Women-only carriages are sexist
In a bid to tackle the supposedly ‘very worrying increase’ of sexual assault on trains, Labour’s shadow fire minister, Chris Williamson, has suggested the UK should consider introducing women-only train carriages. According to figures from the British Transport Police (BTP), sexual-assault cases doubled last year.
Williamson says he wants to make trains a ‘safe space’ for women. This isn’t the first-time the Labour Party has pushed in such a patronising idea. In 2015, party leader Jeremy Corbyn said he would consider segregating the sexes on public transport in order to make it safer for female passengers. Corbyn and Williamson’s proposals are not only demeaning to women; they are also based on the misleading assertion that there has been a spike in sexual assaults on public transport.
In fact, the BTP’s shocking figures warrant a second look. The ‘sexual offences’ page of its website encourages women to report ‘anything that makes you feel uncomfortable’, including ‘leering’ and ‘sexual comments’. This ever-growing definition of sexual offences trivialises serious cases of assault.
What’s more, Williamson’s proposal suggests that women can’t handle these unwanted, but mostly harmless, advancements themselves. If a man stares or leers, the majority of women would feel comfortable telling him to sod off. They don’t need the state – or an out-of-touch MP – holding their hand and guiding them into a separate safe-space carriage.
It isn’t only women Williamson is insulting – he is also making a judgement on wider society. When unsolicited acts take place, we should trust that people will speak up. Take the viral video from 2015, in which a sexual-harassment offence was acted out on the Tube. Fellow passengers got out of their seats to throw the perpetrator off the train.
Williamson’s proposal is downright silly. The reaction to it has been encouraging – the Women’s Equality Party and Labour MPs Yvette Cooper and Jess Phillips all argued that it patronises women. But let this be a lesson to those who are usually too quick to jump on the women-need-protecting bandwagon. While Williamson’s suggestion is idiotic, it isn’t far off the feminist belief in vulnerable women (often touted by Cooper, Phillips and the WEP). It’s time we challenged the idea that women are weak. We don’t need extra protection, a special carriage or a Safe Space.
Izzy Lyons is a writer based in London. Follow her on Twitter: @LyonsIzzy