Thursday, April 23, 2015
Why are biased acts against women — even religiously motivated ones — considered so much less toxic than biased acts of any other kind? Why do women often demur and accept humiliation rather than make a fuss? Why does respect even for admittedly extreme religious beliefs trump respect for half the human race?
My encounter came to mind again as I pondered recent stories of ultra-Orthodox Jewish men refusing to take airline seats next to women. Several cases were reported in the New York Times this month. Others have appeared in the Israeli press as far back as 2012.On some flights women reportedly moved when asked. Some men switched places with women to eliminate the adjacency problem. Some flight attendants assisted the Orthodox men in relocating. Yet when others did not, some flights were delayed as men refused to be seated. The incidents have spawned lively discussions among Jews and non-Jews alike.
Yet I wonder: Why are we even discussing this?
Would such blatant behavior be treated merely as a social choice, a courtesy issue or an awkward airline customer-service problem if the targets were anyone other than women?
Let’s test it. What if we recast my encounter, giving me a different race and gender. How do I react now if someone says, “I don’t touch black men.” Do I quietly move on? How would this young man have reacted had the tables been turned? What if I had done something I could never imagine myself doing? Would he have treated it as a social issue if I had refused his hand, saying: “I don’t shake hands with Jews?”