Mile-High Identity Politics: What We Can Learn From the Same-Sex Seating Controversy

prayingonplane

A recent New York Times story on the tension caused when Orthodox Jewish men request same-sex seating on airlines for religious reasons generated over 3,000 reader responses. The scenario as described in the story generally unfolds something like this: the individual reaches his assigned seat and finds that the seat next to him is occupied by a woman. He shifts uncomfortably in the aisle until the flight attendant or an alert passenger recognizes what’s going on and asks the woman to switch seats with a male so the Orthodox Jew may have his religious views accommodated. Often the woman is offended; sometimes she refuses to move. This has made for many challenging situations and some flight delays.

A significant theme in the comments was frustration expressed by women—and by men on their behalf—about the male privilege woven into religion and exercised by the Orthodox men in this situation. Here is a representative sample:

‘Why is sexism okay because of tradition?’

‘This is the United States in 2015, not the fourth century … You’re not free to practice your religion in my airline seat.’

‘This is male entitlement .. the height of male arrogance.’

One comment referred to this as a ‘back of the bus’ issue; as in, women being asked to move in such circumstances was tantamount to assigning them a lesser status as citizens and lower dignity as human beings. Other readers proposed that airlines set aside special seating for men requiring such accommodations—in the back of the airplane.

I fly frequently and while I have never witnessed the above situation I have seen many circumstances in which people have moved to accommodate others. I have seen people give up their aisle seat to a senior citizen and take his middle. I have watched passengers with first class seats hand their tickets to uniformed veterans and sit in economy. Several times I have witnessed people move further back to allow a mother to sit next to her children.

All of these required not only the hassle of moving, but also the discomfort of a worse seat. Sometimes the person with the better seat was asked, sometimes s/he offered. In most situations, the person moving to the worse seat appeared happy to accommodate. Moreover, the surrounding passengers acted as if that individual had done something noble. Interestingly, several responders noted situations in which they had moved for other passengers, suggesting that Times readers, like the general population of air travelers, are willing to accommodate some people in some circumstances.

The obvious question: why is exchanging seats on an airplane with a senior citizen, a mother with children or a uniformed veteran considered a noble gesture while doing the same for an Orthodox Jewish man viewed as acquiescing to patriarchal oppression?

The Matter of Identity

I have found it interesting to look at this situation in light of the influential identity politics formulation that ‘the personal is political’. First advanced by women in the feminist movement, it now serves as a pretty good one-line definition of cultural progressivism more broadly. I have heard it referenced in arguments for everything from Ethnic Studies departments to LGBT safe spaces.

That the personal is political centers on two chief ideas: 1) that identities matter (the personal); and 2) that those identities express themselves in public forms (the political). It was certainly the way many of those who commented on the Times story framed their views. As a woman (the personal), I interpret your request as patriarchal and will not move to accommodate it (the political).  

But isn’t being an Orthodox Jew also an identity that matters? And isn’t seeking an accommodation based on that identity a legitimate public expression? And isn’t the accommodation that individual is seeking something that is commonly offered to other people with different identities?

No doubt this is a distinct circumstance based on a very particular identity, but cultural progressives are often on the vanguard of fighting for special accommodations for specific groups. Women-only, black-only and LGBT-only spaces are a relevant parallel. Such spaces take into account the issues related to certain social identities (the personal) and advocate for a reshaping of the public square to accommodate it (the political). This requires some sacrifice of others. At the very least it means restricting their freedom by not allowing them to enter a certain facility while it is being used by a particular identity group. Why does this logic not include the Orthodox Jewish man on the plane?

One might argue that the Orthodox Jew is actively inconveniencing you by asking you to move. Yes, but so is the mother who wants to sit by her children. In twenty years of flying I have never seen anybody deny that request.

The central issue may be that the Orthodox Jew is targeting only a specific identity to move—namely women. Yes, but when black students at Oak Park River Forest High School held a black-only meeting to discuss racism (in collaboration with the African-American principal of the school), particular identities were marked as not-invited—namely, white, Asian, Latino, and other non-black students at the high school. Many cultural progressives supported the meeting, claiming that power issues in the broader culture and the long history of oppression of African Americans justified creating this protected space.

There is a parallel to be made to the situation on the plane. Women have long been marginalized by men. A man asking a woman to move on a flight may reasonably be interpreted as another chapter in a seemingly never-ending story.

I am sympathetic to such a view. But haven’t Orthodox Jews experienced a long history of oppression? As far as who feels marginalized in the specific context of a typical commercial flight, consider that separation of sexes is far more common in traditional religious environments. Does the Orthodox Jewish man have a case that secular modernity is marginalizing his identity, and that all those comfortable with the current system are complicit in his marginalization? This would probably include the majority of the passengers on the airplane.

Perhaps the central difference is that religion is a choice. One cannot help being a woman but one can choose not to be the kind of Jew who refuses to sit next to women. But cultural progressivism has long defined identity based not on straightforward physical features such as skin color or genitalia but on assigned meaning. A core value of the cultural progressive worldview is that people get to select the identities that matter to them and assign the meaning they choose.

For example, cultural progressives frequently advocate for minority ethnic groups to speak their native languages or dialects if they wish, and dress and wear their hair in ways that are meaningful and comfortable for them. It seems to me the Orthodox Jewish man on the plane can make the same argument. Just like the African American who chooses to wear an afro and the woman who does not shave her legs—both common expressions of the personal as political—he is assigning a particular meaning to his identity as a Jew. It just so happens that the expression of the meaning he assigns to his religious identity is in conflict with the meaning that the woman sitting in the airline seat assigns to her gender.

All of this can be summed up in a simple turn of the original formulation: for whom may the personal be political, and how?

A Religion-Shaped Hole

I am a proud and grateful product of cultural progressivism. As a brown kid who grew up in the western suburbs of Chicago wanting to be white, the cultural progressivism I encountered in college helped me take pride in my color and ethnicity. I believe identities matter a great deal, and that expressing those identities in public is necessary and natural. But I think there are challenges, contradictions and blind spots in the broader movement of cultural progressivism which ought to be raised. The airline example reveals some of these.

First of all, there is a religion-shaped hole in the worldview of cultural progressivism. The rancor expressed towards Orthodox Jews on the Times website is one example of this. The preferred identities of cultural progressivism are race, gender and sexuality. There are good reasons that these identities are favored. Each category includes large groups of people who tend to convene around certain symbols, ideas and issues. But preferring some identities ought not be done in such a manner that other clearly important categories are ignored or marginalized, namely religion. If the fundamental logic of cultural progressivism is that people get to choose the identity that matters to them and assign whatever meaning they see fit, then disqualifying religion effectively leaves out large groups of people. And those people have every right to point out the hypocrisy of the personal is political line of thinking when they are excluded.

In addition to favoring particular personal identities, the movement of cultural progressivism also hopes to match these preferred identities with approved political expressions. Consider the many bumper stickers that link the identity of being a woman with the political expression of being pro-choice. ‘Keep Your Rosaries Off My Ovaries’ is a particularly visual example. But the General Social Survey demonstrates that women on the whole are actually less likely to favor abortion than men. Why is that? The data show that the ‘rosaries’ part of the bumper sticker turns out to be quite influential. Religiosity matters to people, including women, when it comes to deciding their position on abortion. This is a frustrating finding to many cultural progressives who want the link between preferred personal identities like being female and approved politics like being pro-choice to feel inevitable.

