When and Where We Enter, Male Chauvinist Pigs Follow: Is 'Purdah' the Answer to Male Privilege?

| Tue Jan. 29, 2008 7:11 PM EST

Or does it simply justify assaulting any woman who rejects seclusion?

If you're a woman and have spent any time in urban centers (i.e. lots of walking and public transportation) you know whereof you speak when it comes to street harassment. It is a measure of how entrenched male privilege is that men can sit down to dinner with a house full of female loved ones without having to know that someone masturbated onto her coat that day or whispered disgusting things in her ear. It's so pervasive, so dismissed—boys will be boys, heh, heh—it goes unmentioned and unredressed.

This explains why nearly naked, hysterical women got turned away by uniformed cops during the 2000 Central Park wilding and why the police will do little about street harassment that stays this side of bloodshed. I shudder for the day my 4 year old baby has to walk the streets alone. She happens to be gorgeous, much better looking than your daughters, but all that matters is that she's female. In fact, God help the ugly, fat or disfigured ones; they catch pure, unadulterated hell for daring to walk around being unasthetically pleasing to Joe Bob with his beer belly and no job or Joe Corporate with his comb-over and pointless Dunder Mifflin gig. I once spent four months profiling a prison inmate and being escorted to and from, like all visitors, by trustees at the minimum security facility. I swear to God, those guys spent the entire time (profil-ee included) hitting on me speed-date-from-hell style, with all the finesse of Lothar of The Hill People. THEY WERE IN PRISON but still felt totally free to harass me. Think I'm overreacting to the supposed prevelance of male privilege? Check this lede for the piece linked to (below) on female-only trains in Japan:

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Since Japan is a very small country with too many people inhabiting it, Japanese women often suffer from sexual harassment in public transport.

Anyone out there take Logic for Dummies? Male Privilege 101?

Society's attitude toward street harassment is like its to heat and high humidity except that that's no one's fault and no one calls you a feminazi for objecting to them. The only good thing I find about winter is the big, baggy coat I can disappear into for a blessed few months each year and largely escape the dreaded male gaze. Because that's the kind of cowards street harassers are; they'll threaten you with rape on an anonymous bus or street corner, not so much in the middle of the office where they just might be held accountable. But what to do about it? Screen a billion cops to find one million who take street harassment seriously? Get men to actually 'see' street harassment when it happens one bus seat over and STAND UP? Nah, better to just hide women behind either a veil (too medieval, too barbarian) or with separate but equal segregation (just right!).

Jessica Valenti, guest blogging at The Nation, takes a look at one nation's answer to public male harassment, which is much like Japan's:

Last week Mexico City unveiled women-only buses as a way to battle the increasing sexual harassment on public transportation.

Some men treat women so badly that the subway system has long had ladies-only cars during rush hour, with police segregating the sexes on the platforms.

But that hasn't helped women forced to rely on packed buses, by far the city's most-used form of public transportation—until this week.

Acting on complaints from women's groups, the city rolled out "ladies only" buses, complete with pink signs in the windshields to wave off the men.

Pink signs, huh? I'm all for safe spaces for women, but is segregation really an answer to sexism? I've written about this trend of women-only spaces before, most recently for The Guardian, and I still fail to see how this is anything but a temporary solution to a systemic problem.

I'm not about to demand that women refuse to board segregated public transportation. I'd willingly add an extra hour to my day to be able to read, or God forbid close my eyes, without some Neanderthal invading my personal space oozing "whatchou readin,' baby?" Then, "Bitch, you better answer me!" I am about to say, though, that there's no way Mexico, Japan or anyplace else on this planet has enough purdah transportation for all it's women and woe betide the ones of us who either don't know about or can't manage to snag some chicks-only transpo that day; open season. She was asking for it, otherwise she'd have taken the vagina train.

Man, this topic gets my goat. I've written bitterly about street harassment, perhaps the world's most frequent unredressed social ill, for all the good it did. Here's a good street harassment resource, especially from a feminist legal perspective and, last but far from least, the totally awesome Holla Back NYC in which the pigs are called out and as humiliated as our puny societal give-a-damn-reflex will allow.

Were I an irresponsible journalist, I'd recommend that the women of the world learn the gentle art of the stun gun. If no one "sees" a horde of loud drunks stalking you, surely they won't see them suddenly crumple to the ground in agony either. But I'm a responsible journalist and several states outlaw stun guns. They also outlaw assault, i.e street harassment. Let's find out which you're likeliest to get away with.

Or, women could take another page from Japan. Don't worry, it won't reflect on men (our cities are just too overcrowded!), just highlight your determination to "take responsibility for your own actions". Just as men are required to do, right?

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