Recently, a passenger on a WestJet flight, calling him (or her) self “David,” left a chauvinistic note about the female pilot, who had the audacity to desert her homemaking obligations in favour of taking a position at the head of the plane. Said the passenger:

“The cockpit of an airliner is no place for a woman. And woman being a mother is the most honor. Not as ‘Captain’…”

So went the grammatically-challenged rant that would have made the men of Mad Men feel sheepish. It’s clearly an awful and sexist note, but I’m amazed to see the symphony of reaction to it from both social and traditional media as though it’s significant. Before jumping 30,000 feet to conclusions, I think we should consider three questions:

(1) Do we have any idea of the personal context of the writer of the rant?

He could be mentally ill, mentally deficient, or—judging from his apparent struggles with English—a visitor from a more gendered and/or sexist culture, so why are the mutterings of one individual—who is probably not a public figure and may not be a person with influence in our country—getting us worked up?

(2) Even if “David” is as sane and educated as the next Sethblogs’ reader, why does it matter if one citizen expresses sexist opinions?

In her interview with CTV, the victim of the note—17-year veteran pilot Carey Steacy—said that this is her first encounter with such unabashed sexism; so, while this experience may be worthy of her blog as a disturbing (or “funny,” as she put it) example of humanity, in the grand scheme of public discourse, why do we care about the rantings of one equality-challenged moron? (I’m estimating, based on what the pilot said, that she’s received direct sexism from 0.0001% of the people she’s encountered.)

While (hopefully) we as a society have managed to outlaw sexism in the workplace, and in public institutions, did anyone really think that all minds (from all bigotries of life) would immediately agree? I’m surprised and delighted that the pilot has received so few sexist remarks given that she’s of such a significant minority in her field, but in this social networking world, it doesn’t matter how often something sinister happens, it only matters how often it’s re-tweeted.

I don’t feel sorry for “David”: since he openly insulted his pilot, people are free to retaliate, but what baffles me is that they seem to be arguing with him as though he’s more than an individual citizen with radical opinions. They burn him in a straw man effigy and then they suggest that he is a symptom of a serious problem in the airline industry that needs to be fixed.

(3) So, most significantly, why are we not criticizing feminist leaders for using the tiny rantings of a single passenger as a muse for misandry?

In the CBC Radio version of the story, they asked a women’s advocacy group what they thought about this circumstance, and the one-track-minded agency predictably helped themselves to the “chauvinism for chauvinism” conclusion that the incident demonstrated that we should have more women at the helm of planes. Wow, that’s a serious policy initiative provoked by one stupid note, and yet the CBC reporter informed us of the suggestion with a straight voice as though there was no need for her as a journalist to question it.

If WestJet wants to ban “David” from their flights because he was openly rude to one of their employees, I would have no objection, but for an advocacy group to leap from the behaviour of one bad customer to a major human resources policy change deserves serious discussion. In the absence of proven sexist hiring policies against women, the notion of purposely hiring more women pilots (to teach David a lesson) means that airlines would have to reduce the number of successful male applicants; that is to say, airlines would have to discriminate against men. And based on what evidence?

Yes, it’s the case that not every citizen believes in equal rights for women (and vice versa), but individual people have a right to believe whatever they choose. It’s not the airline’s job to educate their passengers; it’s their job to have fair hiring policies, and if there is evidence that they don’t, then that should be protested and rectified.

No matter how educated and egalitarian our population becomes, we will probably never rid our society completely of sexist minds. So it is society’s job to try to protect our population from those bigots, not to the let the bigots provoke discrimination of a different kind.

2 thoughts on “FLIGHTS OF FEMINISM”

  1. Heh, I had the same reaction after reading this too. The note felt like trolling to me, and trolls are best ignored.

    I certainly didn’t think it deserved to be taken seriously or fit into some greater context of sexism in Western society.

  2. Thank you, Tarrin. Well put re the trolls. I agree that their arguments should be ignored unless they are shown to have a significant effect on our mores. And yet, it seems to me that, as our western society becomes better at reducing sexism against women where it matters, some western feminist thinkers consistently rely on the behaviour of trolls to prove that the western world has not improved for women. Consider the advocacy website Madam Premier, which seeks to identify ways in which BC’s female Premier still has to deal with the old chauvinism. As I’ll argue in a post coming soon to an internet near you, for their evidence they rely significantly on the radical postings of internet trolls. And yet, both CBC and CKNW have interviewed the purveyors of this straw (extrapolation of) man argument without seriously questioning them about whether such sinister beings have a meaningful effect on the political process.

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