“Picking up strangers—alone—and inviting them into your car. It’s a task that’s unappealing at its core, and it can be especially so to women who are perceived to be more vulnerable to harassment or attack.”
—Claire Zillman in a 2015 Fortune Magazine article about women Uber drivers
**Of the 160,000 drivers in the US, 14 percent of Uber drivers are female, according to the company. Lyft, on the other hand, says 30 percent of its drivers are female.
Let me be clear here before the army of you rushes in with shields in hand: NOT. ALL. OF. YOU.
But some of you. Enough of you.
If you don’t behave in any of the following ways with your female Lyft drivers, then there is no need to take offense to anything you are about to read. Clearly I am not referring to you. Therefore you can quietly exempt yourself.
In fact, you can just calm down. There’s no need to get hysterical.
The general pattern that I can’t deny was that male passengers behaved in these ways far more often, on average, than women passengers did. The women who behaved in these ways was close to zero, in fact. I’m just putting that out there.
We can start with the taking, not asking, for what you want.
“Could I change the radio station?” or “Is it okay if I move the seat back?” women passengers tend to ask.
Men, on the other hand— I’ve noticed you often don’t ask for what you want or need so much as automatically take it.
Once inside my car, you make yourselves at home. You roll down the window. You plop into the front seat. You diffuse yourself across the two back seats like melting butter across a pan, legs spread and Cheetos raining from your opened, chomping mouth down onto the carpeted car floor.
Sometimes you feel free to to put your feet up where I rest my elbows. You must have known my skin loves a good eu de dog crap (or whatever else you’ve walked through that day).
Another behavior I’ve noticed is your tendency to give unsolicited directions.
One of you directed me to “turn here,” after my (lady) GPS had just given me the exact same instruction.
Maybe Siri got it wrong though. Maybe you were just explaining for her. Paraphrasing. She’s wordy and long-winded, that Siri, after all. You’re much more concise.
I think about other women Lyft drivers who have had similar experiences. One wrote, “I had one older gentleman heavily insinuate that I didn’t know how to read the map because I was a woman.” Another had a few men ask if they could drive her car, something she’s not sure would happen if she were a man.
And then there is the sexual harassment. Though this one is especially likelier to occur when drinking is involved, a lack of booze is by no means a deterrent for some of you.
One of you invited me to the casino I was driving you to, after we’d barely talked for two minutes. When later I found out you were married with three kids (**Why do married men do this??!), I wanted even more desperately for the ride to be over.
Another of you mentioned having a girlfriend at the beginning of the ride. Towards the end of it, you asked if I smoked weed. Because I was gonna tip you with some, you explained. Or like, maybe see if you wanted to smoke together in the backseat and make out. Just throwing that out there.
In some cases I haven’t been the direct recipient to, but rather the witness of, your disagreeable behavior. One night I was stuck with one of you in traffic after the Bottle Rock music festival had just let out (up in Napa). You rolled down your window to cat-call the girls walking by. They were wearing shorts and halter tops.
We might be sharing the same physical space, but mentally and emotionally, we are planets apart, my humiliated self tried to communicate to those girls telepathically.
The “Do you have a boyfriend?” question, if there’s not any obvious segue or logical context leading up to it, is a conversation stopper. The asking of it immediately leads me to check out mentally and emotionally. When it’s just you and me in the car together, I find the question creepy (not to mention hetero-presumptive).
Men, I find myself wanting to install some kind of divider between the two of us sometimes. I’d roll it up during moments like the ones I just mentioned—so that I can just drive on and forget you are there.
On the one hand, I have the power in one sense. As the driver I am essentially in control.
On the other hand I am in an enclosed space with a person I do not know for a length of time that is not up to me to decide. For however long that time span is— you could be just headed to the next town over, or you could be en route to Los Banos three hours away—I am effectively trapped.
It’s much easier for someone to ignore distasteful comments when they can literally walk away from the person who’s making them. When they’re inside a moving vehicle with that person though, this isn’t an option. They don’t have those escape routes.
Though technically the app offers protection by logging the passenger’s information, in that immediate moment, no witness or higher-up is present to step in when you are behaving inappropriately. No one is there to stop you from acting in a way that leads me to feel unsafe.
Driving for Lyft gave me empathy for female bar-tenders, who are not only in a sense trapped, but also have to serve and pick up after those who may be causing them discomfort. You all can also linger for as long as you want, while with Lyft you have to leave once the ride is over.
All right, so that I’m not just rattling off a list of don’ts, here’s an example of respectful behavior modeled by a male Lyft passenger.
One time, a few minutes after sitting down in the front seat, a man noticed my body language. He asked me in a kind and earnest voice, “Are you uncomfortable having me up here seated so close to you?”
“The last thing I’d want to do is make you uncomfortable,” he then said.
After this, even though he was still physically there in the front seat, I felt a bit of a weight lifted off me. The simple fact that he’d been able to sense my discomfort—without getting defensive or even quietly offended— meant a lot to me.
I was thereafter able to let my guard down just a little bit. I felt more compelled to talk to him and engage, and less of a need to safe-guard my personal space. Towards the end of the ride, he showed me pictures of a gorgeous beach, identifying it as his hometown in Australia.
I think also of a time a male passenger shared a Lyft line with an attractive women in her mid 20s. “I was just being friendly,” he said when she rebuffed him.
Some men make the assumption that when a woman doesn’t want to talk to them, she is snobby. My take on that: Maybe she is just exhausted. When energy is finite, maybe “lack of presence” is the coping mechanism that preserves what little battery she has left.
I wondered if he’d thought about what it might be like to get hit up for conversation dozens of times per day. I wondered if maybe after the twelfth time, his friendlinesss and enthusiasm might start to give way to exhaustion and weariness. Maybe at that point he wouldn’t be such a “people person” anymore (as he’d described himself earlier). Maybe he would no longer be so keen to engage and connect.
Which brings me to the thought: Maybe it’s okay to not always be friendly throughout every moment of every day. And Men, maybe it’s when you respect women’s boundaries that you’re more likely to be gifted with their presence.
So Men, in a nutshell: don’t assume you know more than me about a city layout I’ve driven countless times over; don’t ask creepy questions; be a kind and respectful human being.
That is all.
Your burned out lady Lyft driver