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The Brooklyn Bus Where Women Sit in the Back

Wait, let me check my calendar. Yup, 2011. So it's surprising to read about a New York public bus line that still forces women to sit in the back.

Here's what happened when Melissa Franchy boarded the B110 bus in Brooklyn and sat down near the front:

For a few minutes she was left in silence, although the other passengers gave her a noticeably wide berth. But as the bus began to fill up, the men told her that she had to get up. Move to the back, they insisted.

They were Orthodox Jews with full beards, sidecurls and long black coats, who told her that she was riding a “private bus” and a “Jewish bus.” When she asked why she had to move, a man scolded her.

“If God makes a rule, you don’t ask ‘Why make the rule?’” he told Franchy, who rode the bus at the invitation of a New York World reporter. She then moved to the back where the other women were sitting. The driver did not intervene in the incident.

The B110 bus travels between Williamsburg and Borough Park in Brooklyn. It is open to the public, and has a route number and tall blue bus stop signs like any other city bus. But the B110 operates according to its own distinct rules. The bus line is run by a private company and serves the Hasidic communities of the two neighborhoods. To avoid physical contact between members of opposite sexes that is prohibited by Hasidic tradition, men sit in the front of the bus and women sit in the back.

Is it gender discrimination or a reasonable approach to accomodate religious rights?

Sasha Chavkin of The New York World reports: Link | Follow up at The New York World and The New York Times

discrimination. archaic, stupid discrimination. archaic, stupid, fantasy-based discrimination. no part of this country is a theocracy, so stop it.
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THIS I would be taking to the human rights board for sure... STUPID STUPID STUPID... maybe the men should sit in the back.
NO religious practises should NEVER over rule the law. PERIOD
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I'm thinking that a group of women will shortly feel the need to regularly ride that bus and exercise their legal right to sit exactly where they want. And of course men should be able to sit at the back too - I'm sure that men would get an equally negative reaction from the Jewish women if they tried it. Stupid religious rules are stupid. And they clearly contravene the law.
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Seems to me that as a private busing service that is being paid for by Hasidic Jews specifically for this reason, they ought to be able to set their own rules for its use provided that no laws are being broken. Would you go into one of their synagogues and tell them they aren't allowed to practice gender segregation there, either? I do think that they should clarify their rules for any unsuspecting members of the public, though.
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It's a privately run bus that was created to serve a specific community with certain cultural rules, one that they opened up to public use. If people don't like the rules put down by that culture/bus line, don't ride that bus!
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It's a "private" bus as in "private company with a public contract, to serve the public".

Therefore, outta my way when I take a seat in the first row. "Separate but equal" is not an option.
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Doesn't look like they'll be allowed to keep it that way for much longer. Quote from Michael Bloomberg: "Private people, you can have a private bus. Go rent a bus and do what you want on it."

Can't say it much better than that.
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There appears to be some confusion and some misunderstanding concerning this case. These people are what's known as 'shomer negiah.' Those who keep shomer negiah cannot touch those of the opposite gender unless they are related to them (parent, sibling, spouse, child, etc.) To the argument that they just don't have to sit next to the woman, if the bus becomes crowded, it's inconvenient to leave a seat open while others have to stand. It's important to keep in mind that women cannot touch men either; it is just as much in their advantage to sit in a different section of the bus as it is for the men.
Some will say that the order (men in the front, women in the back) is purely coincidental. Call it cynicism, but I doubt anyone in the community would consider the reverse situation. However, it isn't based on discrimination, like the Jim Crow laws that MLK fought against. And in the end, SOMEONE has to sit in the back. So no, it doesn't bother me and I understand the situation. It's a private bus, and the woman should respect others' beliefs.
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While I do not subscribe to any faith or culture that practices segregation, my personal interpretation of gender segregation isn't so much about equality but rather personal space. Rather than keeping the women away from the men, it's more likely a practice that evolved for the specific purpose of keeping the men away from the women to preserve their (the women's) personal space.

