Rabbi Gil Student notes that Shira Leibowitz Schmidt of CrossCurrents infamy wrote an op-ed for the JTA defending the so-called mehadrin buses in Israel. These are the buses that require women to sit at the back of the bus, and are the subject of a lawsuit brought by women, including author Naomi Ragen, who seek to stop these gender separated buses.
Rabbi Student writes:
…I often sympathize with the plight of apologists (a term that I do not use in a derogatory fashion), who sometimes find themselves defending practices that they find offensive in the name of the greater communal good. Regarding this case, I almost sympathized with Schmidt. But when she claimed that this practice empowers women, she lost me.
Separate seating does not empower women. It doesn't have to weaken them either, if the community is sufficiently responsible. Israeli society is definitely not sufficiently responsible, including (or especially) the Charedi community. I don't claim that women are routinely beaten or humiliated on buses, but anyone who has been in Israel for more than 25 seconds recognizes that politeness... I can't continue this sentence because it is too painful. But you know what I mean.
Separate seating does not empower women. A can of mace and a scream of "Rape! Call the police!" empowers women, and that is what I would recommend for any woman riding the buses in Jerusalem who is not willing to change her seat on demand.
This is the first time in months that I find myself agreeing with Gil Student, who also notes that the Israeli haredi community has a very difficult time controling its hooligans, and has had this trouble for many years.