Friday, August 10, 2012

Virgin Airlines: Men can't be trusted to sit next to unaccompanied minors--and what message does that send to our kids?

A 33-year-old man, flying home from Brisbane in April, was forced to move his seat because he was sitting next to two boys he estimated to be aged between eight and 10, and it is against the airline's policy for men to sit next to unaccompanied children.  See the story here: http://www.smh.com.au/travel/travel-incidents/seat-swap-outcry-moves-virgin-to-think-again-20120810-23y7q.html

The airline's policy is wrong on too many levels to chronicle, but one that should be a concern to all people of good will is this: 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. It tells them that that their fathers are flawed. 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.

Or do we think kids don't pick up on this sort of thing?

Society would not allow our children to receive such a hateful message about ANY group aside from men. It is blatant, yet shockingly acceptable, negative stereotyping of an individual based on the actions of a tiny minority of the group to which he belongs to -- the kind of stereotyping we always tell our kids is wrong.

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 only solidify eons-old gender stereotypes that keep men from assuming their proper roles as co-parents and 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.