For someone like me, social media is a scary and unpredictable place. As much as I love being a reasonably well-known author, I don’t really want to be a well-known person. That is, I don’t want to share most of the non-fiction of my life. In fact the idea is slightly terrifying. I make characters up so I don’t have to let people know me. I guess this is why most of my Facebook posts are just silly things I thought of after two glasses of wine.
Sometimes my fingers twitch to comment on something that everyone is commenting on, to share something that everyone is sharing, to express outrage when everyone is expressing outrage. But I’ve never been one to follow the pack. So much social media seems to be about people angling for approval, acceptance or membership in some ephemeral justice club, the entrance criteria of which change day by day. It starts to feel like a race that no one can ever win, that never ends. It feels pathological to me.
But today, someone posted a story I can’t stop thinking about. No it’s not #CeciltheLion and no it’s not more horrific details about #SandraBland. It’s this story, about a female passenger being asked to move on an airplane because an ultra-orthodox Jewish man didn’t want to sit next to a woman. It seems a small thing, we’ve all changed seats on planes for various reasons – to accommodate a family or someone with a disability for example – but in those cases anyone would be asked if they minded moving, not just women. The more I tried to get on with my day the more I found this story haunted me. Not because it happened – I read stories of discrimination and abuse against women everyday – but because of the way other passengers reacted. Because of the way the world reacted.
Was it with outrage and solidarity like in this story? Was it with calls for boycotts and lawsuits like in this story? It was neither. The passengers, from all reports, mostly reacted with frustration that the flight was being delayed. Social media, apart from one of my feminist friends who can always be relied upon, has been mostly silent. And this is not an isolated incident. This has been happening with increasing frequency for some time. Nor is it limited to plane travel. But no one seems to care.
Maybe it’s because people think that this is not important; after all the female passengers in question still get to fly. The female riders of the publically funded bus still get to ride – at the back of the bus, like Rosa Parks did, until she got snippy about it.
That was sarcasm by the way, in case you’re uncertain.
The reason it affected me so much today is because it reminded me of a story I read long ago (before social media) about Rick Swope, who saved a chimpanzee from drowning at the Detroit Zoo in 1990. When asked why he attempted something so dangerous (chimpanzees can be lethally strong) this was Swope’s reply: ‘Well, I looked into his eyes. And it was like looking into the eyes of a man. And the message was, “Won’t anybody help me?”’
That’s how I would have felt on that flight. I would have been thinking: “I’m a human being. Won’t someone stand up for me?”
Somehow, in 2015, we’ve arrived in a world where the rights of trans women to use the restroom of their choice, of lesbian women to have wedding cakes, or of Muslim women to drink a whole can of Diet Coke seem to have more universal support than the rights of any woman to just, you know, exist in a public place. I’m FOR restroom equality. I’m even, in theory for cake and coke equality (though both of these things are bad for you); I’m just wondering where are the voices of outrage about the everyday, universal, deeply ingrained and millennia old micro and macro aggressions against women – straight women, gay women, trans, queer and bi women, Muslim women, Jewish women, Black women, white women, Asian women, women with disabilities, single women, married women, young women and old women – women who are victimized simply for being women. It happens everywhere, every day, in a million different ways, for a million different “justifications”.
Won’t anybody help us?
What happened to the feminist movement? It seems these days to be mostly about the rights of young women to dress like hookers at school and bare their nipples in public pools. What happened to wage equality? To maternity leave? To reproductive rights? What happened to the simple idea that a woman is entitled the same rights and privileges as a man? To the same dignity? In public, in private, everywhere. Step ONE is to treat us like PEOPLE.
It is horribly insulting to be asked to move to accommodate the preferences of a passenger who doesn’t want to sit next to “a person like you”. Imagine the outrage if a white supremacist passenger asked to not be seated next to a black person (in fact there is a, likely apocryphal, story about this floating around social media). What if someone didn’t want to sit next to a Muslim, or an Orthodox Jew? Social media flew into a rage over men being asked not to sit next to unaccompanied minors despite the fact that numerous cases of children being molested in just such circumstances exist. And yet, after extensive searching I have yet to come up with a single incident involving a woman damning the soul of an Orthodox Jew or any other man with her Jezebel ways on a plane.
The value of the misogynist preferences of certain religions outweighs the value of the dignity of women. That sickens me. The irony of it is that literally the ONLY valid justification for wanting to choose the gender of your seat mate would be for women to prefer to sit next to another woman to avoid the harassment most of us have endured on commercial flights at least once. I’m 48 years old, fat and antisocial. The last time I flew, a man of about 25, on learning I was an author, eagerly shared a page of a book he was reading with me – it was a sex scene.
I didn’t ask to move. I just laughed and went back to my own book.