It is well-known that while flying home on Virgin Australia from Brisbane in April, a 33-year-old man was forced to move his seat because he was sitting next to two boys he estimated to be aged between eight and ten, and it is against the airline’s policy for men to sit next to unaccompanied children.
Presumably, this policy would have forced any adult with a penis to move — everyone from Fred Rogers to Abraham Lincoln to the fireman who has saved scores of children to Barack Obama to Jesus of Nazareth.
This sort of issue is ground zero in the fight against misandry. How should we respond to it? The men’s movement needs to develop a language to respond to these injustices that speaks to every heart open to reason on a positive and fundamental level.
First, it is well to keep in mind that the overarching problem to virtually all the injustices we write about, this one included, is that men consistently allow their gender to be reduced to caricature. The attributes of outliers and social deviants are permitted to be passed off as cultural norms that define masculinity.
Newspapers, magazines, and blogs are replete with examples of this. Jessica Valenti, a once-prominent feminist blogger and a purveyor of the maleness-is-broken crowd, wrote:
Rape is part of our culture. It’s normalized to the point where men who are otherwise decent guys will rape and not even think that it’s wrong. And that’s what terrifies me.
In the aftermath of the Aurora movie theater massacre, Linda Ann Scacco and Molly Turro harrumphed: “Masculinity has become so intertwined with violence that it becomes invisible.”
In contrast, I saw numerous articles touting the heroics of the young men in the Aurora Colorado movie theater massacre, but I didn’t see one — not one — that tied their actions to their “maleness” or said anything close to “masculinity has become so intertwined with heroism that it becomes invisible.”
The fact is, for every James Holmes, there are countless men ready and waiting to do selfless things, kind things, noble things, and sometimes incredibly heroic things. The good things are “cultural norms” that define masculinity, too, and they far outweigh the bad things, but we never hear that. Why? Any attempt to attribute positive characteristics to masculinity is deemed politically incorrect and sexist because, the people who control the public discourse about gender believe, it suggests that women don’t possess those positive characteristics. The charge is, of course, puerile because women also possess positive attributes, but that thinking is a critical challenge we face.
Men, especially young men, are the favorite piñatas of many “enlightened” pundits who write for newspapers, magazines, and blogs. How many more books, newspaper and magazine features pieces will assault us with the epiphany that we now live in a woman’s world, that men are “the second sex,” and that underachieving, rudderless young men, who are being swept aside as women find them increasingly unnecessary, need to find their way to a “new” kind of manhood in the coming matriarchy where they will be the first generation of men to not enjoy the undeserved entitlements of male privilege?
An endless cavalcade of Chicken Little pieces tout and ultimately celebrate the purported oncoming death of traditional masculinity. To read their pieces, you’d have to assume that when young men aren’t inflicting senseless violence on innocent people, they are living in their mothers’ basements and spending their days masturbating to nasty Internet porn and playing misogynistic video games. Foolish boys in men’s bodies, worthless because they are not sufficiently responsible to support a family.
Yes, yes, too many young men are rudderless, and too many young men are violent. But “too many” is all relative, and those young men are but a small part of a much bigger story — so small, in fact, that it’s both dishonest and flat-out wrong to tell only that part of it. We need to tell that bigger story; we need to remind anyone fair-minded enough to listen that the good far outweighs the bad.
Second, we need to demonstrate that the injustice is a social evil that harms the common good. The airline’s policy is wrong on too many levels to chronicle, but one should stand above all others as a concern to all people of good will: what sort of message does it send to our children when we tell them that men can’t be trusted to sit next to them on an airplane? What sort of message did it send to the two little boys who were riding on that plane in the news story?
The answer is painfully, and patently, obvious. It tells them that men are flawed; their fathers are flawed; that their uncles, brothers, male teachers, coaches, physicians, neighbors and friends — all of them are flawed. And, yes, dear readers, it tells the little boys themselves that they, too, are flawed, simply because they were born male. Someday, we are telling those little boys, they will be the ones who will be told they have to move because they, themselves, won’t be trusted.
This, of course, is nothing less than blatant, yet shockingly acceptable, negative stereotyping of an individual based on the actions of a tiny minority of the group to which he belongs. We used to have a word for this kind of stereotyping, and we used to tell our kids it was wrong: prejudice.
We need to get across to anyone willing to listen that under the guise of protecting children, policies like this do terrible damage to them. When we institutionalize the notion that men aren’t fit to be around children, we do nothing but solidify eons-old gender stereotypes that keep men from assuming their proper roles as co-parents and that confine them to the workplace. And since someone has to take care of the children, that task will continue to fall to women, as it always has. No one benefits from this wrong-headed policy, least of all our kids.
That, I think, is the message we need to be spreading.