Ideas

Women and The Hitching Post

Recently, I received an email from Mimi of Worcester, VT expressing her concern with feeling safe while utilizing The Hitching Post as a woman. With her permission I am posting our email exchange here. This has been an unresolved subject from day one and as a privileged, white, middle-class, able-bodied male, I’d love to hear from this community on what you think we should do! Read on…

Hi, Phoenix,   
When I first heard about this idea, I thought it was fabulous! But now that I have considered it more, it just seems like it mostly wouldn’t work for women. I would never give a ride to a man I didn’t know: it’s dangerous. Nor would I accept a ride from a man I don’t know. I have heard similar comments from other women. Let’s face it, navigating the world is different for women and men. I don’t know what the solution is! But it just seems unfortunate to have half the population unable to take advantage of this.
Mimi Hill
Worcester

Hey Mimi!
Thanks so much for the email.  I can understand your feelings about sharing rides with men you don’t know.  That totally makes sense. I, also, am not sure how to resolve that situation and can only offer these thoughts:

Some people have said that if they were to ride or drive they would wait for someone that they knew. Even if someone pulled over to give them a ride, they could say “I’m waiting for someone that I know, thank you for stopping though!

Another thought was that we could have a women-only flag, perhaps its own color, that would indicate the rider is looking for a female driver and she is female herself.

What do you think?
Cheers,
Phoenix

Hi, Phoenix,
I like the “waiting for someone I know” ploy, although if it didn’t occur to me it probably hasn’t occurred to other people. (And of course it could be used to mean “someone that I know is female.”)
A woman-only flag would work, I think. I would pick up any woman. Much as I don’t like the rigid association of pink with girls, it is a color that people would recognize as signaling female.
I cannot tell you how much I hate that we live in a world where this conversation is even necessary.
Mimi

So what do you think? Should we consider having a pink flag at each Hitching Post? Possibly with the female symbol indicated on them? Or is this an unnecessary complication and should we not shy away from simply trusting people? Do we have more systemic work to do in our communities?

I’d love to hear (especially women) your feedback!
Phoenix
The Hitching Post Vermont

8 thoughts on “Women and The Hitching Post

  1. Another privileged, white, middle-class, able-bodied male here, but for what it is worth, I think that the simplest solution is usually the best. Having a good verbal response like the ones you suggest is quick and easy, and in any case good to have available regardless of gender. If it feels sketchy to me, I would would absolutely use the “waiting for a friend” one. It will require a bit of education as Mimi suggests, but the flag idea, while compelling, requires investment of both equipment and probably the same amount of education. And lets face it, if a driver or rider was of bad intent, the color of the flag would make little difference. that’s my 0.02.

  2. As a woman, I’m not in favor of a woman-only flag. I think that kind of thing just perpetuates a culture of distrust. It’s important to have safeguards, but I don’t think we should base the whole system on the premise that it’s always unsafe for women to ride with or pick up strange men.

    Here are my thoughts on potential safeguards:

    —Someone can always turn down a ride with the “waiting for a woman/familiar face” line mentioned.

    —They could have a brief conversation with a man who offers them a ride (or wants a ride) to get a feel for the situation and make sure the guy feels like a safe person.

    —If they have a cellphone, they could call a friend and say, “Hey, I’m about to get a ride to Worcester with so-and-so, his license plate number is ____, I’ll call you in 15 minutes when I get there.” (I have female friends who have used this strategy while hitchhiking, to make sure someone knows where they are and with whom.)

    —And there’s always pepper spray…

    I want to work toward a society in which women don’t have to avoid strange men in order to feel safe. I think one step in that direction is women pushing back against the fear culture we’re raised in, practicing asking for what we need (Hey, tell me a little bit about who you are before I get in your car / Hey, I don’t actually feel safe riding with you, sorry) and getting to experience that most strange men are actually just fine folks. Building community by connecting strangers is one of the things the Hitching Post is all about!

    At the same time, of course, it shouldn’t all be on women. To shift some of the burden of ensuring safety off of women in these situations, I’d support a Hitching Post bumper sticker or something for regular drivers to display to reassure women (or anyone) who are nervous about getting a ride.

  3. I like the idea of the pink flag with the female sign on it, except that it could be seen as trans exclusionary. But on that former note, I esp like it because I have often stopped to see if anyone needed a ride between Montpelier and Worcester, no one ever having been waiting, but it never occurred to me that i don’t know what I might do if the person waiting seemed dangerous to me. On the other hand, I think there are also dangerous women. And I picked up a young man hitchhiker this summer going from Montpelier to Maple Corners, and he was super friendly and nice, best first experience picking up a hitch hiker ever! But I do understand Mimi’s concern, so maybe having a pink flag would be a good solution….sorry, that was a ramble, lol! But there’s a lot to consider!

    1. Thanks for the thoughts Ashley! Maybe the female symbol is too much? I love that you had a great first experience giving someone a ride. May there be more to come!

  4. Hi, y’all… Greetings from Penobscot lands here in Maine, where I’ll be unlikely to utilize the Hitching Post system any time soon. But, I’d love to see it succeed and spread! I wanted to weigh in with my “woman” hat on, but also with my “non-traditional, sometimes vulnerable, sometimes ass-kicking person” hat on. My femme presentation does draw violent eyes at times, and other identities are often even more at risk. Trans and/or POC folks especially come to mind. I know that some of my melanated friends are nervous to even drive through predominantly-white rural areas, never mind accept rides from strangers. I think it’s important to consider these questions of community safety, accountability, and equity and to keep searching for paths forward to slowly change toxic patterns… Hitching Post and beyond.

    For now, I just wanted to share an experience and an idea from Lawrence, KS, where I spent a bit of time while travelling cross country in My Youth. 🙂 You may have already considered and rejected this, but I loved the idea and found it comforting, so I wanted to put it out there.

    In Lawrence, there was (is? not sure) a similar hitchhiking/ridesharing support system with identified pickup and dropoff locations that folks could utilize. There was also an optional background check feature that folks could choose to do– riders could submit $10 and the organization would do a background check to screen for violent crime or other red flags, and if they passed the check, they would be given a “rider number” that could be printed out on a sheet and made visible when they were asking for a ride. Drivers were also able to submit a request to have their background check done, but were not asked to pay. They were then issued a “driver number sheet that they could print out and display in their car’s back window. I am aware of the issues around background checks, the screening of people with criminal records from accessing social services, etc– I’m not saying this is a perfect solution. The effect of it was that folks who wanted to participate in the system of the checks could do so, and many people chose not to but still used the rideshare system. It raised trust generally and helped to generate social buyin for the program.

    This area also had an acknowledgement that anyone could wait for or offer a ride anywhere, not just at the predetermined locations. Having the number sheets meant that folks could display them on any streetcorner or bus stop or whatever, and people would know they were asking for a ride. Totally self-directed. It spread the usage of the system beyond the places that were pre-identified. I liked it.

    I can see potential issues with this and know that it solves some problems and creates others, but as an in-some-ways vulnerable rider/driver, I appreciated the many options of how to engage and the knowledge that my safety was being considered.

    Can’t wait to see how this concept evolves and spreads! Thanks for all your hard work making it possible. Full support from this human,

    With gratitude,
    Trevanna

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