Archive for January, 2010

British Airways Sued for Sexism

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

If you haven’t seen this piece of news yet then I highly recommend you to check it out. Mirko Fischer, a business man based in Luxembourg, is suing British Airways after they demanded that he move from his seat next to his pregnant wife, out of fear that he may molest the boy sitting next to him. The airline has a long-standing policy of not allowing men to sit next to children that are flying alone.

This is a summary of what actually took place:

Shortly after all passengers had sat down, having stowed their bags in the overhead lockers, a male steward asked Mr Fischer to change his seat.

Mr Fischer refused, explaining that his wife was pregnant, at which point the steward raised his voice, causing several passengers to turn round in alarm. He warned that the aircraft could not take off unless Mr Fischer obeyed.

Mr Fischer eventually moved seats but felt so humiliated by his treatment that he is taking the airline to court on the grounds of sex discrimination.

It’s kind of amazing that men have accepted this kind of sexism for years and years. As Mr Fischer points out, there is no real basis for having this policy in place:

‘This policy is branding all men as perverts for no reason. The policy and the treatment of male passengers is absolutely outrageous.

‘A plane is a public place  -  cabin crew regularly walk down the aisles and passengers are sat so close to each other. The risk of any abuse is virtually zero.

‘Furthermore statistically children are far more likely to be abused by a member of their family. Does that mean that BA are going to ban children sitting next to their own parents?’

In many ways, men are the last group in society that you are allowed to discriminate against. In light of this fact, Mr Fischer is a real hero for those of us who want gender equality to include men.

Gender and Child Raising

Monday, January 18th, 2010

The nature vs nurture debate is a seemingly endless source of controversy and discussion. Opinions range from biological determinism to the rejection of any meaningful impact by innate factors. This general discussion about what causes human behavior also has a more specific component; namely, how do we raise our children? Are boys boisterous creatures who need a mixture of running wild and strict discipline to become decent men? Or are girls and boys virtually the same, and it is simply our deeply ingrained habitual patterns that program them to take on the same old gender roles as always?

My take on these questions is that we don’t even need to know the answers to be able to raise a child, as long as we are open to whatever is emerging within the child. A young boy may behave like a typical boy, or he may behave nothing like a typical boy. The important task for us as adults is to accept the child, regardless of whether he or she fits into our preconceived notions of how they should behave. If a boy enjoys playing with a doll, do we have the guts to allow him to do so, or do we clearly demonstrate that this behavior is unwanted?

The important thing is that our openness needs to go both ways. Regardless of whether a young boy prefers playing with cars or dolls, the challenge for us is to support him in whatever is the organic development path for him. The same goes for girls of course. Staying open to the fact that each child is an individual, and not automatically a mirror image of what we expect a boy or girl to be, can be a real challenge.

All this said, research indicates that innate gender differences do exist, and that they do affect the behavior of young children. This has been shown several times in the past, and a fresh research report adds even more credibility to this body of knowledge. However, this knowledge about innate gender differences doesn’t really affect the principle I outline above. Treating each child as an individual is the best way to secure that the child gets the kind of socialization process that he or she needs. The end result will likely be that most boys play with cars, since there are genetic and hormonal drivers for this. However, some boys will prefer dolls most of the time, and some boys will want to play with dolls a smaller proportion of time. If we cannot accommodate the needs of these boys (or the girls that prefer playing with trucks), then what kind of people are we?

The ultimate answer to the nature vs nurture debate is as always that both matter. And the way to allow nature and nurture to combine in the most beneficial way for the child is to see the unique needs of each child.

Concerning Gender Roles

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

Historically speaking, gender roles weren’t determined by people’s wants; they were determined by people’s needs.

Women and Children First

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

The principle of “women and children first” has deep historical roots, none of which should be blamed on feminism or contemporary gender discussions. Throughout most of history, it made perfect sense for any given society to keep women safe at the expense of men, since the death of every fertile woman meant that the next generation would be smaller. And a smaller generation meant less progress and less protection from neighbouring cultures. So the common practice of having women and children embark first or get help first in case of an accident or emergency, makes perfect sense in this context.

However, we no longer live in historical times, we live in the present. A society’s progress or its safety is no longer determined by the size of the population, it has more to do with having a modern infrastructure, a high level of education and modern defense equipment. Therefore, there is no need to keep on valuing women’s lives higher than the lives of men, as the phrase “women and children first” suggests.

Yet, the belief that women are worth more than men is alive and thriving, something that we are regularly reminded of in case of an accident. About a year ago, US Airways Flight 1549 was forced to land in the Hudson River. Thanks to the skill and experience of the pilot, nobody died or sustained any serious injuries. However, leaving the plane was still a dangerous activity, since the plane was about to sink. So what was the organizing principle for getting out of the plane?

As the evacuation began, with the plane beginning to sink slowly into the water, it was women and children first, with the three flight stewards on board carrying out the evacuation drill. The pilot then walked the length of the plane to make sure everyone was off safely.

“I was saying “relax, relax, women and children first,” said passenger Jeff Kolodjay. “Then the plane was filling with water.”

It seems that we are slow to change some of the patterns in society that guide gender relations, especially the ones that are to men’s disadvantage. If the opposite were true, i.e. if the expression was “men and children first”, would it not have been repeatedly challenged by feminist writers and leading poiticians?

I think it’s high time that we change the phrase “women and children first” to “children first”, or perhaps “parents and children first”. This doesn’t mean that you cannot be a hero as a man, if that is what you want. It simply means that society is no longer demanding that you be a hero, in an era where the previous perks of being a man have been removed.