to be comfortable.” I’m here to tell the good professor that groping happens only where there are men with unfettered access to the bodies of girls and women. I am 100 percent certain that however crowded the woman-only cars are — and based on what I have read, they are very popular with women — not a single woman is getting groped on those cars. Groping women on crowded commuter cars, all the way up to raping them, as happens all the time, is a crime of opportunity. If men are kept severely out of the cars, women do not get raped and violated. In fact, the atmosphere in the woman only cars was described by one reproductive health and women’s rights activist in Rio de Janeiro (who opposes the cars) as “good, happy, relaxed, talkative.” And of course, some men don’t like the laws because they don’t want to be inconvenienced in any way shape or form on account of some sexual assaults and a rape or two. I mean jeez, what’s the world coming to.
Nevertheless, woman-only commuter trains and buses are a growing trend. Cairo and Mumbai have them and other major cities are considering them. According to the Women’s E-News report, 67 percent of those polled in Rio de Janeiro favor the sex-segregated cars. Feministing blogged briefly a while back in opposition to the cars, reasoning that the cars put responsibility on women to avoid being harrassed rather than on men to stop the harrassing. I disagree. Given, again, the pandemic proportions of rape, sexual assault, sexual violation of every kind worldwide, we cannot simply wait for men to stop doing what we already know they are not going to stop doing, as though violated girls and women are some kind of ongoing, necessary sacrifice. Women who don’t want to ride the woman-only cars are free not to– there are plenty of mixed-sex coaches. The unwillingness of men to evidence respect for 1 woman-only bus out of 33 available (because that is the ratio) speaks volumes about male privilege, male entitlement, and the way so many men are incapable of evidencing any respect for women. In the meantime, what an 18-year-old woman commuter is quoted to have said resonates with me: “It’s much more comfortable without the inconvenience of men pressing themselves on us. We feel more at ease. But they’ll need to increase the number of cars for the large number of women.”