Monday, January 26, 2009

A Little Boob For JetBlue and Delta Goes A Long Way

Once again we have yet another example of a woman being expected to titillate male fantasies in order to earn a living.  If one is working in the sex trade industry where appealing to the male gaze is a necessary function of the job this expectation is completely understandable, but why should a flight attendant be forced to dress sexy to please a man as a part of her job?

Karin Keegan, a 37-year-old flight attendant with Delta, said a male JetBlue worker wouldn't let her on a flight in October 2007 because she wasn't dressed provocatively enough, then allowed other flight attendants with less seniority to board the plane.

JetBlue has an agreement with Delta to ferry its flight attendants to job assignments on a standby basis.

"Keegan changed into more provocative clothes, but (the employee) told her she was too late to board the plane and should have dressed like that before," said the lawsuit, which was filed Friday in Pittsburgh federal court, Associated Press reports.

"He wanted her to change to a lower-cut shirt and tighter pants, and wear more makeup before letting her on the plane," Keegan's attorney, Samuel Cordes, said Monday. Delta and JetBlue officials refused to intercede when she complained, the lawsuit said.

Cordes said Keegan is losing income, though he wouldn't specify how much, because she has stopped taking JetBlue flights to job assignments so she can avoid harassment by the male employee.By refusing to discipline the employee Keegan is being punished for wishing to avoid being sexually harassed.  While it is fortunate that she is able to make such a sacrifice, she should not have to.  How many women are putting up with this kind of sexual harassment because of the downturn of the economy?  Women are especially vulnerable in times of economic downturn and many have families and or small children  that are completely dependent on their income. 

Capitalism and patriarchy often work hand in hand to oppress women and this case is the perfect example of it. To simply sit on an airplane to arrive at her destination Keegan had to appear in sexually provocative clothing not because she chose to, but because it was mandated by a male.  Every time I read stories about this regarding clothing and the workplace it is always some man telling a woman to look more feminine, or sexy.  It is usually for the purposes of either economic gain or pure sexual exploitation.

The right wing has worked incredibly hard to convince women that we are all equal and yet cases like this continue to occur.  Patriarchy is not a figment of our imagination, daily it works to solidify its power and it is often stealth like in its approach.  Incidents like this are often said to be the actions of one individual rather than the collective desire of many to promote male hegemony; however, when we examine the ways in which womanhood is understood by the agents of socialization clearly, ‘woman’ as object rather than subject is what is promoted.

This man felt he had the right to tell Keegan to appear in a more provocative outfit because everything around him affirms the idea that women exist to be sexual servants.  When half naked women are used to sell cars, and all manner of products and our bodies are continually privileged over our intelligence clearly the value of a woman is based in her physical appearance. 

Masculinity is constructed as aggressive, constantly seeking conquest  and conversely femininity is understood as passive and docile, awaiting subjugation.  He would never have requested that a man appear in sexual clothing.  Despite the claims of the right wing that feminists are angry man hating women, incidents like this where women are penalized for refusing to capitulate to the male gaze function as evidence as to why we have not reached a state of equality.  A vagina equals availability regardless of the intent of the owner. A vagina is only understood in the ways in which it offers pleasure to another rather than the ways in which it simply confers sex identity. 

Patriarchy is loathe to admit the ways in which it constantly works to construct women as simply vehicles for male pleasure because in doing so it would affirm that a hierarchy of genders indeed exists.  To deny that such construction is part of our social make up allows it to utilize its power in ways that have a negative impact to all women and therefore they present to the world the lie of rebelling, angry feminist.  We are disciplined to conform and all understood to be thwarting the natural order of civilization when we demand equality.  Patriarchy like all historical rulers detests a slave that refuses to be ruled.


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