This is a guest post from the lovely Sara Amis, a woman possessed of a mind both bright and sharp. I would not want to cross her in a dark alley – or a women’s studies seminar. She was sufficiently motivated by the commenters on my US Airways post to write a lengthy response. I’m making my flight home today, and am delighted to cede the stage to her while traveling. Have fun all! ~ Sierra
I’m always shocked when people show their asses, God knows why. It’s not like I’ve never interacted with humans or been on the Internet before. Let’s get this straight before we go on: I am not Sierra. I am her guest-poster, Sara. There is more difference between us than a few letters in our names; for one thing, I am a lot meaner than she is, also considerably more Southern. On the other hand we do share a few things: motherhood (though my one agreeable and charming teenager is ten years older than her oldest, I can still remember Toddler Hell quite vividly), a certain mystical viewpoint on life, and, apparently, eternal optimism about humanity in the face of overwhelming contradictory evidence.
Thanks, y’all, for providing a reality check there. I intend to return the favor.
Here’s the scene: A woman attempts to travel cross-country with her two young children. In our jet-setting age, this is hardly an unusual occurrence. I daresay it happens every day, multiple times per day. Hold on to that thought; it becomes important later on.
She encounters problems, in the form of the airline attempting to seat her far from her five- and two-year-olds; then representatives of said airline flatly refuse to solve the problem in a rational way and in fact try to shove the responsibility off on the other passengers. She gets back on the ground and is irked. She hath a blog; she bloggeth. Many, many people chime in with comments of support or of “Me too!” The day is done.
Then the other comments start coming in. Coulda, shoulda, blah blah blah. Why didn’t she! How dare she! Who does she think she is, a free citizen and a customer? There was vitriol, viciousness, 20/20 hindsight, projection, reading comprehension fail, kid-hate, victim-blaming and mansplaining. And that perennial favorite, she must be LYING!
We, as customers, expect the airline to provide everything from safety equipment to on-board entertainment to peanuts and booze, and we get them. But thinking of a way to make sure that parents and children under ten sit together is somehow beyond them? This is unreasonable? Are you serious?
If they can assign seats in the first place, they can pay a programmer to make sure that when tickets for adults and children under ten are purchased together, they get seated together. This wouldn’t even be a very fancy bit of code. There you go, airlines: Problem solved. You’re welcome. I can be available as a consultant for all your problem-solving needs at the rate of $150/hr, but that one’s a freebie.
I am tempted to relate this situation to the other indignities visited upon us all by the airline industry and the TSA, which in my opinion are both broken, but I will refrain. My objective here is an even bigger issue.
Sierra wasn’t describing anything wildly out of countenance; indeed, as the comments showed, it is a dishearteningly common occurrence. Extrapolation of numbers and the existence of a (bad) written policy both suggest that it happens many, many times per day. USAirways is a corporate entity in the business of providing transportation; she and her daughters were their customers. Sierra, who doesn’t fly very often, might not reasonably expect that anything so crazy as being separated from her two and five year old might happen; but the airline surely did know. The responsibility here was clearly theirs. Nonetheless her veracity, character, intelligence and fitness as a parent were quickly called into question. Part of this is sheer authoritarian thinking: the airline was in charge, therefore the airline must be right. But part of it is something else, albeit a related something else. She is guilty until proven innocent. She is a woman. This is not, I will patiently explain, a coincidence.
There is a concept called the Just World Fallacy. It presumes that the world is essentially just and all problems are preventable; this means that whenever something bad happens to you, such as an illness, profiling, job discrimination, an earthquake or some other injustice or misfortune, someone will start talking about how you should have eaten better, dressed differently, picked a different employer, or not practiced Vodou. It should be noted that it is indeed a fallacy; that is, a failure of logical thought. It is often found in tandem with the aforementioned authoritarian viewpoint, because if the people in charge are always right, the world must be as well.
People who have privilege of some variety (maleness, white skin, heteronormativity) are particularly prone to both authoritarianism (as long as the powers that be are enough like them) and the Just World Fallacy. That is because the world actually does treat them relatively fairly; on top of that, our culture tells men and white folks that they are logical and the natural people who should be in charge, and that women and brown people are prone to flights of irrationality and unreliability, if not outright deceit. (Non-straight people are just plain wrong.) This leads the male and/or white person to 1) have a skewed view of the world to begin with, 2) not check assumptions, and 3) not be very responsive when told flat out (s)he is wrong. Thus is born the Privilege-Damaged Internet Jackass, or PDIJ.
Full disclosure: I am, in the quaint and antiquated caste system of our society, designated as “white.” I have probably made an ass of myself in this manner at some point or another. I, however, pulled up my big girl panties and tried to do better. You can too.
Let me zero in on the gender politics of this for a moment. There’s a reason why this ain’t funny, and is about more than being an Internet fool. The reason is contained in the “Men Who Explain Things” article I linked to. Rebecca Solnit says, “Credibility is a basic survival tool” and goes on to tell a story: a woman who ran out of her house in the middle of the night, screaming that her husband was trying to kill her, was presumed to be crazy rather than in danger of her life. Likewise with every rape victim ever in the history of the world who dares to speak up: The bitch is obviously lying.
Women lie. Everyone knows it. It’s embedded in our culture, in our stories (Garden of Eden, anybody?), in our movies and TV shows, in our casual language. Women don’t get presumption of good faith. Add to that the Just World Fallacy, authoritarianism, and the weirdly Freudian hostility towards mothers in particular (which warrants a whole other post) and you get a perfect shitstorm of vitriol and idiocy. As we have seen.
Is being called names on the Internet comparable to assault, abuse, or rape? No, of course not. Are they connected? Does the prompt willingness to go there, to undermine and attack any woman’s veracity and character for the most trivial points exist on a spectrum with the way that people will undermine and attack the victims of serious crimes? Does it have to do with how women are seen, are depicted and described, are spoken of, are “known” to be? Yes.