Railfanning and Sexism

(clipart from http://clipart-library.com/free/female-symbol-transparent.html over my image)

I’m on a few social networks. On Facebook I’m there for friends and family and trains, and on Instagram I’m mostly there just for trains.

Over the past few months, I’ve heard of a lot of “men” being pigs toward female railfans.

We need to be better than that.

Gender and Railfanning

It’s no secret that most railfans are male. It’s “always” been that way, as far as I can see, but it doesn’t have to stay that way.

Looking through old issues of “Railroad” magazine that my father had, I see how sexist they were. It was quite common to see photos of pretty women posing with locomotives – more dressed than, say, tool calendars, but still pretty sexist.

Rattle off a list of well known train photographers and see if you spot any women. Link, Steinheimer, McDonnell, Plowden, Morant, Beebe, Clegg, Heckman, Lamb, Stuckey, Shaughnessy. All men. Look at the staff and writers at Trains (one woman) or Railfan and Railroad (all men).

There were and are plenty of female photographers, but not in the railroad field. Why is that?

I think there are several reasons for that, including many historical reasons why women didn’t (or more accurately, couldn’t) participate in many fields. I believe today there are far fewer barriers for female railway photographers, but I think at least one big one remains – sexism.

I’ve observed that any time a woman takes an interest in railway photography, she ends up getting unwanted advances from men.

I’ll give two examples. I am not going to identify the women involved, as I don’t want to bring any more unwanted attention to them.


“One” shared a lot of train photos and some personal photos on Instagram. She’s very talented and seems to be especially interested in steam. She posted a few times in her Instagram stories about being propositioned via direct message (DM, a private message in Instagram) and asking people to quit it.

When that didn’t work, One gave her account a more gender neutral name. It hasn’t helped.

I believe she took a break from posting for a while, but is back, and again she is getting creepy DMs. She posted about it this week.


“Two” lives in Europe and frequently posts photos of passenger trains she has seen and been on. She typically posts several photos at once, including one selfie each time. I love seeing those European trains.

This week she posted a request to her Instagram story. I had to translate it, but it basically said, “I just like to share train photos. I don’t want your sexual advances and I’m not going to send naked pictures.”

Just Quit It

My plea to railfans everywhere: when you meet a female railfan online or in person, can you just see them as a railfan? A kindred spirit who shares the same hobby?

I’d like to say that it’s boys who are doing this, but I can tell you that I know some pretty sexist railfans who are old enough to know better.

Women deserve to be treated as equals in any hobby they choose.

3 thoughts on “Railfanning and Sexism”

  1. Good comments Steve.

    No doubt the maturity level of those guys is no higher than their hips… All can do better.

    I remember when the first woman was employed by CP Transport mechanical shop in Vancouver back in my Drake Street days. (They shared half the roundhouse with us). It was a big deal and made the papers. She got along just fine with everybody on the job, mutual respect. Lots of women have since worked in Mechanical on the rail side and they fit right in, and in fact they made the guys become less whiny for the most part.


  2. Well said. Sad that you have to say it, but I’m also not so naive to think this sort of troglodyte behaviour doesn’t happen. So much in this world would be better if people just treated others as equals.


Leave a Comment