Harassment in The Parisian Subway

Photo taken by Defné Cetin
Photo taken by Defné Cetin

“The Métro is Paris.”

The métro is a huge system of public transportation. You can be lost in the middle of Paris and there will still be a station waiting for you somewhere, at a maximum of 500m from where you are desperately trying to go.

It is used by 1.5 billion commuters per year (Source RATP), and by 48 people per second.

The Parisian métropolitain has never been a place in which you would spend your whole afternoon with your friends, chatting about how nice this place is and how the wonderful fragrance that tickles your nose is reminding you of your holidays in Greece. It has never been a place where you would stay for a long time anyway. Except if the RATP is experiencing some troubles with the railway, or if you have to commute from one side to the other side of Paris. In that case, good luck.

But more than wishing luck to you all, we should also wish some courage to the women and young girls who need to use this transportation system.

The Joys Of Being a Woman in the Métropolitain.

According to a survey made in July 2014, 94 per cent of the women have experienced sexist violence. The term “sexist violence” is grouping several types of violent acts that, in this case, women faced while taking the subway.

In the graphic below, the feminist organisation Osez Le Féminisme established a rather frightening graphic which enables us to see what most of the women have already faced during their commute.

94% women already faced sexist violence
94% women already faced sexist violence

The most widespread kind of violence is about the unappropriated looks that someone gives you. 72 per cent of the women participating in the survey have experienced it. Some people might say that looking is not something violent, but they clearly have not experienced it. It is as if you were judged from head to toes, every single part of your body is being analysed by disgusting eyes.

You have to keep in mind that you are underground, in a closed wagon that only opens when arriving to a station. You have to keep in mind that this wagon can be packed, and that you can not really move. You feel trapped. The person watching you knows it, and takes a kind of perverted pleasure to watch you struggle. This person wants you to feel ill-at-ease.

You are stuck, and there is not much to do about it. You have to try to ignore it. But note down that you might experience this several times per week, and your daily journey in the métropolitain will be a stressful part of your day.

But that is not all. The survey also shows that 57 per cent of the women have already been followed in the subway, that 36 per cent already had to face exhibitionist and men masturbating in front of them and that 34 per cent of the women already experienced sexual aggression.

Female Commuters, This Doesn’t Mean That You Have to Stay at Home.

Being a woman born in Paris, I used to take the métro on a daily basis. And those things are happening, it’s a fact. I have already been followed. I have already been a victim of what we call the “frotteurs”, those guys who are rubbing their parts against you when the wagon is packed. And I’ve been shocked.

But I never stopped taking the subway to go from a point A to a point B. The métro allows you to move from one side of the town to the other, and women should not stop using it. Authorities have to take this problem more seriously. And it would deprive me from the freedom to move.

I won’t stop using it, because I am not the one responsible for what is happening.


… Or Am I ?

Let’s make it clear. Women are not responsible for what’s happening concerning the sexual harassment in the Parisian subway. Yet some people are thinking that because she wore this or she wore that, she deserved it. Campaigns have been made by organisations such as Terre des Femmes in order to fight against this type of prejudice.

Campaign made by Terre Des Femmes
Campaign made by Terre Des Femmes

If you want to wear a dress, wear a dress. If you want to wear a mini skirt, wear one. No one should tell you how to dress, and you shouldn’t have to dress in a special way to avoid being raped. No one should have an “anti-rape outfit” in their cupboard. The way you dress should not be the thing that people should be concerned about. People should be concerned about how to stop those people to act in such an inhuman way.

Yet, according to the survey made by Osez Le Féminisme, three out of four women are adapting their outfits and behaviours when they are taking the métro. Because they fear what might happen to them. And this is not normal.

75% Women are adapting their behaviours when taking public transportation.
75% Women are adapting their behaviours when taking public transportation.

So once more, no. If you are wearing a skirt, you’re not responsible for what the others might do to you. You feel better when you wear a dress? Go for it.

It’s Time to Fight Back.


Several organisations are fighting for the rights of women. As seen above, Terre Des Femmes did some powerful visuals to fight against the idea that a woman’s outfit might make her responsible for what is happening to her.


Osez Le Féminisme decided to fight back with some humour. By using the visual codes already used by the RATP – French public transportation company – they started to put up some stickers in the métro in order to raise awareness on this horrific problem.


Reaction found on twitter to Osez Le Féminisme 's campaign.
Reaction found on twitter to Osez Le Féminisme ‘s campaign.


On Tumblr, several illustrators started to take their pens and start illustrating what women are confronted to in the streets … and in the subway. The Tumblr “Projet Crocodile” – from which the illustration below is taken – is receiving several e-mails from witnesses and victims of sexist violences.


Taken from the Tumblr Projet Crocodile
“Ok. I’m going to throw up.” Taken from the Tumblr Projet Crocodile


Via drawings and events organised by such persons, the awareness is brought on this issue. And if things are not going to change immediately, those actions are surely going to help.


Defné Cetin

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