It may sound like something out of a Victorian romance novel, or otherwise positively retrograde, but a private German railway company aims to reintroduce women-only train cars in Germany, on trains running between Leipzig and Chemnitz. While plenty of countries already have such measures in place, they are typically utilized in non-Western cities. This would be the first instance of women-only train cars in a European country since the United Kingdom ditched the practice in the late-'70s.
On its face, the idea sounds like a dream to American women who are constantly subjected to manspreading, harassment, and sexual misconduct on trains — a problem the MTA encourages us to report, but doesn't actually have any means of dealing with. But the issue becomes much more complicated in practice.
First of all, according to the railway company, Mitteldeutsche Regiobahn, the train cars as described would allow "women and their children ... monitored by a crew" to ride in these designated cars. So what happens when their "children" are technically-still-underage teen boys in adult bodies? Do they not threaten the safety of women in much the same way as adult men? The disturbing trend of high school athlete gang rape in America suggests: duh.
Second of all, if the aim of the train car is to provide travelers with a safe space, then it should be open to all marginalized genders, not just women. Ideally, the gender policy of such protections should mirror those of recently revamped "women's colleges" like Bryn Mawr, which now function as "women- and trans*-only" spaces.
Third of all, since Germany, like much of Europe, is experiencing an influx of refugees, right-wing groups are co-opting the desire for, or possible necessity of, women-only train cars to support their unfounded argument that refugee men pose a threat of sexual assault to the nation's women. (It's like Europe's version of Donald Trump's "Mexicans are rapists and drug dealers" theory.) While no media outlets have reported an increase in train passenger sexual assault since the refugee crisis, one incident last New Year's Eve is fueling the xenophobia. Reports The Washington Post:
On New Year's Eve, dozens of men allegedly assaulted women at the main train station in the city of Cologne — an incident that raised worries in Germany about the behavior of male refugees and immigrants toward women. Several of the convicted perpetrators had foreign origins.
It's not difficult to imagine such a measure being turned into an excuse to pillory people of color and the imagined threat they pose to white women in a predominantly white European nation. A company spokesperson insisted that the move had "nothing to do with sex assaults," but rather, simply with fostering a sense of safety for female travelers. It's a valid effort for women who want it, especially those of us who have braved a sleepy-drunk, wee hours of the morning commute home from a killer party on the subway. But not if it increases discrimination against and violence toward trans* and refugee riders.