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1 December 2013

The “plane row“ hero: the internet loves to applaud when a woman is put in her place

Elan Gale wasn't standing up for the little guy when he told a woman to "eat my dick" after she was allegedly rude to flight attendants. He was grandstanding, and sexists lapped it up.

By glosswitch Glosswitch

By now plenty of people will have heard about the quite-possibly-imaginary Elan Gale vs Diane “plane note row”. Depending on where you stand, it’s either hilarious or really frightening. Me, I’m veering towards the latter. Elan Gale, I hope I’m never on the number 12 bus, let alone on a plane with you.

The plane note row (if it actually took place and wasn’t just some misogynist’s wildest fantasy) was live-tweeted by Gale last Thursday. It (allegedly) reached its height with Gale sending a note which included the line “eat my dick” to female passenger, having smugly tweeted out said note to all his followers.

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To put this in context, the woman – “Diane” – had been rude to flight attendants (a crime for which, as far as I am aware, the recommended punishment is not sexual harassment within a confined space). During the exchange that ensued, Gale pressured flight attendants to become complicit in his abuse by transferring the notes between him and “Diane” – who, he happened to tweet, was “in her late 40s or early 50s” and was wearing “mom jeans” (hence not only rude but not even shaggable!).

Whether real or imagined, Gale’s behaviour was manipulative, misogynistic and self-aggrandising and yet he deliberately made it public in an effort to gain approval — and, most disturbingly, he got it. His twitter follower count tripled and #TeamElan became the boorish bystander’s hashtag of choice.

In a later post in which he explains the whole scenario, Gale depicts himself as a noble saviour, propelled to heights of frat boy misogyny only due to memories of his former life as a common worker:

My first job was in a video store. I rewinded tapes and put them back on the shelves. I was a caterer. I put ravioli into divided plates and cut bagels in half for hours at a time. The difference between someone being nice and someone being mean was the difference in how I felt when I went home that night.

Well, whoop-de-doo! So Gale’s done shitty jobs. So have I. So have millions of other people, some of whom go on to better work, some of whom don’t. Having worked in service doesn’t make you a lifelong authority on the Woes of the Serving Classes. Other passengers on that flight will have known what it’s like to be at the mercy of The Customer. For all we know, “Diane” was one of them, too.

I’m not wishing to suggest that waitresses and flight attendants aren’t treated badly. Nonetheless, what Gale proposes as a response only furthers any exploitation. It’s not just that it’s an incredible abuse of power to pressure workers to hand over offensive notes while they are trying to get on with their jobs (especially when their discomfort with this is made clear). Worst of all is the pretence that this all for the good of the little man:

I don’t care what’s going on with you: Don’t be rude to people who are doing their job.

Don’t do it.

Don’t dismiss them. Don’t act like they are less than you. Don’t abuse them just because you’re the customer and “The Customer Is Always Right.”

How very noble.

I’ll be honest: I’ve met difficult customers and suppliers, some of whom have been female. I’ve often wanted to be rude to them and yes, it’s frustrated me that my job depends on me not responding. At no point, ever, have I wanted someone to appropriate whatever abuse I’m suffering in order to indulge in a little misogyny and sexual harassment on “my” behalf, not least because, as a woman, I feel it only extends the loss of power.

First you’re insulted due to the power imbalance inherent in your work, then you’re insulted again by the reminder that, if anyone comes to your defence, it will be at the expense of basic respect for your sex. It has been decided, without your consent, that the continuation of misogyny is a price worth paying for some minor victory “for you” (and a hell of a lot of grandstanding for your saviour). And who has decided this? Someone who is neither a server nor a woman. How convenient.

There are plenty of “Dianes” around. By that, I don’t mean women who are rude to flight attendants (although I’m sure there are plenty of those, too). I mean women whom men like Gale — privileged, self-styled men of principle — identify as Women of Privilege and hence suitable targets for all the misogynist shit they’re too inhibited to hurl at the average woman.

Diane is Private Eye’s Polly Filler. She’s Louise Mensch, or Harriet Harman, or any female MP you can think of. She’s the middle-class white cis feminist to whom all the right-on dudes of Twitter are sending rape threats. She’s the yummy mummy in her 4×4, taking up road space that rightfully belongs to men like Gale. She’s the woman who makes misogyny okay. She’s the reason women who claim to be feminists don’t say a word when their nice, lefty male allies tell women such as Helen Lewis or Caitlin Moran that they are cunts and bitches. It’s not because there’s validity in sexist insults. There isn’t. “Eat my dick” is “eat my dick” in any context. No woman is ever asking for it.

I’m not recommending standing by while customers abuse staff just because they can. However, to stand up for someone who’s being victimised or ignored rarely involves grandstanding. On the contrary, making a genuine stand can make you unpopular yourself or, at best, go unnoticed. That’s because it’s rarely about you. To take the complainer to one side and advise them to calm down, or to tell someone under pressure that you appreciate the work they do, isn’t particularly dramatic or interesting, but it’s the little things that matter.

On the other hand, to spy an opportunity to be a sexist bully “for the good of humanity” — and to then use it — doesn’t make you a caring, if flawed, person. It’s not some complex balancing act between means and ends. It just means you’re a sexist bully. And if being nice and kind truly matters to you, that’s something you’d do well to think about.

This blog originally appeared at Glosswatch.