Perfect arse

Life offers joys to appreciate. For instance, only the other day, a gentleman wearing a Star Wars St

Dear readers, allow me to announce that I have actually finished a short story. After weeks of nonsense, distractions, train trips and psychotic breaks I really, truly did manage to cobble together enough minutes to put one word after another for 22 of your earth pages and there it is – probably ugly and deeply flawed, but a story nonetheless.

In many ways, in fact, quite a dandy fortnight has just passed. I now have so much work to do that I can no longer consider considering any of it and have passed into a state of Zen-like calm - unless I’m running on caffeine, in which case, all my twitches and ticks kick in and I may also weep without noticing which adversely affects my hydration. (And it may be significant that the words “psychotic break” immediately suggest a delightful type of holiday, rather than something mentally catastrophic.)

Be that as it may, life offers joys to appreciate. For instance, only the other day, a gentleman wearing a Star Wars Storm trooper mask showed me his bottom. He had mentioned it was exceptional and, in response to what may have been my mildly quizzical expression, took it upon himself to prove that indeed it was – pert, witty, unblemished, debonair and hairless – all one could ask of an arse. So a pleasant 68 seconds there and a chance to reflect on the fact that meeting the public is always enriching.

More comedy last week – had a grand time testing out new material for the Edinburgh Fringe show in August – and enjoyed again the relatively new Wicked Wenches tradition of taking tea backstage at The Stand in Edinburgh. Once a month, comics and staff gather together around a table furnished with an embroidered cloth, china, varieties of tea, home-made and hypoallergenic cakes, dainties and wildflowers. Every now and then someone leaves to go onstage and talk about genitals, dysfunction, relationships, hellmouths and so forth – before returning to nibble a fairy cake or straighten a doily. A great idea there from Julia Cloughley-Sousa and I cannot emphasise enough how delightful it is to experience a few hours of civilisation in one’s workplace. I would heartily recommend that you try your own variation on the theme – perhaps with a tasteful display of quality buttocks added on public holidays. Or whatever works for you.

My final meetings with this year’s students at Warwick University have also now passed. And what do you say to young people who are trotting (or just ambling, in some cases) off in hopes of becoming professional writers ? Obviously, a part of you does want to simply scream, “DEAR GOD NO ! TURN BACK NOW ! BECOME A POLE DANCER ! SELL YOUR ORGANS ! ANYTHING ! IT’S HIDEOUS ! NO ONE WILL RESPECT YOU FOR IT – STRANGERS WON’T EVEN BELIEVE YOU WHEN YOU TELL THEM WHAT YOU DO ! AND WORKING FOR THE THEATRE, OR TV, OR FILM…? THAT’S LIKE RIPPING YOUR OWN HEART OUT, PARING IT INTO FLAKES WITH A HOT CHISEL AND THEN THROWING THE RESULTANT MESS DOWN A WELL. YOU’LL END UP BOSS-EYED, TWISTED, TICKING, SURROUNDED BY PALS YOU MADE UP EARLIER, SHATTERED RELATIONSHIPS AND CRUDE DRAWINGS OF THINGS YOU’D LIKE TO DO WHEN THE NURSES REMOVE YOUR RESTRAINTS.

But instead you smile, perhaps mention eating more fruit, self-maintenance, plans, hope – because the only thing worse than doing the thing you really love would be not doing it. And when it’s good it really is about as good as it gets – making dreams and wonders – not the worst job in the world.

Show Hide image

Women-only train carriages are just a way of ensuring more spaces are male by default

We don’t need the “personal choice” to sit in a non-segregated carriage to become the new short skirt.

“A decent girl,” says bus driver Mukesh Singh, “won't roam around at 9 o'clock at night. A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy.”

Singh is one of four men sentenced to death for the rape and fatal assault of Jyoti Singh Pandey on a Delhi bus in 2013. His defence was that she shouldn’t have been on the bus in the first place. Presumably he’d have said the same if she’d been on a train. In the eyes of a rapist, all space is male-owned by default.

I find myself thinking of this in light of shadow fire minister Chris Williamson’s suggestion that woman-only train carriages be introduced in order to combat sexual violence on public transport. It’s an idea originally proposed by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in 2015, only to be shelved following criticism from female MPs.

Now Williamson feels that a rise in sex attacks on public transport has made it worth considering again. Speaking to PoliticsHome, he argues that “complemented with having more guards on trains, it would be a way of combating these attacks”. He does not bother to mention who the perpetrators might be. Bears, vampires, monsters? Doesn’t really matter. As long as you keep the bait safely stored away in a sealed compartment, no one’s going to sniff it out and get tempted. Problem solved, right?

And that’s not the only benefit of a woman-only carriage. What better way to free up space for the people who matter than to designate one solitary carriage for the less important half of the human race?

Sure, women can still go in the free-for-all, male-violence-is-inevitable, frat-house carriages if they want to. But come on, ladies - wouldn’t that be asking for it? If something were to happen to you, wouldn’t people want to know why you hadn’t opted for the safer space?

It’s interesting, at a time when gender neutrality is supposed to be all the rage, that we’re seeing one form of sex segregated space promoted while another is withdrawn. The difference might, in some cases, seem subtle, but earlier sex segregation has been about enabling women to take up more space in the world – when they otherwise might have stayed at home – whereas today’s version seem more about reducing the amount of space women already occupy.

When feminists seek to defend female-only toilets, swimming sessions and changing rooms as a means of facilitating women’s freedom of movement, we’re told we’re being, at best, silly, at worst, bigoted. By contrast, when men propose female-only carriages as a means of accommodating male violence and sexual entitlement, women are supposed to be grateful (just look at the smack-downs Labour’s Stella Creasy received for her failure to be sufficiently overjoyed).

As long as over 80 per cent of violent crime is committed by men, there can be no such thing as a gender-neutral space. Any mixed space is a male-dominated space, which is something women have to deal with every day of their lives. Our freedoms are already limited. We spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about personal safety. Each time it is proposed that women don’t go there or don’t do that, just to be on the safe side, our world gets a little bit smaller. What’s more, removing the facilities we already use in order to go there or do that tends to have the exact same effect.

Regarding female-only carriages, Williamson claims “it would be a matter of personal choice whether someone wanted to make use of [them].” But what does that mean? Does any woman make the “personal choice” to put herself at risk of assault? All women want is the right to move freely without that constant low-level monologue – no, those men look fine, don’t be so paranoid, you can always do the key thing, if you’ve thought it’s going to happen that means it won’t …. We don’t need the “personal choice” to sit in a non-segregated carriage to become the new short skirt.

In 1975’s Against Our Will, Susan Brownmiller pointed out that the fact that a minority of men rape “provides a sufficient threat to keep all women in a constant state of intimidation”. Whether they want to or not, all men benefit from the actions of those Brownmiller calls “front-line masculine shock troops”. The violence of some men should not be used as an opportunity for all men to mark out yet more space as essentially theirs, but this is what happens whenever men “benevolently” tell us this bus, this train carriage, this item of clothing just isn’t safe enough for us.

“A decent girl,” says the future rapist, “wouldn’t have been in a mixed-sex carriage late at night.” It’s time to end this constant curtailment of women’s freedoms. A decent man would start by naming the problem – male violence – and dealing with that. 

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.