Thursday, October 20, 2011

Women's Rights and the Decline of Democracy, Part Four

Right now, in the United States, there are still places where people are being told that they have to ride at the back of the bus.
City Human Rights Commission To Examine Sex-Segregated Bus Line
A driver observed and interviewed by The New York World did not intervene when a woman accompanying this reporter was forced to move to the back of the bus. The New York Post subsequently sent its own reporter, who was told by the driver, as well as passengers, that the front of the bus was reserved for men.

Women ride in back on sex-segregated Brooklyn bus line
The B110 bus travels between Williamsburg and Borough Park in Brooklyn. It is open to the public, and has a route number and tall blue bus stop signs like any other city bus. But the B110 operates according to its own distinct rules. The bus line is run by a private company and serves the Hasidic communities of the two neighborhoods. To avoid physical contact between members of opposite sexes that is prohibited by Hasidic tradition, men sit in the front of the bus and women sit in the back.
‘Back of bus’ furor
Rosa Parks must be spinning in her grave!

A Brooklyn bus contracted by the city to operate a Williamsburg-to-Borough Park route -- catering to Orthodox Jews but open to the public -- is under investigation for allegedly forcing women to sit in the back of the bus, authorities said yesterday.
At Front of Brooklyn Bus, a Clash of Religious and Women’s Rights
Even though a private operator runs the bus, it was awarded the route through a public and competitive bidding process. Seth Solomonow, a spokesman for the Transportation Department, said the bus was supposed to be “available for public use” and could not discriminate.


On Wednesday afternoon, the custom of women’s sitting at the back of the bus was evident, both in practice and in writing.

Guidelines, posted in the front and the back, said that “when boarding a crowded bus with standing passengers in the front, women should board the back door after paying the driver in the front” and that “when the bus is crowded, passengers should stand in their designated areas.”

If you read the articles (and the comments attached to them) the lack of outrage is noticeable. Why, I wonder, does forcing someone to sit at the back of the bus not spark massive anger and immediate reactions from government institutions? I suggest that the reasons are twofold: what group is the discrimination being carried out by and who is being discriminated against.

First, In certain areas of American politics today it is important to demonstrate that you are for Judeo-Christian ethics/beliefs and that you are a "friend of Israel." Ironically your friendship for Israel may be based on your belief that Israel needs to be around to be destroyed at the right time, but until then you are a friend of Israel. Specifically (for a secular Israel will not result in the rebuilding of the temple) this involves supporting the those groups within Israel that are least supportive of western values/women's rights. This political "third rail" is not equally electric in all communities in the United States but it plays a crucial role in New York politics.

Second, Women rights are always negotiable. They are something that will have to wait. Brutal and unequal treatment of women can be included as one of many charges against another country or leader but that is never enough to spur western countries to action. If men are not being jailed then the jailing of women will not bring down upon you the wrath of the United States. If men are not being mistreated then the mistreatment of women will not bring down upon you the wrath of the United States. Women rights are the last rights that will be insisted on, the last rights to be granted and the first rights to be lost.

One hundred years ago yesterday (October 19, 1911) the Mayor of New York decided to not veto legislation that mandated that the New York City school system pay all women teachers the same wages as male teachers. The first several times such legislation was passed it was vetoed. As the mayor announced his intentions he reassured his constituents that paying women more would actually lead to more male teachers getting jobs.

Women's rights don't seem to have traveled as far as we had hoped over the last 100 years.

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