Come Fly with Me!

This week the Guardian ran a story which reeked of the Everyday Sexism Laura Bates has charted so excellently. The story referred to the airline TUI which had printed out badges to give to children boarding its flights. On one flight they took great care, apparently, to segregate the badges. Those reading ‘future pilot’ were handed out to the boys; the girls got ones labelled ‘future cabin crew’. The article did not relate whether the badges were also neatly colour coded. I’m guessing not because TUI’s response was that usually they were handed out randomly, but no explanation of why they had fallen into such an obvious gendered trap this week. Clearly there was someone left over from the 1950s handing out the badges that day. Even Japan, a traditionally strongly paternalistic society, has managed to appoint its first female fighter pilot this week.

I put out a tweet reading

How nice, children given stickers saying ‘future pilot’ – but only if they were boys. Girls got ‘future cabin crew’ stickers instead. Ugh! #everydaysexism

Unsurprisingly, given the mindset of many of my followers, most related tweets were as appalled as I was, but surprisingly there were quite a lot of angry folk out there who decided to take a pot shot at me, although by the standards of trolls, they did this quite mildly. Given that I regularly tweet about gender issues I wasn’t sure why this one had trodden on so many folks’ corns. Some were of course just abusive:

How nice that you are a total knobhead.

Others seemed to think I objected to men aiming to be cabin crew (although I don’t think that’s what my tweet implied, it is simply their reading of it), as in

Get a damn life, who cares if a boy got a captain sticker and the girls get a crew member. Do we have to make an issue out of every little thing? It’s sexist for boys to get captain, maybe they want to be a crew member? #getalife

I’ve written about those folk who say ‘get a life’ before because, on the whole, I quite like the life I have got and I suspect that is more than can be said for some of these twitterati who object to my tweets. I fear it is the very fact they feel life has treated them unfairly that causes them to strike out randomly at strangers across the ether. This would seem reinforced by the following tweet

with the airline stickers… if u don’t like them or u r offended, then don’t take a sticker or don’t fly them. Stop complaining to the world that it’s not fair. Newsflash*** The world is not fair, get used to it & grow thick skin

One could write many words about why the world is not fair and why equally it isn’t always appropriate to grow a thick skin but I’m not sure that was why I put my original tweet out. (Just for the record, I have never flown TUI so perhaps that means I’ve already taken the other handy piece of advice proffered).

And then there was the helpful voice who referred to my ‘milenial [sic] opinions’:

I’m so tired of you sick people and your milenial opinions. If I ask 100 girls what do they want between captain and cabin crew, 90% will say crew. Or is cabin crew in your opinion a bad career to have?or an insult? What is wrong with all of you?

Curious to assume I’m a millennial, wrong by a few decades, but clearly this respondent hadn’t noticed that not everyone even of their own generation shares their views.

Then there was the tweeter I wanted to encourage to read Angela Saini’s excellent book Inferior to correct their view about women drivers (or pilots) and many other stereotypical myths that I suspect this person probably implicitly believes:

To be fair have you ever seen a woman reverse a car? Sound policy from TUI if you ask me

However, following the policy of not feeding the trolls, again I refrained. I don’t suppose they would have followed my advice anyhow. I think the writer of

Your all insane, face the fact the most women cannot, I repeat cannot do what a man can do, there is a difference

is probably also guilty, not just of poor English but of believing many of the same myths but as the words are so non-specific it is hard to know what I am not supposed to be able to do (although I will admit I cannot fly a plane).

As I say, I’m mystified why my original tweet provoked so much ire (there were others too, but you get the point) when links to stories about gender inequalities in business or science provoke fewer in general. Perhaps it is because it involved children and they don’t want their own children bucking the stereotypes? Maybe they want their daughters to grow up aspiring to be docile and handy pouring orange juice under turbulent conditions because that’s all they want in the women in their life. I am assuming that the respondents were all male but, as Trump supporters have made clear, many women don’t seem particularly enthusiastic about women’s rights so I may be wrong.

In the grand scheme of things, handing out stickers segregated by gender is not important. It is simply a symptom of a lazy and unhelpful way of thinking. However, it is clear that we will never reach any true sort of equality unless we take a stand against even the minor things. I know some people may think these things are funny. I remember the occasion when I sat down at a committee meeting in my assigned place – there were name plates on the table to indicate where we should all sit – and discovered that I had a branded notebook in my place, a pink notebook no less. Looking round the room it was clear that yes, someone really had put pink notebooks in every woman’s place and blue ones for the blokes. Red faces on the part of the organisers ensued, but someone must have thought that one through carefully and I am far from convinced they were being ironic.

Everyday sexism of this sort does not matter in and of itself. It does matter as a message, as a constant reminder that women are different from the default male who is expected to rule the roost. Any woman who tries to speak up runs the risk of being told ‘can’t you take a joke?’ or something much, much worse. Or to be marked down as a trouble maker. Or just occasionally, to be marked down as the person who dared to speak up.

To end on a positive relating to that last point, I was rather pleased to be accosted by a woman at a recent committee meeting who introduced herself as someone who had been part of the administration servicing a committee I had served on about 10 years ago. She was not surprised I did not remember her but pointed out that I had been the one who had challenged the Chair when he referred to us collectively as ‘gentlemen’ (despite there being a number of women present on the committee and in the secretariat). I wrote about that sad episode early on in the history of this blog (which has just passed its 8th birthday), when I had mobilised some of the men to challenge the chair the next time he transgressed. As a tactic it had worked well. And I am pleased that as an awkward cuss who made the chair change his tactics I had stuck in this woman’s mind all these years. Those of us in a position to do something should never shy away from doing so, to help eradicate outdated ideas about women’s roles and how we should be addressed and treated.



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