Women are still regularly harassed on the TTC—and it sucks.
Another day, another depressing, aggravating story by a woman who is treated terribly on the TTC.
This time, local writer Emily Kellogg took to Twitter, and later Medium, to report a highly uncomfortable incident she lived through while on the streetcar during rush hour Tuesday. While reading, a man approached Kellogg from behind her seat, whispering insults and obscenities at her, including that “human women” are the “worst of all animals.” Eventually, she made the decision to bolt off the vehicle, hiding in a store and walking the remainder of her way home.
As Kellogg writes in her essay about the incident:
“For a moment I uselessly wonder what I did to incite his ire. I’m fairly certain he hasn’t even seen my face, just my shoulders, neck, and hair….And then I remember that, of course, he doesn’t hate me, he just hates women. Or rather, he hates that women are allowed to take up space in public, and have agency over our lives and our bodies. He hates that we can turn down his sexual advances, ignore him, read a book that he knows nothing about, feel things that he doesn’t want us to feel, say things he doesn’t want us to say.”
We should be surprised by such an encounter. It should be an anomaly. But it’s not.
We routinely hear from women who experience nightmarish commutes like Kellogg’s. In 2015, a story about a man taking photos and verbally harassing women on the subway was circulated widely on Facebook. Just months ago, the Toronto Star published an account of a woman’s encounter with a man on the subway who followed her both on and off the train as she tried to escape his sexual advances. I have also experienced harassment at streetcar stops, where young men refuse to accept my rebuffs to their romantic advances. And so far this year, 35 sexual assaults on the TTC have been reported, as of July.
It’s not as though City staff are unaware of this problem. In July, the TTC announced it was working on a new app to report harassment experienced during commutes discreetly. Meanwhile, the Request Stop program, which allows women (and now, men) to exit buses or streetcars in between stops and closer to their destinations, was launched 25 years ago.
That this is still an issue for women simply trying to get from point A to B is frustrating at best and terrifying at worst. And it signals an institutional problem, one that Kellogg lays out simply:
“In his entitled little head we’re not on public transit, I’m riding on his streetcar, and if he doesn’t like the back of my head, well then, by God, he’s entitled to spew verbal abuse at me until I GTFO…Public transit belongs to me as much as it does to you.”
Public transit is intended to serve the public—that is, both men and women—in a way that is balanced and fair. When women are forced out of streetcars, off of subways, and away from bus stops because they are intimidated or threatened by other riders, it is a sign that things are unbalanced, that something needs to change to restore that balance.
There are small steps that can be made to improve women’s experiences on public transit. For one, the City can hire more women at the TTC in management positions—women whose lived experiences can inform decisions about other women. The TTC can receive feedback on its efforts, like the new harassment app, from women who have experienced such incidences during their commutes.
And most importantly, we can listen, believe, and try to understand women, like Kellogg, when they share their stories—however aggravating and depressing as they may be.