Friday, August 28, 2015

Women and men and trains - and Jeremy.

I clocked Jeremy Corbyn's thought about women-only compartments on trains but didn't dwell on it until I read Kelvin's post and tried to leave a comment (it was eaten by gremlins so I'm doing it here instead). So - would this be A Good Thing? Or is it too reminiscent of purdah and all that western women associate with such seclusion: veils, burkahs, kinder, k├╝che, kirche ...? And I considered my immediate reaction, and tried to reconcile it with the person people think I am, and this is what came bubbling to the surface.

I don't travel solo much on public transport these days, but one of the pensioner-like things I do is use the bus from Dunoon - Glasgow. It's free, it takes you on the ferry without your needing to get wet on the pier, it drops you in the centre of town, you can doze off on it and not be taken past your stop. But nowadays I either sit on the outer seat of a pair, or sit beside another woman, because of an incident a year or so ago. Dear, sensitive reader, picture the scene:

I am sitting on the bus which I boarded in Dunoon with about seven people. I am in a window seat, looking out in a dwam at the wet road when we stop to let people on in Gourock. A tall man - not fat, just tall - of about 70 sways up the aisle and crashes down in the seat next to me. He lands half on top of me, to be accurate, squashing my arm and pressing his own arm into my right tit. I wait for him to apologise and move. I go on waiting. I stare at him. He smiles, complacently. I point out that he is too close for comfort, but he makes no move. I tell him he's invading my space and I want him to get out of it. He scoffs, and moves very slightly. He then begins to complain in a loud voice about unreasonable women, until I tell him I'm going to make a scene if he doesn't desist.

I take refuge in Twitter, in which medium my niece saves the day by making me laugh aloud. (Annoying man finds this discomfiting and I am glad). She has coined a phrase to describe her pet hate on public transport, for it is younger men with  lava crotches that give her the most trouble. And happily annoying man isn't going all the way to Glasgow and I am freed from his clammy presence.

Kelvin in his post talks about the need to deal with violence against women, and I agree with him. But neither my Annoying Man nor my niece's spread-legged travelling companions are being overtly violent - they're just behaving in a way that none of the men in my own circles would ever behave. They wouldn't be in my circles for long if they did. But they represent two distinct classes of public transport-users: throwbacks to a past age and present-day strutters (you know the walk?) who still think they are the dominant species. The former are likely to think it's all right to address women as "dearie" if they complain, and the latter to use Anglo-saxon monosyllables every second word in conversation as well as hogging all the available space.

None of which is actually threatening - or is it? And yes, in a way it's less threatening as one becomes frankly old. But if I had to take an evening train alone, as I used to when I caught the 11pm from Edinburgh to Glasgow in my student days after a concert, I'd love to have the choice of a women-only carriage. And if there were to be such a thing, I'd use it. Every time. Even though I feel ashamed of writing that, even though it seems a betrayal of the equality I have worked for all my life, I know it's true.

And maybe it's because Jeremy Corbyn is my generation that he knows it too ...


  1. I'd use a women-only coach - not, perhaps, for the daily commute, but definitely for returning home later in the day. I don't think it's a threat to equality so much as it is an acknowledgement that societally we're not there yet and until we are there, there is a need to allow people to live without being (at best) made to feel uncomfortable on a potentially daily basis.

    Sharing public transport with men has the oft-realised potential to make me feel physically uncomfortable, anticipatory of future discomfort/threat, threatened and utterly infuriated. I don't think being spared that betrays anything, it merely lessens the load of having to deal with the ongoing grindingly oppressive lack of progress society's been making all.the.time. and I'd be glad of the rest!

  2. One thing that does occur to me having read and agreed with you up to a point, is that a carriage full of only women might just be at more risk than a mixed sex one.
    I know only too well that the age of chilvalry is dead and buried but a direct appeal to a male fellow passenger might might just elicit some help.
    The behaviour you describe is by no means a one off, sadly there are still all too many such unsavoury characters around, one of the reasons I have stopped travelling by public transport in the evening and now use taxis.
    Expensive and annoying though that is.

  3. I used to travel frequently by train between Edinburgh and London when my son lived in the latter city. I found that a senior rail card and booking well in advance procured a reasonably cheap first class seat, thus avoiding raucous hen parties and their Buckie-fuelled male equivalents. After one particularly nasty experience in so-called standard class when police were called to break up a fight at Doncaster, I had realised that I would never go standard again. Sad but true.