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Misogyny is Dead. And so is Racism. Really. (Not)

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Photo by Allan Ferguson 1x1.trans - Misogyny is Dead. And so is Racism. Really. (Not)

Here comes the story of an Asian American woman who, when threatened by the man next to her on a plane, was then treated as a perpetrator by Southwest Airline employees because she used (calmly and quietly) an expletive in response to the man’s threat.

She frames her story as something that would never happen to a man, and would happen less often to a white woman. If you follow the link to the original from Feministing, you will find a comments page filled with the comments of people who believe that she’s at least mistaken and at worst lying. Those commenters are wrong. The woman who had this experience was correct to couch it in both racist and sexist terms.

I’ve flown many times and have never experienced anything like the experience she had, whether or not I was flying alone. I’ve had hopeful young men (and older men) strike up conversations with me (often quite pleasant), but no one has ever claimed my leg space, then when called on it, threatened me, and certainly I have never been treated with anything but professionalism by airline employees. Why? White privilege. A person flying on an airplane is generally expected to have at least ‘middle class’ status because of the cost of flight as a means of transportation, so I was perceived to be a white, middle class woman. A woman that might be eyed, and even (politely) propositioned, but because of class and race, not assumed to be subordinate and/or submissive.

US society makes several assumptions about people of Asian appearance: 1) that they don’t speak English well, 2) that they are not “from” the US, and 3) that they are a “good” minority that knows their place in the hierarchy (right below whites). US society further assumes that Asian women are 1) Submissive, 2) Sexually available, and 3) Thin. These assumptions clearly played a big role in the white man’s assumption that he could engage in some space invasion accompanied by minor sexual intimidation without consequences. He was shocked out of these assumptions when his victim responded to his abuse assertively, and with an expletive. At that point, he assumed (correctly) that his white maleness entitled him to increase the threat level against her with minimal risk to himself.

Every airline employee encountered by the victim supported that white man’s right to harass, mostly implicitly. Further, a white man witnessing the exchange between the victim and a flight attendant felt obligated to support the (white) flight attendant when the victim accused her of lecturing when the flight attendant focused on the victim’s use of an expletive.

What was that incident? That was a classic example of living female in a patriarchy combined with living Asian in a white society. The persecution the victim felt was real. The hostility toward assertion of rights by the victim was real. The harm to the victim was real. And yet, this is just a minor example of an everyday occurance for people who are not white and not male in US society. Misogyny and racism. Not dead after all.

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