In my first year of college, I started hearing more and more about apps like Uber and Lyft.
‘Why don’t you get Uber?’
‘You haven’t gotten Lyft yet?’
‘It makes life so much easier!’
Many of the people recommending these apps (and asking these questions) were guys. If I told them it creeped me out getting into the car with a stranger, many of them dismissed it as a novice’s concern. On the other hand, most women around me would just nod and say, “Valid.”
This disparity in anxiety surrounding ridesharing services points to a privilege men have that women simply do not— an assuredness that they can, for the most part, trust a stranger.
And for anyone who might say, “But those fears are not based in anything,” consider this: in the past four years, 103 Uber drivers and 18 Lyft drivers have been accused of sexual assault or abuse.
But even as I had my reservations, it became more and more difficult to go against the grain, especially surrounded by my peers at college. So I succumbed to the trends and just tried my best to be reasonably safe, as well as stop thinking about the fact that I was getting into a car with a driver I didn’t know (who was usually a man). But my qualms are hard to forget when an experience throws back in my face all the reasons I resisted getting the app.
In a recent Uber ride, I was on my way from my university to a family friend’s house. My Uber driver picked me up, and everything seemed normal. Then we passed a church where it appeared a wedding was just ending.
“Beautiful day for a wedding,” he said.
“Yes, it definitely is,” I replied. Normal, all normal.
“Do you want to get married?” he asked.
“Um, I don’t know.”
“Why don’t you know?” he kept pestering me.
“I guess I’d have to meet the right person?”
“Oh. Do you want to have kids?”
“How many kids do you want?”
“I’m not sure.”
“One, two, six, ten?”
I tried, over and over again, to distance myself from the conversation while not offending or angering him. I think he was probably harmless, but that did not stop me from pretending to call my Dad to “tell him” I would see him in five minutes.
“Yeah, hi, Dad? I’m in my Uber, I’ll be there soon to meet you.”
I spoke loudly, trying to communicate to this driver— I have someone waiting for me, who will notice if I don’t show up. Why I chose to “call” my dad? Well, that’s just one more aspect of the patriarchy at work there. When in uncomfortable or potentially unsafe situations, women sometimes have to pull tools out of their toolbox that they’d rather not use— such as citing male relatives and significant others for protection.
Never mind that I was paying this Uber driver for a service, yet felt anxious around him.
Another night, not too long after this incident, I actually felt safer walking a mile home after midnight than calling an Uber. My logic? If I walked home, I would be afraid of a strange man driving by me and trying to kidnap or assault me. So, why would I voluntarily get into a car at that hour with a strange man who might kidnap or assault me? Where a guy might automatically think of the Uber as safer than walking, a woman has different risks to weigh.
Even if many of my Uber rides are safe and normal, there’s always an extra awareness when I step into a stranger’s car. Even if nothing ever happens to most women when they get into their Ubers, all bets are off when you get into a car with a strange man. I breathe a sigh of relief if my driver is a woman, because I just automatically feel like my guard can go down at least a notch.
These experiences reflect how public spaces and services available to the public, are often less accessible to or more risky for women. How can Uber claim to be “everyone's private driver” when half the population gets in feeling on edge? Women don’t even have the benefit of seeing whether a taxi is a safer option, as many major cities don’t keep track of how many sexual assaults occur in taxis.
Women deserve to feel just as safe as men in their Ubers, Lyfts and taxis. Though Uber and Lyft have taken some steps in the right direction toward solving this problem, more needs to be done to address the rape culture that pervades our lives and makes us feel we cannot participate fully in the world.
Author: Caitlin Panarella
Caitlin Panarella is a writer, reader and grammar enthusiast, and is currently studying English and Women and Gender Studies at Georgetown University. After watching Miss Representation in high school, she developed a passion for analyzing media and literature portrayals of gender. When she’s not planning out trips around the world, you can find her running her favorite routes all over D.C., sipping tea while reading a book, or (re)watching Stranger Things. She’s thrilled to be a part of the Make Muse team and support women telling their own stories!