Every country has its own taxi industry. Some are regulated, some have rules that are not enforced, and others operate with complete autonomy. But across the globe, in both developed and developing countries, taxi travel is dominated by males.
The gender disparity is particularly acute in New York City. According to the Taxi & Limousine Commission’s Taxicab Fact Book, 99% of New York’s more than 50,000 yellow cab drivers are male.
That leaves only 574 female drivers on the road.
How Does SheRides Work?
One new service is trying to change that.
Scheduled to start on September 16th, 2014, but held up by a lack of drivers, SheRides uses a simple mobile app to connect female passengers with female drivers. Drivers will be identified by pink pashmina scarves. Their vehicles will be outfitted with a bright pink stripe.
The app is currently available only through Apple products, although the company is working on an Android version.
Log in and you’ll be asked whether there is a woman in your party. If not, you’ll be offered a choice of other e-hail services. If so, simply select a nearby driver and wait.
Initially called SheTaxis, the company was forced to change its name within New York City. As a ridesharing service, it was not allowed to use the word “Taxi” to describe itself.
Why We Need Gender Equity In The Transportation Industry
According to Founder and CEO, Stella Mateo, 60% of New York’s taxi passengers are female. As we’ve seen, the ranks of its drivers are almost entirely male. Civil rights attorney Andrew G. Celli Jr., SheRides’ legal representative, notes that transportation is “perhaps the most gender-segregated industry in society.”
This male-dominance provides a biting disincentive to females who wish to enter the field. The City’s existing female drivers often face discrimination. In the New York Times, Miriam Malave, a driver from Brooklyn, said she has faced repeated harassment from male drivers, including comments like: “This is a man’s job. Go home and cook.”
SheRides is committed to creating a safe avenue through which women can enter the transportation industry.
At the same time, the threat of gendered violence looms large. Female passengers often fear victimization at the hands of male drivers, for good reason: New York’s taxi industry has a brutal history of rape and other gendered violence.
Matteo argues that SheRides offers “peace of mind,” serving those “who may feel uncomfortable riding with male drivers for safety or religious reasons.”
But Is SheRides The Way To Do It?
In a trenchant critique published in the Huffington Post, Soraya Chemaly says that SheRides, and other women-centric services like it, are tackling the problem in the wrong way.
SheRides offers women a way to segregate themselves from a culture still dominated by males. By using the service, women can know that they are safe from male-perpetrated violence for a time.
But this only protects isolated, individual women, and only those who can afford the fare in the first place. This doesn’t fix the problem, it hides it.
More importantly, SheRides does nothing to change the culture in which men feel entitled to women, even those who resist their advances.
In the largest study ever conducted on rape, researchers from the United Nations found that one out of four men (they polled more than 10,000) “admitted to raping women.” Asked about their reasons, they disproportionately cited a sense of sexual entitlement. In other words, they felt they had a right to a woman’s body, whether or not she consented. More than half of the respondents said they had used physical violence.
Chemaly’s point is that SheRides teaches women to fear men and then makes that fear a product. SheRides profits off this fear; it’s represented by the fare each woman must pay to get a ride from a female driver and, ostensibly, travel safely. The message is clear: women must pay for their safety, for the promise that their bodies and sovereignty will not be violated.
Chemaly argues that SheRides’ response to perceived dangers within the transportation industry is misguided at best. Creating new services to cater solely to women won’t change the way men think about women. And that’s what needs to happen.