Alas, many human beings have other ideas about which identities matter most and what those identities mean, and generally speaking they do not like being told what should matter to them and how.

The final contradiction at the heart of cultural progressivism is its desire to create frictionless solidarity amongst marginalized groups. The idea is that oppressions are all alike because they are caused by western white male heterosexual Christians. Everybody else forms a single nation—or rather, political party—with similar interests and a common platform. The problem here is that this worldview does not account for the many places where the various subgroups of this ‘party of the oppressed’ are actually in tension.

An Orthodox Jewish man (marginalized by his religion) asking a woman (marginalized by her gender) to move on an airplane is a pretty good illustration of this. Another place this tension plays out is in mainline Protestant denominations with regards to same sex marriage and the ordination of gay clergy. Many Africans in the Anglican Communion and the Methodist Church are opposed to both. They claim that this position is an expression of their identity as Africans. This is a way that the personal becomes political for them.

This of course stands in sharp contrast to the desires of the LGBT community in the west—another objectively marginalized group. Such tensions create great discomfort in cultural progressivism because they fly in the face of the claim that oppressed people must always be aligned with one another. But they are real nonetheless and ignoring them undermines the credibility of the broader movement.

None of the above is meant as a repudiation of cultural progressivism. The movement has done a great deal for a great many. My own debt is massive. I have always been a brown kid; cultural progressivism made me a person of color.

Beyond its contribution to the consciousness of women, ethnic minorities and the LGBT community, it has dramatically strengthened our larger democracy. For a long time it was possible to think that a democratic society was a place where identity differences did not matter. We would all read from a short list of sanctioned authors, reason together in the same mode and manner and come to the same conclusions about virtue, community, the good life, etc.

Cultural progressivism highlighted minority perspectives and women’s ways of knowing as primary modes for public discourse and therefore essential to the very fabric of a diverse democracy. It rolled its eyes at elementary school multicultural events that pretended diversity was about tasting samosas and egg rolls (extra points for trying both!) and spoke openly about the unsettling reality of power differences.

That’s why the blind spots, tensions and hypocrisies are so damaging. In a democracy as raucous and diverse as ours, a movement whose rallying cry is the personal is political needs to take into account a wider range of what our population considers personal and respect the various ways people express those identities publicly. If women saying they are voting for Hilary because she’s a woman makes sense to you, then women who are Baptists saying they are voting for Huckabee because he is Baptist ought to make sense too. Diversity is not just about the differences you like, it’s also about the differences you don’t like.

Finally, cultural progressives need to recognize that diversity entails disagreement. When marginalized groups (Jews and women, Africans and gays, blacks and Latinos) have a dispute, it is not always because they lack a sufficient analysis of western colonialism. Often it is because a dimension of their substantive identities are in conflict. A healthy diverse democracy is a place where people who disagree on some fundamental things do it without killing each other, and are able to move on and work together on other fundamental things.

This is the highest hope for America and the ultimate purpose of cultural progressivism.

  • Jim Reed

    I don’t think this problem has been thought through. Instead of asking the woman to switch seats, why doesn’t the man switch to another seat? If anyone asks him why he wants to move, he could say he doesn’t want to sit next to her. Wouldn’t this be a better solution?

  • Kelly

    Disabled people need closer access to bathrooms and families need to stick together for the safety of the kids. Please explain to me how a man needing to avoid the gender God specifically created to be “one” with them is the same thing …

  • DKeane123

    I think the set up of this question is mostly reasonable. Even though I am an atheist and don’t necessarily respect the beliefs of orthodox Jews, I would have moved regardless. But then again, I am male.

    What happens when you have lots of orthodox Jews on a plane? Moving a few people might be feasible, but the math becomes very difficult when you get to a higher number of requests.

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2014/09/26/el-al-flight-becomes-11-hour-nightmare-when-haredi-demand-to-be-shielded-from-women/

    I’m sorry, but if your religious beliefs are going to interfere with the common social contract for public spaces – you should probably avoid those scenarios.

  • Craptacular

    “Diversity is not just about the differences you like, it’s also about the differences you don’t like.” – Eboo Patel

    Like sitting next to women on an airplane? Maybe the orthodox jew should be a little open to some diversity, as well.

  • Jamie Bean Whiteley

    Wow, this is extremely well written and balanced in my opinion. I’m baffled as to how people are so offended by this. Wouldn’t you rather move than spend an entire flight seated by someone who is clearly uncomfortable so you can make a point? It’s a vastly overcrowded planet and at some point we are all going to have to do things we aren’t happy about to accommodate someone else…it’s called being kind and trying to have some understanding. Who cares who switches seats? Let’s all figure out a way to try to make everyone as comfortable as possible, within reason. It’s not like they are asking us women to cover our faces and hide in the back. They’re just trying to follow their rules. It’s the same reason I wear long skirts at holy sites…not to support the oppression of women; but to show some courtesy. This is a really silly thing to get a bee in your bonnet about. P.S. I’m a woman.

  • DKeane123

    For certain people the rules are very much binary. Hence the term orthodox 🙂

  • Craptacular

    “They’re just trying to follow their rules.” – Jamie Bean Whiteley

    No, they are trying to get everyone around them to follow their rules.

    What makes you think that I want to keep my seat to “prove a point?” Furthermore, do I even need to provide a reason for not giving up the seat I purchased?

  • DaveMontrose

    This piece avoided a very simple question: Why can’t he move?

  • Jamie Bean Whiteley

    They’re throwing the women off the plane?! Well, I didn’t realize that. I retract my statement then…

    Come on, it’s a seat. Haven’t we been moving seats to accommodate all kinds of things?

    This isn’t even about the darned seat. It’s about how we get along in spite of our differences. How we navigate a world where our differing opinions exist in close proximity.

  • Jim Reed

    It also avoided the background reason for the issue that was explained in the last article on this topic.

  • Jim Reed

    Technically this is not a problem of sitting next to a woman. The problem is he doesn’t want to risk touching her, because she might be unclean, because she might be bleeding, and if he touches her when she is bleeding that makes him unclean too, so he has to try to avoid that.

  • Jamie Bean Whiteley

    Ah! Thanks for the background!

  • Craptacular

    “They’re throwing the women off the plane?” – Jamie Bean Whiteley

    Where did I say that? What I meant was if someone asked me to switch seats with them, and I don’t want to, do I need to provide a reason? I have the ticket with the seat number on it, any reason I give it up is for me to decide, not someone else.

    “Wouldn’t you rather move than spend an entire flight seated by someone who is clearly uncomfortable so you can make a point?” – Jamie Bean Whiteley

    And I further clarified that I am not, in fact, doing it to prove a point. That’s all taking place in your head, like “throwing women off the plane.” If you are going to engage with me, try to limit your responses to what I actually say, rather than the conversation you had with me in your head.

  • Jamie Bean Whiteley

    This is going beyond disagreement into what I would consider unproductive jibber jabber. In my opinion, a seat on a plane is a seat on a plane. I’ve lost nothing by moving. I paid for a seat. I have a seat. Instead I have the added bonus of kindness to someone different then me. Again, it’s irrelevant to the conversation at large which is about how we get along…which sadly, is barely.

