Love Letters to Indonesia: Women-only Train Cars

“There’s a guy sitting in the women-only car,” I texted my friend, “So much anger.”

I sat, huddled on one end of a bench rapidly filling up with other women and—occasionally—their small children. On the bench across from me sat a man. I resisted the urge to glower at him. The one up-side to the non-air conditioned train between Solo and Jogja (besides being cheaper) is that one of its cars is designated as women-only. And this man was blatantly disregarding the rule.

Now, let me start by saying that harassment in Indonesia is not actually that bad. Mainly it comes in the form of curious people not knowing how to act in a way that will not annoy and/or offend foreign women, probably because they’ve watched too much TV. Plus, since I can often pass as Indonesian—as long as I’m not surrounded by a bunch of obvious foreigners—I rarely get much attention leveled at me at all, unless I start talking. All that said, the women-only train car always provides a nice break from being slightly on edge, anticipating the next unwelcome interaction I’ll have to have.

Because here’s the thing: while women certainly carry on vaguely invasive, vaguely embarrassing conversations with me (Are you married yet? Do you have a boyfriend? Is he Indonesian?), they have never asked for my number at the end of said conversations. Men do this all the time, and it gets really old. I’ve learned to give witty remarks in response instead of my number, but if I can buy an hour and a half without having to come up with witty remarks, I’m all for it.

Thus, I was rather annoyed with the man who’d plopped himself down in the train car. On various other occasions I’d been annoyed with other men and, once, with a whole group of teenage boys who actually discussed the women-only sign and decided to ignore it. Luckily, on all those occasions, a conductor eventually appeared to shoo all the men away.

And so this story ends happily, with me, texting my friend about the success of the conductor, surrounded by other women in a hot train car.

Or, on an even more positive note, there once was a guy who sat with his girlfriend until the train was ready to go, then moved to another car without being told, probably sacrificing any chance he’d had at finding a seat for himself. And that I respect quite a lot.

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