It’s oh so quiet . . .

Election 2010. Guffwatch!

It's strange, isn't it, polling day? The most important day of all, and it all goes very, very quiet. Not at the polling stations, obviously. But that great cacophonous cocktail of the campaign trail, the news, blogs and everything else is like a Midwest American ghost town after a local gang fight a hundred years ago killed everyone in the surrounding area. All you can hear is the distant echo of a Keane song.

So far today, I've had group emails from Gordon Brown and David Cameron -- the latter by both text (how did he get my number, I ask you -- how?? I definitely never gave my digits to Cambo, swear on my life) and email. Both ardently encouraged me to vote. For them.

But it's not the same. The absence of craggy Gordon, fleshy Dave and grinning Nick from their odysseys around the country is rather deflating. It had become a strangely comforting part of the day, checking on where they'd all popped up and who they were mercilessly patronising now.

I have to admit it, I miss the guff. Have we had the last mention of "change", "real change" and "lasting change"? Will we ever see Gordon awkwardly clap a voter on the back again, or say to an unsuspecting child something like "You've got arms" by way of small talk? Will Cambo, once and for all, roll down those sleeves?

Obviously it will all get very exciting again later, and tomorrow, and perhaps onwards and for ever more, if we are whirling around in electoral confusion and any intense "horse-trading" gets under way. (On that note, what a brilliant bit of guff that is -- using a metaphor that must date from around 1824 to scare the masses off a hung parliament. It had the opposite effect on me, I'll have you know: I can't wait to see a spot of horse-trading in the flesh. It can't be worse than hunting, after all.)

But for now, in the words of that great pundit, Björk -- it's oh so quiet.

 

 

Sophie Elmhirst is features editor of the New Statesman

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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.