  • Cathi Korelin

    Maybe he did. We don’t know.

  • Cathi Korelin

    I can see from the comments that people were not sympathetic to the Jew. If a woman with kids needed to move and he didn’t accommodate them then he would also be crucified. Just because it is a religious person no one cares.

  • Craptacular

    What you and Eboo seem to be discounting is that the orthordox jew is asking to openly discriminate against a gender, based on their religion. What if a white person doesn’t want to sit next to a black person? Or a christian doesn’t want to sit next to a muslim or vice-versa? Is it “just a seat” then?

    Eboo’s attempts to use special needs cases as examples is very poorly chosen. In each of the “other” examples he uses it is all about trying to bring people together with their loved ones or with those who require special accommodations. The orthodox jew is simply trying to sit AWAY from a particular gender…which is very unreasonable on any public transportation.

  • Craptacular

    No, it is because “not touching someone from the opposite gender” is unreasonable to expect on public transportation.

  • Jamie Bean Whiteley

    Ah, now we’re cooking! Yes, if I felt that I was being moved away from because of my race or my gender I would be offended!

    I don’t perceive it that way, hence, I’m not offended. I see it in a religious context which for me makes it excusable. Also, I’ve never interacted with an orthodox Jew whom I didn’t adore which probably also colors my view.

    However, I agree with you 100 percent…I think eboo is presenting a larger question and my perception is different from yours, but that’s a good thing. Thanks for coming back with the succinct explanation! I felt like I finally saw your side!

  • http://daniel-kaufman-rpur.squarespace.com/ Daniel A. Kaufman

    I apologize to the women of America for the atavistic mentality of some of my ultra-Orthodox bretheren.

    As a Jew, I find this demand outrageous. You want to be able to exercise your backward brand of Judaism on a plane? Fly a private jet. Otherwise, the plane is a public accomodation and you’re just going to have to suck it up.

    Yuck.

  • http://daniel-kaufman-rpur.squarespace.com/ Daniel A. Kaufman

    That will never happen. These are our fundamentalists.

    I should add that these are ultra-Orthodox Jews. I know many modern Orthodox Jews who would never even dream of making such a request. This is the fringe of the fringe of the fringe.

  • http://daniel-kaufman-rpur.squarespace.com/ Daniel A. Kaufman

    It’s bad enough that the haredi have turned Israeli internal politics into a nightmare. The last thing we need is for them to start trying to exercise their pernicious influence in the US, and especially in public accomodations like airlines.

  • http://daniel-kaufman-rpur.squarespace.com/ Daniel A. Kaufman

    Why should I move to accomodate someone’s atavistic attitudes and preferences?

  • http://daniel-kaufman-rpur.squarespace.com/ Daniel A. Kaufman

    Yes, it is sad. We are having difficulty getting along, because sectarians seem to not understand the basic logic of liberal democracy, pluralism, and public spaces.

  • DaveMontrose

    We do know. It’s in the article. And the New York Times article has several examples (with one exception) of the woman being asked to move. I understand that there is a need to accommodate people’s faiths, but when your proximity to me makes you uncomfortable (and I am not doing anything to make you uncomfortable other than being me), then it seems that you should be the one moving, not me.

  • http://daniel-kaufman-rpur.squarespace.com/ Daniel A. Kaufman

    I’ve never interacted with an orthodox Jew whom I didn’t adore.

    ———————

    Go to the Mea Shearim and hang out with the Neturei Karta. It’ll do wonders to broaden your perspective.

  • http://daniel-kaufman-rpur.squarespace.com/ Daniel A. Kaufman

    Rubbish. The request is unreasonable, in a public accomodation. Moving so that a child can sit with his/her parents is not.

    You know, rational people *can* make rational distinctions.

  • DKeane123

    “No, they are trying to get everyone around them to follow their rules.” – This a big distinction.

  • DKeane123

    There are spots in the US where the ultra-orthodox have turned politics into a nightmare. Obv., we could get plenty of Christian examples too.

    http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/534/a-not-so-simple-majority

  • pennyroyal

    hence the term absolutism which comes from black-and-white thinking. Man = good. Woman = bad. This is not Judaism. It comes from Manichaeism, a much older and simplistic worldview /belief system.

  • Isaac_Laquedem

    Wouldn’t it make more sense for the man who doesn’t want to sit next to a woman to look for a passenger with whom he can trade seats, rather than to insist that the woman move?

  • Jim Reed

    It might be more complicated. If he causes someone else to sit there, isn’t he responsible for doing something bad even if that other person is unaware of the problem? Maybe the only non-sinful thing he can do is just stand there until the forces of the universe bring some change to the conditions, then whatever happens is not his fault. Maybe. It still seems really complicated. It must have taken centuries to come up with all this stuff and figure out all the best responses.

  • Laura Heywood

    Dave, Cathi is correct. You don’t know that the man requesting that I move (as described in the NYT article) wasn’t just given a different seat, because the journalist kept that wording murky; most of the NYT commenters likewise assumed he was forced to sit next me to and my vajajay. In fact, everyone was very polite, and the airline staff found him his own seat elsewhere, and I was allowed to have the seat next to mine empty, so I got 6 hours’ sleep on the way to London. My poor husband, who has gripping anxiety and HAD to sit in an aisle seat, did not. Alas, he made for a good pillow.

  • Laura Heywood

    Jamie, did you read the original NYT article? There are 2 reasons I refused to change my seat with the person who asked me to move (and it was an elder of the person who refused to sit next to me who asked me to move, and NOT the person assigned to sit next to me). 1) My husband has anxiety such that not being in an aisle seat would have caused him great discomfort, and him being the person who matters most to me in the world, I wasn’t going to let that happen. 2) This young Hasidic man was refusing to sit next to me because of my sex. Even if my husband didn’t have anxiety, I would not have moved for such an offensive reason. Now, if this young man asked me to move so he could sit next to his wife and kids, I would have moved because that’s about seat assignment and not sex at all. The sexist proof is in the pudding in this case; my husband and I were asked to switch seats so the young man could sit in his assigned seat, next to my husband. (And don’t get me started on anyone assuming that because I appear female [gender], that I also have the unclean female parts to go with that [sex]. I assume that were I to have had that convo with the person asking me to move, his head would have exploded.)
    Lastly, Jamie, you might find it interesting that my own father was the only person in my life who took issue with the situation because he thought I didn’t come across as sympathetic. But this is a guy who didn’t like me to use the f-word because it would be “unladylike.”

  • NancyP

    If one can hang a string along the powerline posts to make a “wheels OK” Sabbath neighborhood for toddlers in strollers and disabled people in wheelchairs (eruv), surely some haredi rebbe can come up with a disposable paper coat that could be worn when in crowded places among non-haredi people. I say, “people”, because there are ritually “unclean” conditions other than menstruation and female gender. Men who have had a testicle removed for cancer or trauma, possibly men who have had prostate removed, gay men (either viewed as eunuch or as sinner) come to mind as ritually “unclean”.
    I tend not to be very sympathetic to people who imply that I am “unclean” and then want to boss me around. Polite requests go further, and can be accommodated some of the time. I mind my own business and don’t crowd past my seat, and so can you. Fold your elbows in, keep custody of your eyes, and ask to be notified if a stewardess is passing a beverage or someone on the window side wants to move into the aisle.

