Sunday, July 10, 2011

Pink Carriages: Peace of Mind or Unnecessary Protection?


Why is the urban world made to feel so perilous for women? In the half an hour it takes me to take the LRT and the KTM to my internship every morning, my mother worries, my father worries and even I worry for my safety more than any other time of the day. What frightening train-riding perverts or robbers might I incur today?! It’s frustrating to feel like I need to be escorted everywhere I go, and equally infuriating that everyone is so concerned with my safety simply because I am a woman. If I were a man, would the big bad world be so big and bad in their eyes? 

Until I was 10 (and even then, very reluctantly) I was never allowed to walk to school without my older brother by my side. When I was 15 I fought my mother for the privilege of walking the less than a mile walk to the high street where I volunteered. Mind you, I lived in a small, sleepy English town full of elderly people and school children. Hardly the cesspool it had been made out to be.

Now having gained my independence for the first time, I stretched it as far as I possibly could by going to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for the summer. Everyone keeps telling me how “brave” I am to have come here “all my myself.” I’m not quite sure if I should take all this as a compliment or re-enforcement of my perceived limitations as a woman.

But I hate to admit that this constant fear mongering has gotten to me. I find myself picking up the pace when I’m alone, clutching my bag tighter and looking over my shoulder on a regular basis. Now, I know that not everyone is out to get me, but I’ve been conditioned from the point I was born until now to believe that “it only takes one time.”

However, the thing that puts me most at ease during my daily commute is knowing that in Malaysia the KTM has a section dedicated solely for women. These pink train cars, plastered with “Women Only” icons were introduced in 2010 not out of religious sensitivities as I had assumed, but as a deterrent for sexual harassment in the country. 

The segregated cars also have the added benefit of being less crowded during the intense KL rush hours. The gender segregation is not mandatory, and women are allowed to use the other cars as well, although men receive intense stare-downs if they ever unintentionally board the pink carriages. Women-only train cars also exist in Tokyo, although
some men are petitioning for men-only carriages as a measure of gender equality, and to avoid false accusations of groping. 

So then what is the Feminist stance on women-only carriages? Is it a good safety measure as a deterrent of sexual harassment? Other women like me who are travelling alone at night may feel sense of security from the measure, but is it reinforcing the idea that women need to be protected and setting back gender equality at the same time? How would women in the U.S. react to the introduction of women-only cars? Is the pink necessary? Hit up the comment box or tweet at
@medusamagazine to let us know your thoughts on segregated travel.

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