From my understanding there are bus lines that operate similar routes but do not satisfy the requirements of their faith and so, as a community, have managed to organise a contractor to run a line for their specific requirements. From my point of view, it's basically like a restaurant or fast food joint providing a vegetarian, vegan, halal, low fat, low sugar or gluten free menu. That bus line is run to satisfy a specific demand and you have a choice to use that bus or to use another bus.

Going through the actual article, I've gathered that a private company is paying the city the right to run a bus service that is open to the public. at a 2.50 fare, they're going to need 11,000 passengers a year to break even on the rights fees alone, probably double that in order to break even on the running costs. Considering how niche it is, it's possible that it could be barely breaking even, if not running at a loss. The fact that it is open to the public is that they're inviting other people to use the same services if they so desire.

To diverge on a tangent for a moment, I think that one thing most people forget about multiculturalism is that it's not about having all people adopt the host country's culture, customs and values but an opportunity for the guest and host cultures to engage in conversation, come to understand each other's differences and similarities and then continue to become a better international community. I don't think directly applying your own values onto another culture's practices does anything other than create conflicts and confrontations unless both parties attempt to understand each other.

That said, I am also not American so the only basis I have for reading into the article and its reader's opinions stem from my own country's ongoing efforts at becoming a multi-cultural and multi-religious nation.
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It is not meant to be an insult, but people who have never studied the culture or the customs have a hard time understanding. It's actually to protect and maintain modesty and respect.
Would you as a woman insist on going in to the men's bathroom and use it with men in there?
It's not becuase they want to "keep the women down". The front of the bus is not a higher status than the back of the bus. One is not greater than the other.
This is about men keeping their eyes and hands and thoughts to themselves and not on the woman sitting in the seat across from him.
It's really about respecting women and treating them as ladies.
If they sit in the back, then men aren't going to be looking at their back of their heads or legs as they sit... these people are trying to guard their eyes.
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“This is a private company, but it is a public service,” said Seth Solomonow, a spokesman for the DOT.

“The company has to comply with all applicable laws.”
The Transportation Department said that the B110 had not been granted any exceptions to anti-discrimination laws.

That's it. That's the end of the story. This is not about religious freedom or discrimination; this is about a law which everyone has to follow. If this becomes something which is not a public service, then people can do what they want. The bus wasn't even *marked* as a segregated service!! Neither was the bus stop. Why is anybody arguing about this??
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They could have just left the woman in the seat and glared at her. Isn't that how cultures enforce traditions that can't really be rules or laws?

They are welcome to their beliefs and traditions and I respect the desire for personal space, especially in a gigantic city. But inviting others to use their space with no indication that they have rules they will force on others rather than traditions they ask others to respect is problematic. I have a feeling that if they hadn't been dicks about it the custom would just seem curious rather than sinister.

I recall that when I rode the school bus, the back of the bus was the preferred spot. You didn't have everyone brushing past you all the time (and you were further from the driver/authority figure). While bus segregation has a nasty history, the status or convenience of front vs. back is in part cultural as well as a matter of convenience. I still think there must be better solutions to the issue than front/back segregation or hysterics about the segregation, but every single possible solution is going to have drawbacks. Then again, boy/girl cooties aren't real and so it's an issue of preference rather than safety. This isn't an easy, open-and-shut issue in my mind, but luckily it's one of the less vital issues in the world today and not even one of the most important issues in that neighborhood, I imagine.
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Multiculturalism creates hostility and violence. It's interesting the way peoples from other countries move into other countries and like parasites, they begin to take over, creating a mini version of their own countries, and then they demand that one adheres to their 'culture.' But then we wouldn't be exposed to different cultures, some might say. One thing is to be exposed temporarily, another is to be forced to be exposed to it forever.
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I just don't get it. Whenever I get on a bus, I try not to touch anybody, no matter what gender they are.


If it's allowing members of the public to get on, then those members of the public should be able to sit where they have a reasonable expectation to sit, that is, anywhere but the driver's seat (and in the other passenger's laps,of course).