  • Jamie Bean Whiteley

    I feel like y’all are missing my bus…maybe I’m not explaining clearly. The. Seat. Is. Not. The. Issue. I feel that this article, not the NY times article which I did not read and am not commenting on is making a point about how we accommodate one another. Of course it makes a difference that your partner has anxiety, of course if you perceived sexism you have a right to be mad. However, I feel as a culture we are tremendously quick to defend our own perceptions of our rights rather than make the effort first to understand the other person. If someone is being an asshat, by all means defend your territory. However, I feel like a lot of folks are jumping on this sexism bandwagon without understanding that if you don’t like and think the color orange is wrong to touch…then orange is not good for you, regardless of how stupid or wrong that may seem to the rest of us. Do I think the prohibition against touching women is silly? of course! I’ve got opinions about all kinds of things. Don’t get me started on how I feel about consumerism. however, that’s how I feel. I can’t stop the world from buying bling. And im not goING to be the dick who razzes everyone wearing the bling. All I’m trying to get people to think about is that their value judgements are not shared by everyone…we should be mindful of that. It’s what makes things interesting. And of course your dad is right. Saying fuck isn’t ladylike. Doesn’t mean ladies don’t say it. 🙂

  • Jim Reed

    Have you flown recently? Airlines are now putting in seats that are a couple inches narrower. This makes the unclean touching problem much worse than it was 2 or 3 years ago.

  • Jim Reed

    Laura, you are raising more questions.

    if this young man asked me to move so he could sit next to his wife and kids,

    Wouldn’t he have to refuse to sit next to his wife also? And what about the kids? Would he allow his kids to sit next to his wife? What if he was checking his wife’s schedule? Would there be a period of days when he could sit next to her?

    Another question, that might be unrelated. Was he going through all this because his elder was there watching him, and he didn’t want to mess up?

    I know this whole topic might come under the category of too much information, but what would RD be without too much information?

  • Karie Ryan Ordway

    As usual, the extremely religious cannot bear the weight of their chosen religion. It falls to them to secure accomodations and transportation that allow them to practice their very ponderous and cumbersome belief system. Making other people adjust to satisfy their obligations is like writing a check and expecting the money to come out of someone else’s account.

  • Tannim

    This author overanalyzes the issue and misses two fundamental points.

    First, it harms no one for the woman to be sitting in that seat. The Orthodox Jew may be offended by her presence, but she has paid for that seat and as such she can be there, and NOBODY has the right to not be offended or uncomfortable–a fundamental fact the PC left crowd habitually ignores.

    Second, and even simpler, is applying The Jefferson Principle: if it neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg, then no problem. Applying aggressive force to make the woman move because the Orthodox Jew has his sensitivities offended is simply wrong. In contrast, the examples of the mother with kids or the veteran or the senior citizen are not forced, nor are they done to satisfy selfish sensitivities, but are done both BY CHOICE and by compassion and consideration if others over self.

    In short, the Jew was being a selfish snot, and that type of attitude deserves no accommodation, and whether he was Jew or any other religion doesn’t excuse his snottery.

  • Tannim

    Orthodox =/= binary thinking.

    Orthodox == obsolete infantile fundamentalism.

  • DogbiteWilliams

    Damn right. HE should move to ameliorate his intolerance of a female’s body.

  • tatoo

    But a man can’t order another man to move. He can only order a woman around. That is their view.

  • Moi

    If this is such an issue… perhaps the gentleman in question should find another way to travel, or not travel. After all, when these customs took shape, there was no such thing as air travel. Why is air travel therefore an acceptable conveyance? Horse and carriage would work, albeit slower and with more work, and if he was travelling by horse and carriage there’d not likely be a problem due to female proximity.

  • skeptical_inquirer

    No. Imagine if it was someone who hated people of color and whined “Why can’t you go away and let a white person sit next to me instead?” I’d doubt you’d openly support that.

  • http://www.theuniversalrag.com/ Alan Bao

    What an utterly idiotic article. Respecting diversity is not the same thing as kowtowing to religious exceptionalism. What if a hardline Islamist refuses to sit next to a Jew? What if a fundamentalist Mormon refuses to sit next to a black man because the Mormon holy book (seriously) preaches that blacks are cursed with the Mark of Cain?

    This is not a matter of cultural diversity. This is a matter of fundamentalists attempting to force non-believers to comply with their irrational and unreasonable beliefs.

  • Jim ‘Prup’ Benton

    This one is fascinating. I was very grateful to the commenter who pointed out that this was not a position of “Orthodox Jewry” but rather of Hasidic “Ultra-Orthodoxy” and, in fact, seems mostly to be coming from a substantial, but hardly majority, group even in the Hasidic community — the Satmars. (I should state that I am not, myself, Jewish — as those people who have seen earlier comments know — but I live in Midwood, Brooklyn, where such distinctions are more important because of the preponderance of the Hasidim of various groups.
    But the sadly many commenters who saw merit in the position of the seat refusers should consider a few things and maybe they will change their opinion somewhat.
    No one, afaik, has been complaining about a Hasidic man merely asking another person to change seats because of his religious problem. “Asking’ implies the possibility of a yes or a no. The people who are causing the problem seem not merely to be asking but demanding — and refusing to take a seat, thus delaying the aircraft, unless their demands are met. And that makes a difference.
    And let me ask everyone if they would be as ‘tolerant’ of a Christian Identity believer who asked a black person — or a Jewish one — to move, or a Fundamentalist Christian who asked a married gay couple to move so he wouldn’t have to sit next to them and hear them celebrating their recent ceremony.
    To paraphrase my favorite TV Judge — not Judy — I’ll say that I have no problem with the idea that a person has to make certain choices based on his religious beliefs , I encourage him to live his beliefs — but decisions sometimes come with costs. And those costs should and must fall on the believer, not on those around him.

  • http://www.theuniversalrag.com/ Alan Bao

    This isn’t a matter of women imposing their value judgements on the religious. Quite the opposite – the religious have made a value judgement about women, then boarded a public flight, and then began imposing their values upon everyone else in a demanding and unreasonable way.

    The onus is not on women to accommodate the uber-religious – it’s up to the uber-religious to put down their aggressive, infantile sense of entitlement.

  • Jamie Bean Whiteley

    Please read the whole thread. That was covered.

  • uhhhh no

    Horrible analogy. Why do people use this as their go-to? A parent wanting to sit next to their young children is a perfectly reasonable request. A man not wanting to sit next to a woman due to sexism is not, regardless if that sexism is mandated by his religion.

  • nah

    But in the end, what it boils down to is that their religion is sexist. And I don’t pander to sexist attitudes, even if they believe it’s mandated by God. So if my presence next to him is intolerable, he can either find another seat himself, or he can get off the plane. Not all religious practices deserve respect.

