Women-only taxis in New York? No thanks

Getting into a cab with your vagina? You’re probably hoping the driver has one too.
Luckily for New York women, a new car service means that you can ensure just that.

SheRides is a car service app that connects female passengers and female drivers who wish to avoid sharing a car with a stranger of the opposite sex.
The concept, according to founder Stella Mateo, is two-pronged. By employing only women, she’s taking aim at a serious gender imbalance in the workforce (98% of city-licensed taxi drivers are male), in what she calls an “opportunity”. By appealing to women only clients, she’s providing the weaker sex (let’s face it, this is about feeling vulnerable) with what she says is an “option”.
The problem is, both the “opportunity” and the “option” are illegal.
Under the New York City Human Rights Law, you can’t refuse to employ someone to do a job that both men and women are physically able to do based on their gender (sound familiar? It’s called feminism). Neither can you specify that your driver has ovaries and breasts. Or white or black skin, for that matter.
This issue of equality having been brought to Mateo’s attention, she altered her business plan, employing some male drivers (clients should request a woman driver to avoid a testicled surprise) and allowing iPhone users of any gender download the app.
So it’s now legally sound. But is it a good thing for women?
It’s certainly more expensive. Looking at the rates, it appears that SheRides’ prices are higher than its politically-correct counterpart, Uber (which allows men, women and transgender people to ride, no questions asked) and considerably higher than say, the black cab service in my Brooklyn neighbourhood.
Mateo has plugged the service as “safe, reliable and trustworthy,” and the only taxi or car service that can provide women "peace of mind”.

Two SheRides cars adorned with pink balloons. Photo: SheRides.
And that is something I’m not surprised some women are willing to pay for.
Sexual harassment and intimidation do exist in New York (although coming from Paris it feels like a futuristic utopia to me), and an enclosed, moving, space can prove an ideal environment for a potential aggressor.
I know this. I am a woman.
Segregation, however, does not seem like the forward-thought solution here. In countries where segregation is still deeply entrenched, are rates of sexual assault lower? Ahem.
Surely a car service which promises the strict enforcement of an anti-harassment policy would seem like a more logical step in 2014 America?
Uber, for example, has an efficient rating system, and is quick to ditch a driver whose inappropriate actions are flagged by a passenger. Having taken innumerable taxis and Ubers, I have noticed that drivers who risk easily losing their job over bad behaviour seem to be far less keen to chat you up.
That’s not to say the Uber system is perfect, yet. But it’s far from the anonymous hail of the yellow cab, and precisely because of that, is already noticeably way more popular with women drivers. That 98% disparity? Uber, along with any other service that identifies both passenger and driver, is on the case.
SheRides, on the other hand, in attempting to address inequality, has only exacerbated it.
The service, which goes by the motto “Women for Women,” discredits feminist efforts towards mutual respect between men and women, indirectly branding all male taxi drivers as potential nasties (‘men bad, women good’ kind of mantra). But it’s also embracing a societally archaic instrument long peddled by men and long fought against by women – segregation.
Encouraging female drivers is great. Encouraging female passengers to isolate themselves from men, and suddenly we’re going backwards…in a car with a pink bumper sticker.

Top photo: SheRides.
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Freedom of Association, right out the window.
This is all about lesbians! Not male aggression!.

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