Vanessa’s Team Pick:
Do you ever wonder where we are? Usually when I ask that I’m talking about queer visibility because I’m obsessed with queer visibility, but in the world of New York City taxis one can say “where are we?” and the “we” can simply mean “women.” Apparently of the 46,000 taxis in New York, only 170 of them are driven by women! How crazy is that?!
I have lived in New York for almost 6 years now, and I have never once had a female taxi driver. I think I would like to have one so I could talk to her about what it’s like. Diana Diroy, a visual storyteller originally from the Bay Area, had similar feelings, so she sought out some female cabbies and made a short documentary called “What’s a Girl Doing Here?” It’s fascinating. Let’s watch it together.
The thing about cabs is they’re a strange hybrid of reality. You’re getting in a car with a stranger you don’t know, which outside the realm of “taking a cab” is generally not advised. Yes, licensed yellow NYC cabs operate as an industry where ideally everyone (both driver and passenger) are held responsible for their actions, but it’s difficult to enforce laws that revolve around comfort. I’ve never had anything horrific happen to me in a cab, but I’ve definitely had drivers make unwanted sexual comments, and I’m often afraid to hold my girlfriend’s hand in a cab, just in case our driver is homophobic or lewd or inappropriate.
On the flip side, I’ve heard people say really horrible racist things to cabbies, and though I have no proof, I’m sure male cabbies sometimes feel afraid of their clients, too. I think something really important to remember is what cabbie Shonna Valeska mentions in the video, which is that not only is the taxi industry male dominated, but it is also immigrant dominated. So while a cab driver can make me uncomfortable, there are plenty of people who can make the driver uncomfortable, too.
This film touches on a lot of interesting things about the life of a cabbie, including what the hours are like, if the job is appealing or a necessity (or both), and some particularly colorful passengers. The most interesting part, for me, is near the end of this film, when both women cabbies semi-joke that the taxi industry and the city in general would be happier and more peaceful if there were more women cabbies. I felt conflicted when I heard that, like maybe it wasn’t a fair thing to say, but also like maybe I agreed with them. It felt very gender essentialist, but also like a true fact, you know? Then again, my eventual life goal is to live on a queer commune created by Riese, so I’m not exactly an objective reporter.
When my mom sends a cab to pick me up from the train station when I go home to visit, she always requests a female driver. Ordering a car from a small local fleet in the suburbs of Boston is a little bit different than hailing a cab in New York City, but the sentiment is obvious: for whatever reason, my mom feels more comfortable with a woman picking me up from the airport late at night rather than a man. And I feel more comfortable with that situation, too. I avoid men on the street late at night, not because I think they will all harm me but because I know the possibility exists that one might. So why would I put myself in an enclosed space where I can’t escape with someone who might harm me, especially when they are, by virtue of being the driver, automatically in a position of control?
I do know that whatever the context, I’m always happy to see a girl here, especially when “here” is somewhere it’s expected that she won’t be. I hope I end up in a cab with a female driver one day. I have so many more questions I want to ask.