  • Asherah Sarasvati Athena

    I find it increasingly disturbing to read articles like this which clearly shows very little actual thought has gone into the writing. Are we to disregard all of the discrimination and hatred perpetrated by individuals clearly because it is “authorized” by a religion (cherry-picked by a select group of individuals). Had the KKK justified their disgust of blacks because of a religion, would it have made it okay? Then why is it okay for us to justify the disgust of women (deemed dirty) for the Ultra Orthodox Jews? Why is it okay to justify the disgust/discrimination of LGBT by the Christian Fundamentalists? When a belief (religious or otherwise) takes away the rights of other individuals it is imperative that we as a society stand up for those basic human rights. A persons religious rights do not trump another person’s human rights.

  • skeptical_inquirer

    I think it needs to be re-emphasized since demanding someone move because of their gender isn’t any better than demanding someone move because of their race. Seriously, women should not be forced to accommodate people who do not respect them as human beings. What next? Being OK with being screamed at for not being modestly dressed?

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/28/world/middleeast/israeli-girl-at-center-of-tension-over-religious-extremism.html

    “She is Naama Margolese, 8, the daughter of American immigrants who are observant modern Orthodox Jews. An Israeli weekend television program told the story of how Naama had become terrified of walking to her elementary school here after ultra-Orthodox men spit on her, insulted her and called her a prostitute because her modest dress did not adhere exactly to their more rigorous dress code.”

    The last thing we need to do is pamper and support THAT kind of mindset.

  • Jeff

    If I were a woman and had the misfortune to sit next to one of these pricks, I would make sure to bump into him several times and apologize for being so clumsy because I get that way when I’m on my period!
    As it is I’m male and atheist, so I would be sure to engage him in a religious debate, speaking the name of ‘god’ in full as often as possible and also pretending to be gay.
    I give religion all the respect it deserves, which is NONE. I don’t go around starting arguments or behaving obnoxiously at religious sites, but anyone who tries to start an argument or make demands the way these pompous a-holes do will have it thrown back in their faces with full force, as they richly deserve.

  • skeptical_inquirer

    If every single religious group claimed privilege, no airplane would ever make it off the tarmak on time.

  • LinCA

    You wrote,

    Often the woman is offended; sometimes she refuses to move. This has made for many challenging situations and some flight delays.

    You make it sound as if the women in question were somehow responsible for these delays. They weren’t. Not in any way. The responsibility for the “challenging situations” lies exclusively with the men making the demands for accommodation.

    It is outrageous that there is even a discussion about this. These men should have been ejected from the planes at the first signs of trouble.

    These men are free to cling to their irrational beliefs, but if their beliefs prevent them from functioning in a civil society, it is their responsibility, and theirs alone, to withdraw from that society. Society is under no circumstances obligated to accommodate them. If any accommodation is made, it should be by encouraging these men to seek counseling to help them deal with their irrational Iron Age beliefs and norms (an advanced society would provide this counseling as part of universal health care).

  • LesterBallard

    Eboo Patel, you are so full of shit you could fertilize Iowa.

  • LesterBallard

    Women aren’t fucking unclean.

  • LesterBallard

    I use public transportation on a regular basis. There are plenty of people I’d like to ban, at least when I’m on there. People sitting behind me screaming into their phones, which means they’re screaming into my ear, especially when I’m coming home from dialysis and feel like shit. People who don’t bathe. And I’m not talking about a homeless person or someone who may have some kind of mental problem, I mean people who are just too lazy and inconsiderate to bathe. But I have to deal with it, so you religious assholes can sit beside the woman, or you can flap your arms. Suit yourselves.

  • uhhuhh

    Why is it different from giving up your seat for a senior citizen? Are you seriously that dense?

    The reason the senior citizen needs the accommodation is because he or she has a hard time physically getting up or down.

    The reason the haredi man is demanding that women move is because he regards them as filthy inferiors.

    Get a clue!

  • Ruby_Red

    This felt like such a crazy straw man – why is being asked to changes seats for someone’s religious beliefs not like changing seats to help a mother sit near her children? If I offers a different straw man, perhaps it will be clearer why the author is so confused. What if a white person asks to not sit next to a person of color, from China, from France, or whatever? Wouldn’t that be offensive?

    Helping a parent and child sit together has some possible social good- the parent may ensure that the child remains reasonably well behaved, distracted, etc. BTW, the author says he’s never seen someone not change seats for a parent and child. I have, and I have personally done so. (Granted, it was a 14 year old, with a parent who pointed at my window seat and said to me “My daughter would like to sit there”, to which I responded, “I’m sorry, this is my seat”. Talk about entitled!)

    I acknowledge that we do have more positive views of some identities than others. But to follow the logic offered by the author, we should also allow KKK members to decide whether they want to sit next to blacks or Catholics, Neo-Nazis to decide if their seat mates are Aryan enough, and so on, endlessly. I find body odor unpleasant, so I should be allowed to determine if my seat mate offends my senses.

    Where does this end in public settings?

  • uhhuhh

    It’s the difference between…

    “I have mobility problems, would you mind trading seats?”

    and

    “I think you’re a disgusting, filthy creature because of who you are, so move to another seat!”

  • Ruby_Red

    Why should I move? If I booked a seat that I wanted (window, aisle), why shouldn’t I get the seat I selected? He’s welcome to try to negotiate a swap, but he knew he was getting on an airplane, which was likely to have women on it, and that he could not guarantee that he would not be seated next to a woman. So it’s up to him to make that work.

  • uhhuhh

    To how many different pharmacists across how many different counties should a gay man “graciously” visit trying to find somebody willing to fill his prescription for an emergency, morning-after HIV-prevention medication? Perhaps he should stop being so selfish and just sero-convert to HIV+ rather than be so rude as to ask a religious bigot to do his job.

    Spare us the intelligence-insulting characterization of this kind of thing as mere “differing opinions.” It’s a world where some people exist and other people harbor bigotry against them. Try being more honest about that.

  • uhhuhh

    And gay men should be kind to bigots and get out of a cab when the religious fanatic cab driver realizes they’re a couple, stops in the middle of nowhere, and orders them out, right?

    When, pray tell, is the religious bigot to be asked to be kind to people who are different?

  • uhhuhh

    LMAO!!!!! “I didn’t even read the article and don’t even understand the issue, but I’m going to shoot off my mouth anyway.”

  • uhhuhh

    I suggest he go to the men’s room after the flight and wash his arm if it’s been contaminated by menstrual cooties.

  • uhhuhh

    Give the bigots a bar of soap.

  • uhhuhh

    It’s only more complicated if one accepts the ridiculous “facilitation of another’s sin” concept. That’s a cute gimmick, whereby a religious “objector” gets to punish other people, especially gays, for refusing to live their lives according to the bigot’s own “religion.”

  • uhhuhh

    It’s not about the color orange. It IS sexism. That’s the whole point!

    I couldn’t care less about accommodating things that are silly. If somebody thinks god wants them to jump around on one foot and never use both legs, fine. Go for it, fool. But when you claim that your religion entitles you to subordinate woman, no way.

  • Searcher

    What if they don’t want to sit by an lgbtq person? Accomodate them? No, they don’t have to fly.

  • skeptical_inquirer

    Dear Mr. Patel, I doubt you’d be so kind to the person who said, “Eww, I don’t want to sit next to a Patel!” and told you to sit somewhere else. You’ve also shown that this interfaith thing joined forces in telling women to shut up and take it.

