It seems that Virgin airlines has a policy that unaccompanied children cannot sit next to men on their airplanes. An Australian man, who was assigned a seat next to two boys he did not know, was asked to switch seats with a woman. Pissed off about being treated like a presumed predator, he blogged about it and complained to the airline that their policy was sexist.
Francois Tremblay thinks this guy is being an entitled douche and that is ridiculous to call this sexism. Meghan Murphy compares this man’s one moment of discomfort with the daily bullshit that women have to go through to avoid being harassed or worse. I get what they are saying, but the policy is still wrong. And the privilege that this guy is showing isn’t the one they think it is.
Gender essentialism is our enemy. It is not o.k. to base policies on gender essentialist notions, regardless of who is negatively affected. I know what you are thinking. But Mel, men are the ones who commit most violence. As Murphy cites in her article, 90% of child sex offenders are men. Ok. But do you know what else that very same article states? 70 – 90% of child sex offenders are known to the child.
In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, most child abusers are parents. And about half of the perpetrators of abuse and neglect are women. Granted, women are more often caregivers. And there is no telling what bullshit some states are calling neglect. But the fact remains that it would be more logical for the airline to separate kids from their parents if they really wanted to stop abuse.
But we would never do such a thing. Because one of the things that perpetuates child abuse is the idea that parents can do whatever they want to their children. “I brought you into this world. I can take you out of it.” It seems we are more likely to have irrational policies on airplanes than to intervene when we see a parent abusing their child – verbally or physically.
And do you know what else perpetuates rape and sexual abuse? The idea that rapists are strangers who crawl into your window and hold a gun to your head does. It is the reason why so many rapists think they are not rapists – despite the fact that they have no concept of consent and no problem using coercion, violence, drugs… Cause I mean hey, it was a girl I was on a date with so it can’t be rape.
This Australian guy is showing his privilege. But the privilege that he is showing isn’t that he is not in constant fear of being harassed. It is that he is a white guy, an emergency service worker no less, and accustomed to being cast in the role of hero. If he were black or Arab then being cast as the evil predator wouldn’t have come as much of a shock. It is standard operating procedure.
What if he had been black? What if he was Arab or Muslim? What if he was trans? How would those kids (and the rest of the people on that airplane) have processed that move? And how did two boys, who will soon grow up to be men, process the idea that in a few years they will be too scary to sit next to children?
We can’t end sexism by being gender essentialist. We can’t end racism by ignoring how race affects the way people are perceived. We aren’t going to raise healthy men by demonstrating to boys that they must be avoided when they grow up. We aren’t going to end abuse – sexual or otherwise – by focusing on the few incidents that are perpetrated by strangers and allowing people to operate under the convenient illusion that abusing the people that you know, and maybe even love, doesn’t really count.