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.
Wow, I live no where near New York, but I legitimately did not know female cabbies was something there were not a lot of. In the city I currently live in I have taken a cab exactly 4 times, with three different drivers, and two of them were female. Also one of our family friend’s used to be a cab driver, as did her husband. It never occurred to me that it was a job with a big gender gap.
I guess that shows what exposure does to someone’s worldview.
“Then again, my eventual life goal is to live on a queer commune created by Riese”
Can this please be a real life thing?!
I’m a limo driver by day in the New York/New Jersey area – it’s a pretty different world, but I get a lot of the same comments. I get a lot of parents requesting a girl pick up their kids. On the other hand, I’ve had people request I be taken off their reservations because they don’t believe a girl can handle a big limo as well as a man. Please.
omg i can’t believe anyone would ask that you be taken off their reservation. what the actual fuck?
but also you would totally be my mom’s favorite.
I’ve always thought that I would enjoy being a cab driver
I immediately thought of Phoebe from “Friends” when I read the title of this article.
you should do more making out in cabs vanessa
teach me your ways
future autostraddle commune is relevant to all things <3
This reminds me of a NFB documentary my girlfriend is in called Bubble Dancers which is about dishwashers. Out of the 20 dishwashers they interviewed she was the ONLY woman. Now I wish it was a documentary just about woman dishwashers in restaurants. Why do men do most of the paid dishwashing but traditionally, women do the unpaid dishwashing? Maybe I’ll make that documentary some day.
I’d watch your doc in a heartbeat. The restaurant industry, and particularly, the dynamics of the kitchen is fascinating and couldn’t be more relevant in these days of the disgraceful fear-mongering, deceitful, rabble-rousing against the very immigrants– from farm workers to meat-packers and industrial butchers to line chefs and dishwashers– who do more than their share of keeping this country functioning and civil.
And, of course, those immigrants are the brothers and sisters of my recent ancestors, who held many of the same types of jobs and were vilified in almost exactly the same ways. None of the perfidious attacks against today’s immigrant Americans are new. One many start in the middle of the 19th Century with Scandinavians, Germans, Bohemians (Czechs and Hungarians, called “hunkys,” a slur used by all races), Russians, Southern Slavs, Lithuanians and Balts, the Irish, African-Americans, Chinese, Japanese, Italians, Spaniards, Portuguese, and of course, Mexicans, West Indians, Southern and Central Americans.
Of course, Americans of many other ethnicities were persecuted, and quite recently. I don’t intend disrespect by omitting any groups, but I simply listed, in a quick minute, the groups I’ve studied. I also omitted to mention Native-Americans from the list because the crimes and horrors perpetrated against them are of an entirely different nature as genocide victims. I’d also like to note that African-Americans were also the victims of genocide that spanned 4 centuries.
I know I’ve written a very long caveat, but this history of oppression of immigrants in this country whose finest quality is its (begrudging, often horrible) acceptance and welcome of immigrants.
So yeah, long story longer, I’d love to watch your documentary. And I’m sure AS would be proud to feature it. I’m at work on an illustrated novel about the labor movement in the late 19th C. to the end of WWI that documents the desperately-won workers’ rights that have been stolen from us over the last 30 or 40 years. So, I’ve got my own work cut out for me.
Thanks AS, for featuring this terrifically interesting and well-crafted piece. I talk to a lot of cabbies here in SF, where I believe the proportion of women drivers is slightly higher. Cabbies have it hard and I have mad respect for them.
I’ve met one female taxi driver, and that was in a pretty rural area. She said she wouldn’t feel comfortable driving a taxi in a big city.
I’ve also indirectly known another female taxi driver, whose ID I accidentally, um, acquired. Oops. I probably should return that.
I love how this ends with “Women Rule!” Last year, in Singapore a friend of mine and I were getting hassled by a guy on the train, so we decided to jump off and cab it to our hotel. He followed, and I actually had to push him away as I pulled the cab door closed as we dived in. We were both so pleased that our cab driver was a woman.
You guys should check out ‘Hack’ written by Melissa Plaut. True story of how/why she became a taxi driver. She talks about her relationships with women, yes she is gay, her friendship with a transsexual driver and the various people that hopped into her cab. It’s on the amazon.
Thanks so much for reminding me about Melissa Plaut. I used to read her blog (pretty sure it was called “New York Hack” or something??) and it was so interesting. I didn’t know she was gay until now though. Awesome.
Yes that’s the one and you’re welcome.
thank you for this recommendation. i’m definitely gonna get my hands on that now…sounds really really good.
Haha, I feel like Melissa Plaut should be thanking me for shouting the out!
Thanks for reminding me of Melissa Plaut’s work. As I watched this doc, I found myself thinking about the experiences of trans* and butch women cabbies and how those experiences differ–in both positive and negative respects– from those of the women interviewed in the doc.
I’ve lived in NYC all my life and I’ve had a bunch of female taxi drivers. From my own experience, they are definitely no better than male drivers when it comes to good driving (I’ve had excellent, acceptable and terrible drivers).
A criticism of the film for me is that it only showed white female drivers, which is definitely a minority. All the female drivers I have ever had have been women of color, as are the majority of taxi drivers in NYC. It just makes me wonder how universal their experiences are.
Here in New Zealand we have a pretty good gender balance .. It would be a pretty tough job I think..