  • skeptical_inquirer

    You keep saying like it’s nothing because you’re not the one being asked to move. It’s a death of a thousand cuts and you’re blind to it because you’re never going to be the subject of the thousand cuts and have shown a damned refusal to even try to get it. You’re all “put a bandaid on it” and women have the right to say “another god damn one?”

  • skeptical_inquirer

    I don’t care if someone asks for a kosher meal on an airplane but nobody has the right to demand I restrict myself to one because the smell of the non-kosher dinner’ll travel to his nose if I sit next to him.

  • Jamie Bean Whiteley

    I am a woman.

  • skeptical_inquirer

    Then it’s even more of a shame that you’re onboard women again being told to spare men’s feelings who obviously would never ever reciprocate.

  • Jamie Bean Whiteley

    This has gotten so off topic, I’m kinda losing steam on it. I have a feeling that a lot of folks reactions here are a byproduct of their own experiences and I want to honor that. As for me, I’ve been treated well by most folks. I’ve had guys and girls, blacks, whites, folks of all kinds show kindness and act like asshats. I choose to love large and hate on an individual basis. I don’t see offense and every turn, hence I’m rarely offended (although, I have been informed lately that im too forgiving…whatever that means.) I personally would have switched seats. Regardless if gender, religion or race. It wouldn’t have been worth their discomfort. That’s me, my value judgement. I hope that as a human race, we can find it in our hearts to be gentle with ourselves and with others, even when we disagree or don’t understand. Only then will we be able to move forward. Everything else is just locking horns and is rather unproductive.

  • skeptical_inquirer

    These guys don’t just shrug when you say no. These guys throw tantrums and keep the damn plane from flying.

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/ultraorthodox-jews-cause-11hour-long-nightmare-on-board-flight-to-israel-9756899.html 11 hours!

    http://www.timesofisrael.com/flight-delayed-as-haredi-men-refuse-to-sit-next-to-woman/ Half-hour.

    What they’re pulling is rude, insulting and egotistical. I’d like to see if you are as chipper as you are now if hours went by and you’re still on the ground just because some guys can’t get over themselves.

  • Jim Reed

    We had this all figured out about 3 days ago. We are just waiting for new articles to come out this week.

  • Geoff, God of Biscuits

    Tl;dr. Not moving seats for Jews or anyone else.

  • Geoff, God of Biscuits

    Pretty much, yeah. Not my religion, so why should I care?

  • Geoff, God of Biscuits

    The man can move, then.

  • Geoff, God of Biscuits

    No. Dont believe in their eligion, so why should I ‘respect’ it?

  • Geoff, God of Biscuits

    Be gebtle with others? Sure: the Orthodox can go first. Let them be tolerant.

  • CitizenWhy

    This article skirts the issue that in the United States we have certain norms of equality, arranged ina hierarchy, yes. A group that claims male privilege ranks below our universal position taht men and women are equal, that is, entitled to equality, not that society is yet good enough in its equality.

    There are other possible solutions:

    1. Why can’t the airline ask a man sitting next to a man to move into the seat of the Orthodox man assigned a seat next to a woman and the Orthodox man given that seat? Why must the woman be asked to move? the expectation that onlya woman would be asked to move is odious.

    2. Why can’t the airline include in its seat preference booking, do you want to sit next to women or men only? I’m sure some women would choose women only. This policy could be announced as fair to religions that place one sex/gender above another, gays, feminists, etc.

  • Geoff, God of Biscuits

    Religious people dont need tolerance; they have *power*. You dont get to be powerful AND ‘oppressed’ at the same time. Thats why there is no contradiction in progressives not hugging the religious, Booboo Patel.

  • skeptical_inquirer

    In a very perverse way, these men are asking for the kind of indulgence a spoiled child gets from an over indulgent mother. “No, I don’t wanna sit next to you, I wan you sit over der!” Women should not have to put up with infantile gestures then be blamed when there’s a plane delay.

  • OooShiny

    Children and the elderly are accommodated for physical need. Haredi men demand accommodation because of BELIEF; a belief that women, who comprise over half the human population, must all be shunned and segregated by self-anointed “holy men” in order to remain worthy of God’s blessings.

    Rosa Parks was sick of being forced to give up her seat to white men on public buses, so she finally and rightfully refused and America was made a better place because of her courage. In Israel, Haredi-owned buses demand that all women sit at the back because “modesty.” Though such policy is vile and degrading, it is not a bus operated by the state so not much can or even should be done.

    What if a Muslim man sitting next to me demands that I don a naqib during the flight for “modesty” so he’s not offended by my existence? What if a fundamentalist Baptist preacher says my slacks are an abomination unto the Lord; should I move or change clothes to accommodate his belief as well?

    I will NOT give up my paid seat to any man because he believes I am a poisonous Jezebel whose mere proximity can endanger his holiness.

  • OooShiny

    As a male, you would never be asked by another man to move to accommodate his religious belief.

  • http://daniel-kaufman-rpur.squarespace.com/ Daniel A. Kaufman

    My wife went to Midwood High School!!!! Graduated 1978.

  • NancyP

    Yes, seats are getting small even for me, 5’5″, 115#. Like I said – even the ultra-Orthodox should be capable of adaptation. First and foremost, remember to be polite. Get a workaround from the rebbe (the disposable paper coat), book a row of seats with fellow male Haredim, lose weight, fly first class, take the train.

  • DKeane123

    I have reddish hair. You couldn’t understand with your brown haired privilege. /s

  • http://kestrelsparhawk.livejournal.com/ kestrel sparhawk

    I like Mr. Patel’s attempt to describe and discuss how some “identities” (his term) are given higher priority by progressives than others. I think it’s well worth discussion.

    But I also think he’s wrong in several important ways. the first, and most egregious, is the use of the term “cultural progressivism” to describe the people he is writing against. He doesn’t define the term, but the implication is “people who do these bad things I describe below” is his definition; which is certainly circular, especially since he at least once blames “cultural progressivism” as a noun. “Progressive” can be a fairly precise term, but when used with that precision, class is an important consideration — one of the fundamental divisions Mr. Patel never remarks on and appears not to notice. (After all, most of the people flying at all have economic privilege, and the relative material privilege of the woman asked to move and the ultra-Orthodox (charedi?) is surely also worth exploring). The people he describes I would call “liberals,” not “cultural progressives.” And had I as much space as he, I could make a good case for why.

    Second, he mis-defines, or misunderstands historically, what “the personal is political” was developed to mean. It grew from a realization among radical feminists of the 70s (I use the term specifically; it was the term they used for themselves) that activities and issues traditionally relegated to private spaces, such as the home, in fact were as political as the “public” spaces and should be explored as such. This led to the understanding that domestic violence and rape, for example, were political issues. “Political” meant “of concern to the community, the law, and the state in general.”

    The ultimate result of this misdefinition (perhaps now the received view) is that he suggests or implies that a woman who is requested to move because she is a woman, and refuses, is acting politically. In practice, a woman who is asked to move because she is a woman may find it political, but mostly probably doesn’t find it an especially good reason, while helping a disabled person get an accessible seat or a parent to keep an eye on a child would seem reasonable. There’s been quite a bit of work in the communication field on acceding to and refusing requests, and it would have been worth checking that out to see if there are other explanations that might be working better. It would, for example, be interesting if men have been asked to move because a Moslem woman needed to sit in a male-free area, if the men were “cultural progressives” by whatever definition he’s going by, and what they said. Not to mention checking if the women refusing to move were “cultural progressives”.

