The Tyranny and Necessity of Women-Only Spaces
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because it’s a matter of safety.
By Fiona Zublin
Parking garages are dire and it’s a blessed day indeed when you finagle the perfect spot: close to the door, wider than normal, not trapping your car behind a pillar or in a corner. But what if you got that parking space every day, and only because you’re female — and the architects of the garage think chicks can’t drive?
That’s the dilemma facing women in Germany, China and Korea, which are replete with parking spaces reserved for lady drivers. As the pink paint suggests, there is something awfully condescending about the “she-spots”: They suggest women are bad drivers. Here’s what I suggest: Disregard the implicit male chauvinism and mandate parking set-asides for women — near the front, under bright lights — because a parking garage can be a dangerous place. A spokesperson for the Department of Justice tells OZY that some 7.3 percent of violent victimizations took place in parking lots or garages between 2004 and 2008.
Granted, set-asides for women are usually tricky in the liberal West. Witness the mini-firestorm that lefty British politician Jeremy Corbyn set off when he suggested women-only carriages on public transport could combat harassment. Critics took issue with “segregation in public spaces” or, more trenchantly, the implicit idea that it’s “normal for men to harass women.” But alas, it is normal for women to receive unwanted sexual attention — even in supposedly progressive societies — and there should be protected, women-only spaces that afford more protection for those who desire it. In other words, get over your hang-ups: The problem is not female-only spaces, it’s that those who oppose them don’t wish to think of their society as the kind that needs them. But if wishes were doughnuts, I’d be eating breakfast right now.
The U.S. already has parking spots mandated for women in some lots — they’re just specifically for pregnant women or customers with children, who are often expected to be women rather than men, according to Sarah Marusek, a professor at the University of Hawaii at Hilo and author of Politics of Parking. Marusek points out that none of this is legally mandated but that cultural pressures are often enough to create and enforce them. Female-only spaces, she says, are rooted in stereotypes and ideas about merit but also “commercially framed and socially supported.”
Unlike China’s and Korea’s pink-painted, extra-wide women’s parking spots, Germany’s gendered parking spaces — well-lit, monitored by cameras — began as an ostensible safety measure. But then, in 2012, one German town labeled two parking spots as reserved for men because they were particularly difficult to maneuver, belying the claim that the tradition is about safety for women rather than the cherished stereotype that one can’t drive straight without a Y chromosome. So let’s abandon the idea that women need extra-wide parking spaces — after all, some studies say women are actually better at parking than men are — and focus on making sure women feel safe in garages, which are often eerie and deserted. While it’s safe for a woman to be behind the wheel, it’s important to make sure it’s safe once she gets out of the car.