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Subway Mashers Lead to Segregation by Sex

March 23, 1989 GMT

MEXICO CITY (AP) _ It’s 6 a.m. in the Pino Suarez subway station and the transit police are dividing the river of morning commuters rushing toward the trains: women on the right, men on the left.

Any man found on the wrong side is apt to be publicly humiliated.

″Excuse me, sir,″ a uniformed official said to a young man joining his female companion in the women’s line.

″Over there,″ the officer ordered, pointing. Morning commuters silently stared as the couple moved over.

Mexico City has the only subway system that segregates its passengers by sex during rush hour, said Miguel Gerardo Requis Bustos, manager of stations and transportation.

Women who use the Metro on weekdays between 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. say there’s only one reason.

″They separate us because the men are abusive, they like to grab the women,″ said seamstress Modesta Baez, 50, who rides the women’s cars daily. ″Women don’t try to grab other women.″

Itziar Lozano, a feminist counselor who has been sexually harassed on the Metro, agreed.

″Although the women’s cars are just as crowded, and you can’t move or breathe, you don’t have to worry about sexual aggression,″ Lozano said.

Requis said the segregated cars, which began 10 years ago, are necessary for ″maintaining order″ on the subway. The modern system daily moves an estimated 5 million people over almost 90 miles of track.

″It is the only Metro in the world that gives additional attention to women and children by separating them,″ Requis said. ″This way they can travel more comfortably.″

Women can ride in the men’s cars during rush hour, but men are prohibited from the women’s cars.

Mexico City doesn’t have a corner on Metro mashing, said Antonio Santamaria, a psychoanalyst who has written extensively on Mexican male aggression, known as machismo.

He said such harassment occurs elsewhere, but the fact that segregated subway cars exist only in Mexico says a lot about Mexican culture.

Santamaria believes the cars exist because Mexican men want to protect their women from other men like themselves.

″You have to understand that this is a society in which the woman is an object, something that can be carried away, taken,″ he said.

Ever since the Spanish conquistadores ran off with the Aztecs’ wives, the Mexican male has worried other males will try to ″steal″ his women, Santamaria said.

That insecurity, says Santamaria, also leads the Mexican male to try to conquer women who ″belong″ to others.

Mexican writer Octavio Paz has said that to the Mexican, there are only two possibilites: being the sexual aggressor or the one who is violated.

In his collection of essays, ″The Labyrinth of Solitude,″ Paz writes, ″One word sums up the (male) aggressiveness, insensitivity, invulnerability and other attributes of the macho: power.″

Few men interviewed agreed with Santamaria’s theory.

″It isn’t machismo or a way to protect women from the damned Mexicans,″ said Hector Castillo, an urban sociologist from the National University of Mexico. ″It’s just a space of greater comfort for the women and children because the men are stronger.″