In mid August, two news stories broke. In both, a man was asked to move from his allocated seat next to an unaccompanied minor on a short plane flight within Australia. On a Virgin flight from Sydney to Brisbane, firefighter Johnny McGirr was asked to swap seats with a woman passenger, and on a Qantas flight from Wagga Wagga to Sydney, nurse Daniel McCluskie was asked the same thing.
The reason given by both airlines, was that of child protection: adult male passengers may not sit next to unaccompanied minors under any circumstances. Adult female passengers may, but men may not.
Statistically, a child is more likely to be sexually assaulted or victimised by someone already known to the child – a family member, a family friend, a close associate – than by a stranger. And the likelihood of that happening on an aeroplane – one of the most highly monitored, paranoid spaces in the world, is ASTONISHINGLY low. But despite that, several airlines share the same discriminatory policy.
Gentlemen: welcome to rape culture. Here’s a cup of tea, get comfortable, you’ll be staying a while – and read the article at that link, if you like. Melissa McEwan has written a brilliant treatise on the rape culture which should be required reading for anyone curious about the subject at all.
I have been amused by the opinion articles I have read in the last couple of weeks on this topic – not as in “ha ha”, but as in “this is peculiar”. We all live in the rape culture. We benefit from and are hindered by it, in varying amounts and degrees depending on our gender, the colour of our skin, our sexuality, our income, and a whole host of other fixed and changeable variables. There are some groups who are more aware of the rape culture, of their place in it, of the oppressions and expectations that the rape culture puts on them. There are some groups who, try as they might, simply cannot ignore the disadvantages that rape culture serves them with, and some groups who are so completely ignorant of the myriad ways in which rape culture privileges them above all other groups that they end up in positions of power, making decisions for these other groups without ever having to question what it’s like to be in one of those groups.
But now that most privileged group, the white male, is learning what it’s like to be pre-judged by the rape culture. Women, transgendered people, queer people, people of colour and many other minority groups notice the prejudice that happens against them every day. If I was to sit here and write about every single incidence of prejudice that I notice, I would be a profoundly unhappy person. So watching as a group of white men (traditionally the most privileged group on the planet) suddenly discover the ways in which the rape culture disadvantages them, and become outraged at it, has been curious for me. Women, queer people, transgender people and other minority groups have been trying to tell you this for years!
In December last year, I wrote:
“Rape culture doesn’t only diminish and disadvantage women. It diminishes and disadvantages men too. It positions men as sexual predators, as insatiable creatures who only exist to pursue their basest desires, to leer and jeer at women on the street, as creatures who can only see women as prizes to be won. It positions the woman as the prey and the man as the hunter, and gives no consideration to anyone who is outside of the heteronormative paradigm.”
The same applies here. The rape culture has cast all men as dangerous predators, out to attack children and women indiscriminately. Now, by no means do I wish to diminish the real and lasting damage that paedophiles do to children every single day around the world. But treating every man as a paedophile is as dangerous as treating every man as a rapist. It prevents children from forming meaningful relationships with the men in their lives, risks teaching young boys that being male is somehow a deficiency (in much the same way as the rape culture has spent the last thousand years teaching young girls the same thing), and creates a world in which men must check their behaviour each and every time they interact with a child.
The two men who were asked to move seats are both men who do work involving the welfare of children. One is a firefighter who, presumably, has rescued children from certain disaster, the other is a nurse with the Wagga Wagga health service who, as a condition of his employment, must undergo regular criminal background checks to ensure his suitability to work with children. But simply by deciding to Fly While Male, they have both been treated like criminals by a company they are paying for a service.
Some men are paedophiles. Some paedophiles are men. But it does not automatically mean that all men are paedophiles.
This is why we need feminism. Because dismantling the damaging ideas that have sprung up around sex and gender and sexuality is everybody’s business – not just work for women, or trans people, or queer people. Feminism teaches us to question why culture is the way it is, to question why and where our ideas come from, and to work together to construct new ways of relating to one another – ways that respect and understand our differences and similarities instead of shoving us into boxes.
Gentlemen, this is your rape culture. It is my rape culture. It is up to all of us to reject it, absolutely.