Terry Brennan, WFM contributor and founder of Leading Women for Shared Parenting(LW4SP), which just celebrated its first year, compares “acceptable” bigotry—in this case, bigotry against men—to other forms of bigotry.
Likely, most of us know of Rosa Parks, often called the “Mother of the Civil Rights Movement,” who in 1955 defiantly refused to follow the orders of bus driver James F. Blake and give up her seat to a white man. What you may not know is Rosa’s actions were not the first time an African-American woman refused to give up her seat.
Irene Warren Kirkaldy acted similarly in July 1944, and Sarah Louise Keys, a member of the United States military traveling in uniform, did the same in 1952. We should rightly celebrate the character of each of these women for their convictions and courage in standing up to bigotry.
Today we look at these examples in amazement. It is shocking, after all, that a bus driver—then a male-dominated profession—could ask a paying passenger to move her seat on a bus, a mode of public transportation, due to the pigment of her skin. We find it astonishing people ever tolerated such bigotry and are thankful we’ve come such a long way.
But have we?
When Bill O’Reilly said on The View in 2010 that “Muslims killed us on 9/11,” celebrity hosts Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar walked off the set. The hosts rejoined the interview only after O’Reilly apologized and restated his comment by saying “Muslim fanatics killed us.”
The lesson was clear: you cannot blame an entire group for the actions of a few.
The following week, O’Reilly rehashed the interview with National Public Radio correspondent Juan Williams, who had this to say: “But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.”
Williams went on to say it was wrong to blame all Muslims for the actions of extremists, but by then the damage had been done. NPR said Williams’ comments were “inconsistent with our editorial standards and practices, and undermined his credibility as a news analyst with NPR” and promptly fired him.
Another lesson learned: sharing any potentially critical feelings about a group of people, despite further clarification, will result in a loss of employment.
Are these lessons consistently applied? Or are they applicable in some instances and not others? In short, is it okay to be a bigot in the media, as long as you are bigoted against the “correct” group?
We received that answer last month when one Tracey Spicer wrote the following: “I know it’s sexist. But I don’t want my kids sitting next to a man on a plane.” Spicer’s article generated few responses. There was no firestorm. No one walked off a set, and Spicer remains gainfully employed.
The similarities between Spicer’s actions and the actions of Rosa Parks are striking. If we’re rightfully shocked at the actions Rosa Parks faced on a Birmingham bus, shouldn’t we be similarly shocked that a flight attendant—a female-dominated profession—could ask a paying passenger, on a different public mode of transportation, to move his seat on an airplane due to his chromosomes?
What would Rosa Parks, Irene Warren Kirkaldy and Sarah Louise Keys think of Spicer’s beliefs? What would Parks recommend a man do when he’s asked to move his seat due to his gender? Would Goldberg and Behar walk off if Spicer espoused her views on their set?
But wait, Ms. Spicer would argue. My bigotry is justified! After all, I’m trying to protect my children. But as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports, mothers “are almost twice as likely to be directly involved in child maltreatment as fathers.”
Would Spicer advocate for removing children from the care of their mothers? Such an argument would be both flawed and bigoted, as is Spicer’s concerns about men on airplanes.
To those who claim Spicer’s comments are no slight against fathers, only strangers, perhaps the experience of this father taking his children to the park and this stay at home dad during a panel discussion will change your mind.
Feminists believe in the saying, “There’s nothing that will create a feminist faster than a father having a daughter.” If that is true, the same should be said about mothers who have sons.
Indeed, it’s interesting to watch the reaction of feminists who do have sons. For some, like Rebecca Gruber, having sons “toned down” her feminist thinking and got her to slow down on the “everything you can do I can do better” rhetoric. For others, like Judith Grossman, it took her son being wrongfully ensnared by a system she helped create to impact her beliefs.
For Ms. Spicer, the jury is still out. But it seems fair to wonder how she’d react if her son was asked to give up his seat due to his gender.
It is, after all, a world she helped create for him.