Riding the ‘Ladies Specials’ Train

In India, women-only train cars have proved so popular that today eight more were added into service. Currently, there are female-only train cars in Chennai, Mumbai, Calcutta, and New Delhi in India, as well as in Cairo and at least a dozen other cities worldwide. In Japan, female-only cars have been running since 1912. Predictably, while women have had very positive reviews of the Ladies Special train cars, as they’re known in India, some men are not happy. “Even on this train,” one female commuter told the New York Times, “men sometimes board and try to harass the women. Sometimes they openly say, Please close the Ladies Special.”

While backlash is not surprising (especially considering the Ladies Specials are newer and cleaner and smell better than the other cars) it is problematic. The entire reason there are women-only cars are so that women can avoid being groped, propositioned, stared at, or sexually assaulted while in transit. The female-only trains do not educate potential gropers: it just separates them from a few of their potential victims, putting the responsibility on women not to get groped rather than on men not to do it in the first place. It reminds me of this excellent blog post on “Sexual Assault Prevention Tips Guaranteed to Work”: namely, don’t do it.

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. In this case, men are starting to request men-only cars because they’re afraid women will falsely accuse them of being gropers. This seems highly unlikely as only a fraction of these groping cases are reported, and even a smaller percentage prosecuted. The rates of women reporting being sexually harassed on the train are nearly identical in New York and Tokyo: just over 60%. Only 2,000 people were arrested for groping in Tokyo in 2007. That’s a tiny number considering the tens of millions of people who ride the subway every week there, half of them being women, and 60% of those saying they’ve been felt up. The female-only cars are so popular in cities where they’ve been introduced that they likely won’t be going anywhere soon. In Japan, they’ve even inspired the pervy Train Cafe where men can pay 5000 yen to enter a simulated female-only train car and grope all the gals they want.