Back of the Bus: A Woman’s Place

Get thee behind me, woman!

I’d read about gender-separated buses in Israel, and was not happy about it, but … let it slide. You can’t fight every battle.

But now I find gender-separated buses happen HERE. In New York City.






On the morning of October 12, 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.

Whatever else you think about it, you have to wonder how any citizen of the present-day U.S. can believe this is okay. Even if you were a Jewish woman comfortable with the cultural practice, wouldn’t you occasionally wonder “Hey, why is it US who have to go to the back? If the men want to sit apart from women, why don’t THEY go to the back?”

Just so you know this is not some little unwritten rule enforced by passengers, there’s this tidbit from another story on the bus line:

Further, the bus company’s board of consulting rabbis directed that male passengers occupy the front of the bus and females the back. When a bus driver attempts to service an overflow of passengers, men and women are unacceptably intermingled. Accordingly, when buses are full, the board of rabbis has directed that buses not stop for additional passengers.

Rather than “unacceptably intermingle” men and women, the buses will actually pass up people waiting for the bus at stops along the way. I’m moved to wonder if there’s a slight preference in passing up waiting women. You know, so as to prevent “unacceptable intermingling.”

New York Hasidic community: Fail.

  • Ms. Crazy Pants

    I wonder what happens in the winter. I’ve been passed up by a bus in Wisconsin before in January and I thought my toes and fingers were going to freeze off. I walked the 2 miles to work from the stop (no bus for over another hour), and had to sit for a 1/2 hour warming up enough so that I could undo my coat and boots and then get to my desk to start typing. New York gets cold too.

  • astrosmash

    Give ‘em a choice. Integrate or lose business license. People other than orthodox Jews move through orthodox jewish neighborhoods. That policy is illegal as shit

  • michaelswanson

    I wish I could hop on this bus just so I could go sit in the back with the women.

  • Vasha

    Might not be a good idea to do that, Michael, you’d maybe cause problems for them — mingling of the sexes causes pollution, don’t you know, and it’s the women who have to be punished for it.

  • Ashley Moore

    “If God makes a rule, you don’t ask ‘Why make the rule?’”

    Who knew the Torah had rules about which part of buses men and women need to sit in? I must missed that part!

  • Steinar

    I wonder what kind of ads the rest of you get? This article caused a lot of dating ads here, it made me chuckle. As for the article itself… haven’t those religious boogeymen learned that segregating buses can backfire spectacularly in the US? ;) (Sorry, it happened less than 500 years ago and no Torah scholars were involved, so I guess it is totally irrelevant. (And, yes, I know much of the ageless learnings of the Hasidic communities is less than 200 years old. (Also, I like parentheses.)))

  • Katherine Lorraine, Chaton de la Mort

    Yea sorry, despite the men / women dynamic, this is almost completely reminiscent of the Rosa Parks example – maybe the women in that neighborhood should recall what she did.

    • Steinar

      I just got an idea. These are extremely orthodox people, right? So I assume they have rather strange ideas about menstruating women. Women having their period should start sitting down in the front of the bus, and then happily move on to the back if they are bothered, but only after having pointed out what time of month it is. If these guys actually are following their own rules, they now can’t sit where that woman sat.

      Too bad they have double, triple, etc, standards, so I doubt it would work, but I liked the idea of those buses in New York slowly being useless to any law-abiding, orthodox follower of any of the Abrahamic faiths. :) (Obviously a menstruating woman have sat on those seats at some time anyway, so the idea is by definition a no-go. I would just have liked to rub their noses in it. … Sorry about the mental image there.)

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