And the Highway Code
I’m in a lot of WhatsApp and Twitter groups these days where women are talking about the erosion of our sex-based rights. It’s clear there’s nothing progressive about this either, nor is it an indication that society is becoming more tolerant.
Nope - it’s part of a well organised political agenda. And once seen it cannot be unseen, as they say. But it can be hard to explain to some why this matters. Men are in women’s prisons? Those women can look after themselves can’t they! Men are on women’s hospital wards - but the nurses wouldn’t let anything happen! Why shouldn’t a man who has suppressed his testosterone be allowed to take part in women’s sport? Nobody watches women’s sports anyway …
The other day, someone shared the following story in one of those WhatsApp groups. I don’t know if it’s a true story or not, but it doesn’t matter. Like The Emperor’s New Clothes, its point is clear.
“I was having a discussion with a male friend about men in women's spaces and the trend of mixed-sex toilets replacing single-sex ones. He said that a sign on the door stating 'women only' had never stopped men from entering women's loos to rape them so it's unlikely that rapes in mixed-sex toilets would increase. I tried explaining that such signs are not policed by guards at the door but are policed by the community itself through social rules that we all understand and follow. He couldn't see my point so I changed it from signs on loos to something he understood better.
I explained that the lines and markings on our roads were like the signs on toilets. The lines indicate which side of the road you can drive on, where you are not allowed to park, where you have to stop, where to give way, and who you have to give way to. I said how there aren't police at every junction or on every street ensuring we abide by the rules because we socially police ourselves by obeying the white lines.
I told him to imagine our roads without any lines, markings, signs, or traffic lights. I asked if he would feel just as safe on his motorcycle without those things telling other motorists how to behave. He admitted he would be at more risk and would be more fearful of an accident, but that any accident would not be his fault - it would be the fault of the driver of the car that hit him.
I asked, "Does a broken arm or amputated leg hurt less if you know it was someone else's fault? Would you be any less injured or dead if you were in the right?" We spoke of how trucks would be safer on those roads than cars, and that riding motorcycles and bicycles would be so unsafe that many bikers would swap their bikes for large cars.
I then asked him to imagine that all the road rules were also abolished and replaced with just one universal road rule - that you are not allowed to cause injury to other motorists. You can drive anywhere on the road you want to. You can drive on the right or the left, drive slow or fast, stop or give way on a whim or not at all. It would be up to each individual motorist to decide on where and how he would drive as long as they didn't cause an accident that injured someone.
I asked if he would still ride his motorcycle under those rules. He said no. In fact, he said he wouldn't like to drive anything smaller than a tank. In all probability he would just not drive at all.
I told him that the white lines on the road that keep motorists from killing each other are just like the signs on the toilet door. We follow the rules without anyone policing us but ourselves. That changing single-sex toilets into mixed-sex ones is like throwing out the rule book and replacing it with the one rule of 'go wherever you want, just don't hurt anyone'.
These socially policed rules don't just keep us safe, they allow us to feel safe enough to use those spaces freely. When you change laws that impact the safety of the most vulnerable users (motorcyclists, women), those vulnerable users will self-exclude to keep safe.
He ruminated on it for a bit, and then slowly began to nod his head. He got it! He said he had never thought about the nature of social contracts before, but now he gets it.
Women's safety meant nothing to him, but motorcycles made him think.”