I travel virgin blue quite frequently, but today on my way home from a visit to Sydney, I ran foul of one of Virgin Blue's policies that I find to be overtly sexist.
I had boarded the plane, and was sitting in the very last row, in the isle seat. I was thinking I must have been extremely lucky when it appeared as though there was going to be no-one else sitting in my row. It meant I could get out my laptop and not have to worry about bumping elbows with the person next to me as I wrote a blog post I am currently working on. Just as they were closing the doors, one of the stewards came down the back with a young boy who looked about 8 years of age, and sat him in the window seat. Still good, the middle seat was still vacant, so I would still not be bumping elbows with anyone. It appeared as though the woman who was supposed to be sitting in the middle seat had not shown up. It was at this point the stewards asked the woman sitting in front of me to change to the middle seat between me and the child. When I looked quizically at the stewardess she revealed that "it is virgin blue policy to ensure that a male is not sitting next to an unaccompanied minor". I couldn't believe it!
I was not given any reason for the policy, I can only assume that with all the media hype around child abuses that Virgin Blue management feel that it is safest to treat all men as potential child molesters, and the obvious assumption, based on a 1920's understanding of gender, is that it is better to have a female sitting next to a child, because obviously a woman would never abuse a child.
I expressed my indignation to the stewards, not that it really bothered me who I sat next to on my hour and a half flight from Sydney to Melbourne, and told them I thought it was sexist. One of the male stewards agreed with me and encouraged me to file a complaint form which I did.
When all is said and done, it may seem like a silly little thing to complain about, and not something that I should get too upset about, but what bothers me is what it says about the kind of society we are becomming. What this kind of policy does is to make males feel uncomfortable around children. We are already at a point where the first thought when an adult male hugs or shows any kind of affection towards a child in public is one of suspicion. I fear that attitudes like this will feed into the already stark gender imbalance in our education system, and into other social activities involving children meaning that a generation of children will grow up not quite knowing how to have healthy relationships with adult males.