If the KKK rented a bus and let members of the public ride it, as long as black people sat in the back, would that be considered proper?
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V, well said.
I find a few things curious about this article. For one, there are no quotes from the women about this unofficial rule. The writer isn't the same person who rode the bus, so at best the quotes are retold, at worse, exageration. Do they find women (or men for that matter) of this community find the rule discriminatory when they are the ones that ride the bus regularly? Is it a hassle for them? Somehow I think the answer is no, but it cannot be blamed on these women/men being 'brainwashed' by thier religion. It's a rule of thier faith that they choose to obey.
That being said, I think the bus company should have the legal exception to the discrimination laws since they are there to serve the Hasidic community. If that were the case, the general public should be warned about it before they plan on taking the bus.
But honestly? This has been going on since 1973 and if it really offended people who have to deal with it everyday, it would have been changed by now. But guess what... it's still around because the people who use it like it the way it is. Yes, I find it a little offensive but that's mostly because I relate it a little too closely to segregation. I may not like it but I would choose to respect it, just like I would hope others would choose to respect my faith or the faith of anyone else (or even a lack thereof).
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I presume that if a married couple use the bus they are forced by these rules to sit separately. Ridiculous.

Ktydid, no, it does not follow that because it's someone's faith it has to be accepted and respected. If it did, it would follow that you could equally say 'I hope others would choose to respect my racism'. Who would accept, say, a Muslim bus where women weren't allowed to travel without covering their heads? Or a Christian fundie bus with a sticker on the door saying 'gays or atheists not welcome on this bus'?

If something is offensive to you, don't respect it. The banner of faith/religion should not be allowed to give bad ideas any kind of special protection.
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As long as it's not an inconvenience for women to sit somewhere else, it should be fine. For instance, if they can enter and leave the bus through a door near the seat. (I don't know how that bus works - in Wien for instance, you don't have to pass the driver to use a bus. In Stockholm you have to pass the driver, so sitting far from the driver could be counted as inconvenience and if you're forced to do that, it would be discrimination.)

Otherwise it would be discrimination that we separate genders for for instance changing rooms. (Is it? If one of them are better than the other, is it discrimination?)
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After a bit of thought, if the service was deemed illegal (on what I would consider technicalities and semantics) then their option would be to organise a 'members only' private line, say like a private gym (except transporting people instead of working out... but with the same sweat and stench... I'll get back on track in a moment...) which would actually be discriminatory. If anything, I'd say having it open to the public invites other people the opportunity to make use of a system that they're running.

What amuses me most about the whole "parasites coming into our country" argument is that, more often than not, it is the same people defending their values and sense of rights when in other countries. It's not something I particularly care much for but there have been many a time where members of a community would demand others to assimilate but then get outraged and call other cultures backwards when they get penalised for violating cultural laws when in other countries.
I think the greatest examples of this is the rift between Muslim countries and the western world... especially when it comes to around ramadam or when women go driving. Again, it's not like I agree with the all the laws of other countries, or even my own, but that is a different thing from respecting it.

However, Nick does bring up an interesting scenario; I'd assume they'd be the people sitting in the middle? By their cultural laws, they are allowed to and *someone* has to sit between the two sections.

I think the only time this would be offensive is if this was the *only* bus line servicing the area or line. Since you have the choice, with no negative consequences, mind you, to choose another bus service then I don't really see the problem or how it really offends. It's like you're hungry, haven't eaten for days and you decide to pick the glass of water rather than a meal and then complain about how the water isn't filling.
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There are Southern baptist churches that believe that races should not mix. Would it be okay for them to have a Whites Only private bus line? Or would we be okay with some mega-church running a Christians only bus line in your city?
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If you 'must' ride that particular bus, then pay your money, sit down and shut up. Have some respect and just leave them alone. Go pick on a politician or someone who is really causing some problems.
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I myself don't agree with the Satmar philosophy and don't agree with their rules involving women. However, isn't it strange that none of these "progressive" voices are being raised against Muslims, under whose faith women are second-class citizens, Roman Catholics, which gives priests much more power than nuns, etc. Looks to me like this controversy, like the Israeli-Palestinian controversy, is giving an opportunity for people who don't like Jews in general to voice their hostility!
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So, after doing some research, it appears that there are three separate buses that run this route. This bus was specifically implemented- and is paid for- by those who agree (including the women) to gender separation. The bus appears to have rear and front entry doors.

