Last week Mexico City announced it would be setting up women-only buses as a response to increasing sexual harassment. (Mexico City has long had women-only cars on the subway.) This week Jessica Valenti, guest blogger on the Nation's blog, questioned the logic of creating women-only spaces for their own protection. She quotes herself writing in the Guardian on women-only spaces:
There's no doubt the harassment women face in public spaces needs to be addressed - whether it is on the street, the train, or even the internet. We've been subjected to regular catcalls and groping for far too long. But while the idea of a safe space is compelling, this international trend - which often comes couched in paternalistic rhetoric about "protecting" women - raises questions of just how equal the sexes are if women's safety relies on us being separated. After all, shouldn't we be targeting the gropers and harassers? The onus should be on men to stop harassing women, not on women to escape them.
Betsy Eudey, director of gender studies at California State University, says that while some single-sex environments could be beneficial - locker rooms where people are expected to be naked are an obvious example - she finds that "segregated spaces only enhance division by sex, and prevent the necessary actions needed to make public spaces safe and welcoming to all".
And then she notes that
Katha Pollitt, in an interview for this article, said that she doesn't think that the rise of women-only spaces will excuse society from confronting harassment and violence, but instead offer a small respite for women in a male-dominated world.
"Obviously, there would never be enough women-only space to accommodate all women all the time - half the subway cars or half the hotels…Women-only space is just a little breathing place for a few women every now and then."
Valenti, however, wonders whether women will be blamed for their harassment when they chose not to use the "safe" space provided.
I have some ideas on this subject myself (qv, for instance, a certain scene in Stretto), but I'm more interested in hearing how the issue strikes you-all.