I would feel safer on a train carriage that only had women on it.
That statement may resonate with some and outrage others, but when I heard that the idea of women's only carriages had been brought up (and it's important to say that nothing has been set in stone), my first thought was 'I would probably feel safer'. Not because I think all men will harass me or because men make me feel unsafe, but because inevitably, some men will. From lewd comments on the street to the feeling of not being sure if I'm getting followed or not, something will happen during most trips out that makes me feel unsafe.
My first instinct was therefore that all-female train carriages would make sense. But it took me all of five seconds to realise that women's only carriages don't address the real issue.
The optional segregation of women is actually counterproductive; it suggests that we are the temptation that needs to be removed from the harassment equation. Isn't it more productive to actually challenge harassment and objectification culture? From as early as I can remember, I've been told not to make myself a victim: don't give them a reason to think you're interested; walk with your keys between your fingers, just in case; we know it shouldn't be like this, but just be careful. At school, measuring a girl's skirt or sending her home for a visible collarbone is rampant from the get-go, but not once was there a class on the rights and wrongs of how to treat women.
Girls are taught how not to be victims, but other people aren't taught how not to make them the victim. You don't think that's a necessary lesson? That it's just common decency? Walk the streets as a woman or a minority for one week and you will feel differently.
In response to news that harassment in and around trains has increased by 21%, something obviously needs to be done. But to offer the 'solution' of women's only carriages is to suggest that it's a woman's responsibility to avoid harassment, rather than the responsibility of society as a whole to radically overhaul its culture. Women's only carriages might give off the much-needed allure of safety, but it actually puts a convenient blanket over the conversation that really needs to be had: how we can make public spaces safe for everyone. Instead of tackling the social structures that have allowed harassment to become a given fact of our culture, women will hear 'well, why didn't you just use the women's compartment if you don't want to be bothered?' Though a well-intentioned proposal, it will open the door for a whole new level of victim blaming.
Weighing in on the idea, university student and regular user of train services Emily Simpson offers, 'Separation of genders is not going to stop the sexist attitudes that perpetrate our culture and lead to assault.' Instead of finally opening a discussion on sexism in public spaces, it will provide a superficial solution that will no doubt have to be good enough for women. You're sick of being harassed in public spaces? Just use the ladies' compartment!
But sexual harassment doesn't start and end at tubes and trains, nor does it start and end at women. To effectively curb harassment in public places, this discussion would need to be extended to classrooms and buses, nightclubs and bars, the workplace and outside of high street shops. Basically, every public space women dare walk in. It would also need to go beyond making women's only spaces: LGBT men and women are also frequent victims of harassment in public places, and women's only train carriages may do little to protect them. And who is to say that women who use these carriages won't be made into even greater pariahs, only to be met with greater harassment once they exit the train? Separate train carriages only removes women from a problem that will begin again, sooner or later, once they step back onto the street. The worst part about the patriarchy? It's everywhere, not just on trains.
The idea, of course, is obviously taken from a desire to make women feel safer, and that intention shouldn't be criticised. True, all-female carriages may indeed make many women feel safer when using public transport. But it will also act as a disguise for the real issue - a convenient, all-too-small bandage over a wound that is constantly haemorrhaging.
Now that the issue of sexism and harassment in public spaces has finally been thrown into the political spotlight, we need to make this a discussion on how to overthrow harassment and objectification culture. Optional segregation won't do that.
Call me utopian, but women shouldn't have to segregate themselves in order to exist in public spaces without the promise of harassment.