The Next Stop Is: Pretty in Pink


This week somehow marks the halfway point of my summer. Although the heat is stagnant and unrelenting, my internship is zipping right along!

You know what else is zipping right along? The subway.

This week’s assignment was all about planes, trains, and automobiles, although the majority of my research focused on the middle (zho1ng) category.

Yesterday, China launched its version of the “Pink Car,” which they have renamed the “Ladies First Car.” Peony was interested in tracking the public opinion, so she asked me to write an article about the reception of women-only subway cars. I earnestly took on the project. The label is ladies first, after all.

In early 2015, China administrators made the decision to turn the subway cars Pepto Bismol pink in an effort to combat the alarming reports of sexual assault on public transportation. Although banal internet netizens continue to debate the accuracy of reports, about 30% of women ages 16 to 25 report either being a victim of or being a witness to sexual assault on the subway. There aren’t any numbers that reflect the instance of sexual assault for women with disabilities, but my experience at OPO is enough for me to conclude the numbers are probably higher.

The women-only cars are available during peak commuter hours in the morning and evening; they are demarcated by a pink boarding deck and a spattering of flower stickies on the glass doors. The interior of the car is also filled with flower stickers. The adhesive garden sticks to the pink theme. Pictures of full subways cars show men amidst the magnolias. There are no real means of enforcement yet, so many men choose to black out the pink when the other cars are full.

The reception of the pink cars registers somewhere on the gray scale. The purpose of the cars are to “respect and protect” women, but some women think this confuses women with delicate flowers in a nature preserve. Some women express frustration – is this really getting at the root of the issue? Other women have adopted a realist approach and claim the cars are a good temporary solution to a larger societal problem. Many other women have praised the cars for creating a safe space.

Regardless, the government’s acknowledgment of the problem of sexual assault on public transportation and its efforts to devise a solution deserve positive recognition. Its solution is pink – patience is the pretty takeaway. Pretty in pink trans. "patience is the solution." Change cannot happen overnight. Unless you’re on the Beijing railway system, it takes a long time to get from Point A to Point B. There are several transfers along the way; an escalator or two will be out of order; the subway card might fall into the chasm between the car and station deck; a skirt might get caught in a subway door (none of these things have happened to me…). The important thing is that we transfer subway lines, take the stairs, buy a replacement subway card, and surreptitiously sweep our skirts back into the subway at the next stop. Keep on!

OPO has mastered the weird subway metaphor I tried to put together. Their work is patient and persistent. They are commuting toward Point B, and I am grateful to be a fellow commuter who has an opportunity to learn these lessons along the way. 

Next week: The midseason finale of Lo in Beijing. Catch Lo's account of the UN conference for Disability Rights in China.