    Ultimately, I would argue that progressives, cultural or otherwise, are very aware of the tension between marginalized groups and the fact that the interests are sometimes competing and sometimes shared — especially since one is usually has attributes of more than one marginalized group, and more than one privileged group — for example, since you grew up in the western suburbs, you probably have some economic privilege, and as a male, you definitely do. Those of us who went to grad school in my field (cultural studies) at least generally understand that in postmodern society identities are both ascribed and taken on — but that there are no such things as “having” an “identity.”

    I’m a materialist feminist personally, so I recognize that each of us privilege some aspects of ourselves which are meaningful to us. But to ascribe reasons to a group and then tell its members to change is… well, let’s say, unfair. I would think it stupid to say I’d vote for Hilary Clinton because she’s a woman. I thought it was stupid when women did that in the 70s — voting for a really bad governor for that reason. But the women who said so were, without exception, not progressives and at best liberal feminists. Anyone who spent time thinking about things enough to call themselves progressive feminists of any stripe (radical-, socialist-, anarcha-, or lesbian-) knew better. I think, if Mr. Patel actually engages with the people he’s labeled, he will need to either rethink the label or rethink his generalizations about the people who fit it.

    By the way, personally, I think asking women to move and not the man is quite possibly sexist. I wasn’t there, so I don’t know. But fundamentally, the airlines’ greed for profit and refusal to not allow for variations in humans, be they religious requirements, ability, or size, are the ones I hold responsible. Ultimately, I agree with you that consideration of other people, including their religious requirements, should exist and be part of our everyday lives. (A progressive view that I see many who posted comments disagree with.)

  • Jim Reed

    You might be wrong when you say “And had I as much space as he, I could make a good case for why” based on the fact that you took a lot of space here, and didn’t say anything.

  • http://kestrelsparhawk.livejournal.com/ kestrel sparhawk

    I did end up writing a lot, but that wasn’t my intention. As to not saying anything, we have different standards of argument. Clearly.

  • David Cass

    I can’t believe the friggin’ gall of it. “Fine. Buy my seat from me; then you can ask me to vacate it, provided the airline will let me sit in the seat being vacated by your religious fanatic. Otherwise, no deal.” This smacks of vicious sexism, at the minimum; gigantic self-centeredness as well. Here I am, a “none”, and I have to put up with this simple-minded bullshit? My advice: get a fucking life!!

  • Richard White

    Coincidentally, just before reading this I was reading an article In Salon on-line where Josh Dugger, reality TV star of “19 Kids and Counting,” and a “Christian” (as a Christian myself I use that term loosely to include him) insists that if he is not allowed to openly discriminate against gays, he is being forbidden to practice his religion. Anyone besides myself notice a similarity?

    Practicing Duggar’s version of “Christianity” REQUIRES he act in a discriminatory way toward gays

    Practicing this ultra-orthodox version of Judism REQUIRES the man to act in a discriminatory way toward women (and possible all gentiles, for all I know).
    Practicing a religion that REQUIRES you to treat others as lesser beings than yourself? A questionable practice, at a minimum.

  • Choni Teitelbaum

    It’s really nice of you to speak up for the Orthodox Jew but I was waiting to hear you explain the gross missunderstanding that people have, of the reason for them not wanting to sit next to a woman.

    As an Orthodox Jew (who sits in the seat that was assigned to him) it’s frustrating to see articles and so many comments that use assumptions and myths to project their idea of reasons for this peculiar request.

    Although I believe it’s not necessary for me to change seats I can explain why some do.

    Orthodox Jewish women refrain from physical contact with the opposite gender, other than their immediate family, and so do Orthodox men. This has nothing to do with status (women don’t necessarily feel that men are a lower class and therefore should not be next to them) it has to do with boundaries, and grey areas, of sexual contact. Both men and women feel that touch is the line between sexual neutrality and being in each others intimate space, and Orthodox Jews feel uncomfortable being in the personal, intimate space of someone that is not their immediate family member.

    If deliberate touch between lovers is closeness, sexual and intimate and deliberate uninvited touch between strangers can be uncomfortable, abusive and even illegal then unintentional touch can uncomfortable and awkward.

    Agree or disagree, understand or not, just please don’t make stuff up.

  • Choni Teitelbaum

    Wow!! You really think orthodox Jews think their mother is “bad”?

  • Choni Teitelbaum

    Because he wants to be “one” with only “The one” that God created him to be “one” with but not with any one else. #devilsadvocate

  • Choni Teitelbaum

    The missinformation and ignorance displayed in this comment is something I addressed in my comment above. Really sorry to be harsh but this “unclean” BS that you try to associate with this airplane seating episode is just plain inflammatory, missinformed bulls**t.

    (No disrespect meant to you personally)

  • Jim Reed

    Sorry if we got it wrong. Nobody ever explained it that way before. I don’t think we intentionally made stuff up.

  • Megaritz

    I’m a bit disappointed with the lack of nuance in Patel’s piece here. Eboo Patel wrote a great book on interfaith dialogue (“Sacred Ground”) and I’ve generally appreciated the high role he sees for atheists and critical thinking within interfaith dialogue. I’m still working on my exact thoughts, but here’s how I see the issue right now:

    I agree with Eboo Patel that a consistent cultural progressivism needs to take account of religious diversity. Just as race, gender, and sexual orientation need to be subjects of education and reasonable accommodation, so too with religion. Making minor adjustments to accommodate the needs of the various groups in our diverse society is often worthwhile, and I think religion is one thing that is worth accommodating in many cases. This does not require taking any particular stance on the epistemic justification of the religious beliefs in question.

    However, there is a difference between reasonable accommodation and unreasonable accommodation–when it comes to religion or anything else. This can get extremely complicated, and many cases are very debatable and ambiguous. I’d say, however, that to figure out which requests for accommodation are reasonable, we need to ask what sort of principle the accommodation is based on.

    Part of the point of interfaith dialogue should be to get us talking about reasonable vs. unreasonable accommodations for religion. And doing this in civil, well-informed ways. It shouldn’t be about suppressing criticism or declaring all criticism to be bigotry, but rather discerning the difference between rational/informed criticism vs. irrational/uninformed criticism (including cases where irrational/uninformed criticism is bigoted).

    For example, I’m all for allowing an Orthodox Jew to wear a long beard, even if it bothers some people. I’m all for insisting that people shouldn’t make fun of his beard or harass him for it. If a non-Jew has a problem with a Jew’s beard, that is the problem of the non-Jew in question, and the Jew has no obligation to change anything. Issues of personal safety from harassment, and freedom to dress or groom as one pleases, are generally pretty clear-cut–and this principle is easy to follow consistently.

    But if an Orthodox Jew asks a woman to move, this is not as clear-cut (in general, I mean–I make no judgments about any given incident, as I don’t know the details). It cannot be judged from the outset who is right and who is wrong, and again I agree that the religious factor matters in the analysis. One question I would ask is what is the ideology or principle that drives the Jew to ask the woman to move.

