You may have noticed that the streets of Tbilisi have recently become inundated with Malibu Barbie taxis. I was initially excited by the pop of color, but alas my joy was deflated when I discovered their true purpose: a cab service “only for ladies”–i.e. ladies who fear the sexual harassment or assault that can occur in one of Tbilisi’s many unregistered “gypsy cabs” (a personal car with a removable taxi light, often driven by a local man as a secondary or even tertiary source of income).
Georgia is not the first country in which this service was deemed necessary–for example, women of Beirut, Delhi, and even London have adopted “pink cabs,” seeking exemption from discriminatory business laws in the interest of protecting vulnerable women. A statement from Maggie Hennessy of London Lady Chauffeurs alludes to the fear-based appeal of such a service: “A lot of our business comes from husbands who want to make sure their wives are OK, especially in the evenings.”
Two major issues here:
1.) In the other countries mentioned above, pink cabs are designed “by women, for women.” Delhi’s No. 1 Women’s cab firm, in particular, made it a major part of their business model to empower local women by employing only female drivers, a job usually off-limits to women. As you can see in the photo above, this is not the case in Tbilisi. Every pink cab I’ve seen has been driven by a middle-aged man–the same demographic driving the gypsy cabs. So what exactly do Tbilisi’s pink cabs have to offer if they are charging a premium for clients’ safety? What, have these particular drivers just “given their word” that they won’t harass passengers?
I also think that Tbilisi’s pink cab business is ignoring the opportunity to truly help women by offering jobs in a male-dominated field and in a country with high unemployment. Some Tbilisi women desperately in need of income have already taken this risk on their own, and it’s sad to see a local business failing to recognize a need (perhaps because this need isn’t as profitable as exploiting rape fear).
2.) While pink cabs are a great example of how capitalism can rise to meet a niche market, I find them a massive failure on the part of human rights. Privately-organized pink cabs are essentially a band-aid for rape culture, much like privately-organized schools are essentially a band-aid for America’s failing public education system: they do not fix the actual problem, they only make life easier for those who can afford the services.
In my opinion, pink cabs are just another expression of how rape culture is condoned by society. Few people (if any) would ever actually voice the opinion that sexual violence is acceptable. But when victim-blaming is pervasive, police are apathetic towards the issue (I was instructed to take any assault cases to the embassy, as local law enforcement does not generally enforce sexual abuse laws), and when men are taught (however subtly) that female bodies are for their pleasure, it isn’t much of a stretch to see how some men would find sexual harassment acceptable.
As University of Oregon professor Elaine Replogle reasons, “When you then consider how few men ever are convicted of rape, you realize that there’s a subtle message: It’s not that bad. If it were, wouldn’t we try harder to prosecute the perpetrators? The psychology of gang rape is aided by numbers, by underlying aggression, anger, and misogyny, by what Gloria Steinem terms a ‘cult of masculinity‘ and by a culture that does too little to hold perpetrators accountable.”
Barbie-pink cars are not the solution to sexual assault by cab drivers, and in fact I find that they trivialize the issue by making it cute and feminine (because, as usual, it’s entirely the woman’s responsibility to ensure her own safety). Framing sexual violence as a “women’s issue” makes it problematic for men (and even women) to recognize their role in propagating it. It’s “our problem”–so what investment is there for men, who are both the concerned protective husbands and the aggressive cab drivers? Frankly, a lot. Men are the friends, relatives, and partners of these victims—the nearly 1 in 5 women who have been raped in their lifetime.
In an overtly patriarchal society like Georgia, these men have an indispensable role in ensuring that the women they care about are safe and empowered, which means they have an investment in all women. Sexual violence should not just be a “women’s issue” wrapped up in a Disney Princess color scheme–it is an issue of shared humanity. As such it cannot be solved by capitalism, but only by an educated, active public and a responsive government willing to actually enforce the social equality codified in its laws, and regulate an industry that endangers 50% of the population.
Chemaly, Soraya. “Five Ways That ‘Staying Safe’ Costs Women.” Salon.com, 12 August 2013.
Replogle, Elaine. “The Psychology of Gang Rape,” Role/Reboot, 15 January 2013.
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