Corbyn, carriages and catcalls


Image-searched “woman on train”. This seemed the least ridiculous result.

I’ll admit, I sort of missed the whole Jeremy Corbyn thing blowing up. I don’t know where I was  – crying over a fruitless flathunt, probably* – but I looked up a few weeks ago and suddenly he was everywhere. With the face of a Geography teacher and, what’s this? Proper left-wing politics? Interesting.

*DB and I live in Brighton now. Hurrah! It’s a room in a small third-floor flat, and I’m one girl living with three boys so it’s not as clean and tidy as I’d like – but we can see the sea , we’re close to the station and we have a power shower. What more do I need?! To quote the never-not-brilliant Sali Hughes, it’s “a locked door between [us and the city]”, and that’s what counts.

View from bedroom window. Not relevant, just showing off.
 Yesterday, Twitter was all a-flutter with the news that Corbyn had suggested implementing women-only carriages on public transport in an attempt to tackle harassment, after British Transport Police reported that sex offences on trains and at stations have risen to ‘record levels’.

The facts of the matter are this: harassment on public transport is a known problem. A poll released in October 2014 found that 32% of women in London had been verbally abused on public transport, and 19% had been physically assaulted. It is done to women by men far more than any other gender combination.

And no, not all men – of course #notallmen. I don’t doubt for one moment that men have been harassed by women, and other men, and women have harassed other women. I’m simply saying that if you looked at, say, twenty incidents of harassment on public transport, it wouldn’t be hard to spot a trend.

An easy way to test the sexism waters (Are You Sure It’s That Bad 101, if you like) is to ask a group of women if they’ve been catcalled in public – when walking home from the supermarket, or going for a run, or just minding their own business, cracking on with their day. I can almost guarantee they will all say that they have. Ask a group of men if they have had comments of a vaguely sexual nature shouted at them while walking past a building site or trying to beat their p.b. on a 10k, and not many of them will say yes. Some will, obviously. But far fewer than the women.

And while we’re on the much-discussed subject of catcalling – it is very rarely a compliment. It is unasked-for, unwanted attention. I mean, personally, I don’t care – I usually walk with earphones in anyway so if it does happen, I either don’t hear it or can pretend I don’t hear it. But just because I don’t give a shit what a group of blokes digging up the road want to shout at me, doesn’t mean other women and girls can shrug it off so easily. The thirteen-year-old girl who happens to look older than she is, walking home from hockey practice – she might not be able to. The woman who was once attacked and now hates walking home alone but has to, because she won’t let herself be limited in that way – she might not be able to. Any woman, in fact – any woman at all, pick one at random – she just might want to get on with her day and not be reminded that there are some men that will only ever think of women as sex objects.

Anyway. So along came Jeremy, and he was reported as suggesting women-only carriages as one way of dealing with this very real problem.

First things first though – he did not actually say “if I become Prime Minister, I will introduce women-only carriages”. Of course he bloody didn’t. What he said was he’d be willing to consult with women on the suggestion (you can read this – written by two of the women who were involved in suggesting seven proposals for dealing with harassment. Straight from the horse’s keyboard).

Obviously the problems with this particular option are myriad. For starters, the very word ‘segregation’ has some pretty dodgy connotations. South Africa. Jim Crow laws. The Troubles. It’s not a Memory Lane anyone wants to re-open.

Secondly, it’s another way that women would have to modify their behaviour to avoid being harassed, rather than the perpetrators being taught to modify their crappy behaviour.

Thirdly, it raises the question – if a woman didn’t want to travel in a designated carriage and was then attacked, would she be blamed? People do still say things like, “dressed like that? She was asking for it, mate” – I think it’s just limited to Daily Mail readers, but I’ve heard these words uttered. There is still a culture of victim-blaming; you only have to look at how the tabloids report sex crime (trust me, I wrote a dissertation on it, what larks) to see this.

So perhaps it’s not the solution. When the news made its way onto social media, and all the Guardian think-piece writers downed espressos in unison and started typing frantically, people were making the above criticisms left, right and centre, as well as plenty more scathing and ludicrous ones.

And that’s our biggest problem right there. Not that a politician made a suggestion that, at face value, seemed almost reasonable, but after seven seconds of thought turned out to be a touch misguided. But the fact that these ideas can’t even be thrown out there without being ripped to shreds. It’s one idea. If you’ve got a better one, brilliant. Let’s hear it. The more ideas, the better. The more brains working to solve a problem, the quicker that problem is reduced to mere dust.

But if we keep tearing down, ripping up – destroying, instead of creating – there won’t be any ideas.  No-one will suggest anything new because, well, why even try? We’re not going to get a feminism superhero who has the perfect solution for all the problems women face. We’re not going to get a superhero of the Left who can do everything we want. That’s not how life works – it takes more than one person. It takes everyone.

We need to question new ideas, we need to criticise, we need to examine them closely from all angles. But we also have to acknowledge that it takes guts to tackle things no-one else is tackling, and not make it harder for those who are trying.


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