Airplane armrests: the next battleground in the gender war?
Updated: Dec 18, 2018
Identity politics continues to spread confusion
If you make a habit of reading the South China Morning Post, you may have seen Kate Whitehead’s article:
"Manspreading on a plane: In the age of #MeToo, even the armrest is a gender politics issue."
As long as we’re getting creative, let’s conjure up a #HeToo campaign directed at real and imagined tresspasses by women against men. We could point to womanscenting, the attack on male olfactory sensitivities by women who over-douse themselves with perfume. Or to gabfestopia, the assault on male eardrums from ceaseless chatter at a pitch that penetrates even noise-cancelling headphones.
And in case you can’t tell – yes, I’m being satirical.
Those of us who live in the real world have long recognized that the general population of human being includes obnoxious males and obnoxious females. The capacity for cluelessness toward the caustic effect of selfish behavior on others has nothing to do with gender. Expanding the battleground of sexual harassment to airplane armrests serves only to make a mockery of the genuine challenges that women face from the more debased precincts of male society.
Rather than looking for yet another reason to drive an acrimonious wedge into our already-fractious culture, better to focus on the real source of uncivil behavior: incivility.
WHERE ARE THE BOUNDARIES?
Let’s take a close look at Ms. Whitehead’s proposed solution: separate women’s sections on passenger flights.
It’s fascinating to observe the contortions of ideologues when political correctness brings them full circle. I know nothing of Ms. Whitehead, but I’m willing to venture that she has in the past supported women’s entry to all-male clubs and colleges, girls in the boy scouts, mixed-gender units in the army, and unisex bathrooms.
So how does the campaign to tear down all traditional boundaries end up back at its starting point by advocating for separate women’s sections on airplanes?
The truth is, the contradiction has been there all along. Opponents of all-male institutions have never had the same problem with all-female associations of any kind. As an “historically oppressed group,” women are entitled to retreat into like-gendered enclaves. Only oppressors are forbidden to gather exclusively with their own.
The problem is that the more tribal we become, the less civil we are towards anyone outside our tribe.
RIGHT FOR THE WRONG REASONS
Paradoxically, studies have consistently shown the advantages of separate education for both sexes. Boys typically show off more in front of girls, and girls feel more pressure to act submissively in the presence of boys. Gender segregation in the classroom benefits both groups. Arguing whether it should be that way is beside the point. Human psychology is what it is, and we won’t legislate it out of existence.
Indeed, a bit more distance between males and females in general might have other advantages. The hyper-sexualization of young people today has emerged largely from the entertainment and fashion industries, both of which fuel the relentless social pressure to be seen elbowing with the in-crowd and counted among the “beautiful people.” Popular culture’s valuation of physical appearance and social status over character encourages young and old alike to be outwardly attracting rather than inwardly attractive.
A little distance sometimes makes the heart grown more respectful.
During the 40 years the Children of Israel wandered in the desert, they arranged themselves “every one according to his camp, every one according to his flag.” One nation with many parts, 12 tribes without tribalism; boundaries without division, unity without uniformity. This was the inheritance of a people defined by their collective commitment to the noblest qualities of mankind.
We share our world with countless others, all of whom – whatever their gender or identity – are entitled to human dignity and consideration. When we start working together to restore basic respect for our fellow human beings, regardless of labels, then we can all apply for membership in the #UsToo movement, which will be the last movement any of us will ever need.
Published in Jewish World Review and the Jewish Press