First, I would like to say that this woman was on the bus by her own choice (and under invitation, which implies that this is not just a standard bus). If it was a matter of having no other options, this would clearly be a case of discrimination. Because this is a private bus, inside of which both genders have made the choice to be separate, with plenty of alternatives, this isn't the case.

Some think it's simply a case of women and men not touching- but among Orthodox and Hasidic Jews this isn't the rule. If a woman is Niddah, a man cannot sit in a seat in which a Niddah woman has sat. This separation just makes that easier.

Sure, they should probably make their bus a bit more individual, so unwitting passengers don't get on and get a shock. Sure, there should be alternatives, and there are. Calling them antiquated or ignorant because they all choose to make their lives a little simpler by getting their own bus is just silly.

There are plenty of places devoted to those of a specific faith or practice that institute gender or other separation. This is no different. Would you raid a temple or mosque, a community center, and tell them to stop? No, so why do it with a bus created specifically for that purpose?

I'm actually fairly disappointed in Neatorama for posting something that includes such biased and disrespectful phrasing as "Yup, it's 2011" or saying they "force" women to sit in the back. Nothing about this bus is forced. Choosing to visit a community center, attend a mosque, worship at a temple, ride this bus is just that- a choice. Funny, I don't see any posts mocking the Amish for living the way they do, especially considering they also practice gender separation.

We could focus on fighting battles that matter, championing causes that actually include discrimination. Instead, we're decrying a bus where the passengers have asked to sit in an unusual arrangement. Maybe we should sort out our priorities.
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So where in the old testement does in mention buzzes then?

Actually this sort of shite gets right on my parts. For too long religious groups have been allowed to get away with discriminatory rules that would not be allowed anywhere else, and indeed would often be considered illegal. I don't care that it was a "private" bus. If she was allowed to get on it and pay a fare then it is a public bus by any definition that matters.
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This is one where I get off the Libertarian bandwagon. It is not right to allow private or public companies to allow sexist or racist segregation. Full stop. We wouldn't tolerate that for people of color, we shouldn't tolerate it for women.

I don't care if it is cultural, or your god told you to mistreat women. It's wrong.

If you want to mistreat women, get your own car.
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I beg to differ.

They are being forced to sit in a different part of the bus. That is mistreatment.

She wasn't asked, she was "scolded". And if some women are willingly doing it, it's quite probably because they would be ostracized if they didn't, which is also force. Or they were brainwashed into it, which is essentially force. Etc. etc.

It's VERY interesting to me that the women are put in the back. How bloody ironic given American history and Rosa Parks.
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It's gender discrimination under the guise of political correctness.

When we hear about female genital mutilation, we don't say "well, they're doing it privately, so I suppose it's not sexist bullshit", we say "Okay, it's intervention time."

While that is an extreme example, the road to discrimination is a slippery slope, and I see no reason to encourage people to throw themselves down it.

Religion is fine, when done behind closed doors. What you do in your bedroom is your choice. But if a hasidic jewish woman is forced to sit in a separate section of a bus, it is SEGREGATION. It wasn't tolerated by Rosa Parks and I see no reason it should be tolerated now.

To the devout jewish community of brooklyn: grow up. Your beliefs harm people's self esteem, they harm equity. You can personally choose to sit in any part of the bus you want, but how dare you ask someone to sit where you want them to to better suit your beliefs.

This needs to stop, and we need to stop being so PC about harmful and misogynistic old-world belief systems that should have gone extinct when women got the right to vote.
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Being forced to sit in a separate section of the bus sounds a lot like Jim Crow to me. Why is it okay just because it's women being inconvenienced?

The remark that God is the one who made up this rule is hogwash. There is nothing in the Torah to this effect, except the physical separation of a woman who is menstruating. All of these rules are just crap made up to force people into little tiny boxes of behavior that brainwash them and allow their leaders to control them. It doesn't matter what religion (I'm looking at you, you Wahhabis and fundamentalist Christians). Just because there are a lot of people who are part of the religion, does not alter the fact that they use cult methods to indoctrinate, separate and control their members.

