Friday, September 25, 2009

Indian Women Get Their Own Lady Train

Due to pervasive and ongoing harassment from men, India has instituted a ladies-only train car.

"Up and down the jostling train, women repeated the same theme: As millions of women have poured into the Indian work force over the last decade, they have met with different obstacles in a tradition-bound, patriarchal culture, but few are more annoying than the basic task of getting to work.

The problems of taunting and harassment, known as eve teasing, are so persistent that in recent months the government has decided to simply remove men altogether. In a pilot program, eight new commuter trains exclusively for female passengers have been introduced in India’s four largest cities: New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Calcutta.

The trains are known as Ladies Specials, and on one recent round trip in which a male reporter got permission to board, the women commuting between the industrial town of Palwal and New Delhi were very pleased.

'It’s so nice here,' said a teacher, Kiran Khas, who has commuted by train for 17 years. Ms. Khas said the regular trains were thronged with vegetable sellers, pickpockets, beggars and lots of men. 'Here on this train,' she said, as if describing a miracle, 'you can board anywhere and sit freely.'"

And also, since men are anatomically incapable of closing their legs more than 75 degrees while sitting in public transportation due to their enormously large penises of course, I am certain that studies will find that women on the Lady Train also have substantially more leg room.

Many women living in metropolitan areas in the US will tell you that "eve teasing" is not an India-specific problem. Comparatively, I don't know if it is as pervasive here, but the catcalls, pinching, and harassment are certainly of the same type and spring from the same source of entitlement.

Taking a cue from the angry black woman at Alas, a Blog, when have you experienced street harassment? And, how do you respond to it?

My story? I am ashamed and embarrassed to admit this, but it has only been within the past few years that I first became aware of the fact that, when I passed men on the street who I didn't know, I would lower my eyes and not make eye contact with them. In part, I think this tactic was pre-emptive self-preservation. Without consciously thinking about it, I wanted to take away a strange man's ability to command me to "smile," his ability to make that creepy too-long eye contact following his once-over of my entire body, and his entitlement to offer an unsolicited compliment regarding my eyes, my legs, or my ass.

Sometimes, you just want to go about your day without being made to feel like a bitch for not flirting back with some dude you don't know. And an easy way to make that happen is to just keep one's eyes on the sidewalk. Yet, once I caught myself consciously looking down, I became angry. Looking down is a signal of submission. And, I do think that some men, in a sick power-trippy way, are out to demonstrate their "dominance" by harassing women they don't know and then becoming "offended" when the lady doesn't show the proper degree of deference to his charms. So, my latest strategy is to keep my head up, briefly glance at an approaching man, and then keep looking straight ahead. You know, as if we were all just people.

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