As noted by others, if it were men of color being moved to the back of the bus, there would be people marching in the streets. If Muslims were being forced to the back of the bus, if there were American Indians being forced to the back of the bus, if there were anyone male of any race or religion ordered to the back of the bus, there would be riots. But it's just women, and there's some cultural/religious claim, so it's cool.

As pointed out, there is a contract with the city to provide the service. As part of the contract, they must obey laws governing the general public. They must obey those laws to keep the contract. My guess is the Hasids wanted to provide bus service for their community (they have private bus systems in their local communities out in rural areas), but didn't want to incur the entire cost or go through the legal requirements necessary to run a private service in New York City, so they set up the contract with the idea that non-Orthodox locals would ride the bus and pay the fare, and help alleviate the financial burden on their Orthodox community.

The Hasids regularly play the system, obtaining welfare benefits they wouldn't qualify for if they didn't hide their income with the assistance of their community. There have been a number of Hasidic conmen who fraudulently acquired millions of dollars, which they then turned over to their communities here and in Israel, so the other Orthodox protect them and hide them, even helping them skip out of the country to Israel, where they disappear safely. They do not care about anyone but themselves, the rest of us can rot, yet they demand that we honor their religion/culture but show no honor for ours in return.

They want to be separate, let them pay for it themselves.
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To those of you defending this... pathetic situation, I only ask that you not teach your children this backward superstitious. Be as sexist as you want to your friends and family, in private, but do not inflict your children upon the rest of us for the foreseeable future.

I have little doubt that if god did exist, his priorities would not include "men can't sit on the same metro bus seat a single chick sat on, especially in New York"

This is a bad idea, it is backwards, it is wrong, it is sad and childish. I will not sit on the "respect everyone" band wagon when sexist luddites are included. I will respect beliefs that earn my respect. THIS is garbage.
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And yes I'm aware of the irony in my last paragraph, and no, I do not believe discriminating against sexists is on par with discrimination against women.
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When Hasidic and ultra-Orthodox women oppose being treated in this manner, I will support them 100 percent. Until that time, however, their culture and their beliefs must be tolerated. Multiculturalism works both ways.
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You do understand that both men and women can be unclean and it's just easier to separate a bus back/front than left/right (entrance and exit wise), right? It's contact with death that makes one unclean- and both menstruation and nocturnal emission are associated with death. This is a pretty big reason for separation.

I mean, think about it, forcing them to sit next to one another would be akin to forcing men and women to use the same restroom together. It's just differing lines of modesty, that's all.
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No, it would be something much more superstitious and ridiculous, like if you've eaten taco bell recently you can't sit next to someone who just had chipotle.

Just an excuse for segregation. That's all it is. No amount of made up crazy reasoning will change the result.
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Our country was founded on religious freedom. It is not illegal to make someone sit in the back of the bus. YOU may not like it, but they don't seem to mind. Those women are probably on the safest bus in New York, and if they want to sit in the back of the bus, let them, and if my mom and sister were riding that bus and had to sit in back and didn't get raped, mugged or robbed, then it's worth it. Those people aren't getting something special that you aren't getting and you never would have known about this bus anyhow, so just...shut up. Leave people alone!
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The whole archaic idea of being "unclean" is what makes me laugh about the whole situation. It's superstition at its least usefulness. There was a point to it centuries ago, but it should be safely put to rest now.

Are women really just menstruating all over the place? Is it that big an issue? If it is, I'm gonna have to start carrying a towel with me.
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Miss Curly, it actually is illegal to make people sit in the back of the bus on public transit based on any protected category: gender, race, religion, etc. A private bus would be different. This bus is not private, but is contracted with the public transit authority.

Not all the people riding the bus are Orthodox; it is available to the public. And I have read many accounts of women being assaulted and manhandled on the gender-separated buses, here and in Israel; it is much more common than on regular public transit, as the men do not believe that they have to answer to secular authorities.
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