    I will readily admit I don’t know much about this topic, and I strongly discourage the unwarranted degree of confidence (and sometimes xenophobia of various kinds) that people who condemn particular religious principles often demonstrate themselves to have.

    If a religious conservative man wants to avoid sitting next to a woman because it makes the man risk being sexually uncomfortable (which is not, btw, the same thing as thinking women are inferior), it seems that a request for the woman to move is arguably a request to follow a principle that goes like this: “If a man is uncomfortable with the possibility of being attracted to a woman, it is the woman’s responsibility to accommodate him.”

    Sadly, this sort of principle has been used to perpetrate injustice, from policing women’s clothing choices (in both mild and severe ways) to defending or minimizing acts of rape. This principle, at least if it’s not very seriously critiqued and carefully qualified, is NOT something a rational society can support. Yet it is arguable that asking a woman to move to accommodate a religious conservative man will, in some cases, accept this kind of principle.

    Although I agree with Patel that we need to discuss religion alongside the other aspects of identity, I do not think he makes a clear distinction in his article between reasonable and unreasonable accommodations for religion, and how debatable the line often is. Accommodations that we wouldn’t give somebody for nonreligious reasons should not necessarily gain additional respectability when they are requested on religious grounds. Perhaps they *sometime* should, but not always. Least of all when they are based on a principle that is prejudiced or innately marginalizing.

    I’ll note also that if a religious conservative man has a different reason for wanting to avoid sitting next to a woman, then the right resolution may be different, and a different discussion (of a different principle) would need to be had. (Of course, there are also concerns such as “what if there are a *lot* of Orthodox Jews on the plane and it’s very difficult and inconvenient to accommodate them all?” as others have pointed out.) And there are certainly many other scenarios where it is less clear.

    And if a religious conservative man *himself* moves in order to avoid sitting next to a woman (regardless of his reason), and does not inconvenience others in doing so, then I do not think this is as likely to be objectionable in itself (regardless of whether I agree with whatever his reasons are) since it does not directly burden others.

  • Michael C

    Too many words.

    I don’t want to sit next to you (because religion) so you should move = rude

    I don’t want to sit next to you (because religion) so I will move = accommodating.

    fixed it.

  • Lori Norvitch

    You make the author’s point perfectly with your intolerant statements. Love and respect for those you disagree with goes a long way. Apparently you have neither.

  • http://daniel-kaufman-rpur.squarespace.com/ Daniel A. Kaufman

    Nice attempt at turnabout, but no one’s buying.

    The men who refuse to sit next to a woman are the intolerant ones. It is not intolerant to point that out.

    Apparently, you have haven’t learned debate 101.

  • Lori Norvitch

    Intolerance is not the Jewish man’s intent, it is to practice his faith and that should be respected. There is no animus involved. As the article states, people are more than willing to give up their seat for a mother so she can sit with her kids, why not extend that same courtesy to a man of faith? People choose to take offense without considering the myriad of reasons a person may have for their special request. Again, if a person has love and respect in their heart, they will not jump to the conclusion that the acts of others are solely and exclusively done to offend them. Kindness, love and respect are called for in cases like this, not presumptions of animus and intolerance.

  • Craptacular

    “Kindness, love and respect are called for in cases like this, not presumptions of animus and intolerance.” – Sb0Tz4ZxB0

    Like the intolerance of not wanting to sit next to a woman for fear of becoming “unclean?” So much so that you ask the woman to move? Remind me which person is being intolerant again…

    You seem to be under the delusion that if someone’s reasoning behind their actions is religious, that makes it ok for them to discriminate. All that really means is that they have chosen to adhere to a religion that supports/requires gender-discrimination.

  • Mike M

    I can’t believe this guy is seriously trying to compare Jewish men asking women to move their seats to seniors and women with children asking for similar accommodations on an airplane. Also, he tries to draws parallels between Orthodox Jews’ airplane seating demands and LGBTQ/black safe spaces.

    For a Executive Director of Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC), he’s gone off the rails. Big time. If your religion demands that women their seats move for no purpose other than to fulfill your religious biases, your religion is the problem and doesn’t deserve “respect”. Patel should be ashamed of himself for writing such an atrocious article.

  • Sb0Tz4ZxB0

    People should not take offense if someone asks something of them, they should not assume the person asking is in some way seeking to demean or insult them. Regardless of how you feel about the Jewish man’s faith, it is important to him that he follow the tenets of his faith. If you want others to respect the things you hold dear, you should respect the things that they hold dear. In this case you see only discrimination, I see a man who loves the Lord and his faith and is only trying to live out his faith to the best of his ability. Put your hurt feelings, prejudices and preconceived notions aside and try–just try–to think of someone other than yourself for just one minute.

  • Sb0Tz4ZxB0

    I do apologize for responding so peevishly to your comment, Craptacular, it’s very late, I’m very tired and I shouldn’t have attempted to respond until the morning. Though I didn’t articulate it very well, I did mean what I said regarding thinking of and putting the needs of others ahead of our own. Yes, we have the right to refuse to comply with the wishes of others but if acquiescing does no harm to anyone, why not acquiesce, it will make them happy and you’ll have the satisfaction–even joy–of knowing you did a kind and wonderful thing for a fellow human being. Peace be with you, Craptacular.

  • Olterigo

    I’ve lived in Brooklyn and ridden enough NYC trains to know that this wish not to sit next to a member of the opposite sex goes both ways in the Orthodox Jewish communities. It’s just that Orthodox women are less likely to do anything about their discomfort from a man sitting next to them. In that, the Orthodox Jewish community parallels the general population – women are less likely to act on their discomfort, to pursue their interests, etc.

  • Olterigo

    I disagree with the author that the religious people deserve some sort of accommodation (be the person Christian, Muslim – how about the UK scandal with Labor pols meeting with community w/ separate seating?, Bahai, Jewish, whatever).

    The problem, for me, a non-Orthodox person who has lived many years in close proximity and directly interacted with the Orthodox Jewish community, is that this retelling of the event repeats the same mistake as the prior ones. The issue is not ritual (un)cleanness. The issue is touching the opposite sex. And for the Orthodox Jewish women, the problem is the same. The only difference between the sexes is the one that is parallel to the general population – women are less likely to act on their thoughts/likes/dislikes/discomfort/dreams, etc. They are much more likely to go with the flow, to find a workaround, to keep to avoid any problems.

  • Croquet_Player

    Any gentleman who does not wish to sit next to me for the sole reason that I am a woman is welcome to sit elsewhere. His motivations, religious or otherwise, are of no concern or interest to me. I’m not moving.

  • Croquet_Player

    If people want to believe in an invisible pink unicorn God, they’re perfectly welcome to do so, but I’m not about to switch seats on a plane in order to accommodate the Mighty Pink Unicorn’s directives to his followers. I’m happy to switch so a parent can sit near their children, because that actually makes sense.

  • Sb0Tz4ZxB0

    It isn’t a matter of understanding why a person requests something, it’s a matter of respect for the beliefs and feelings of others. It’s just small to refuse to help another because you don’t understand their need.

  • Croquet_Player

    “…it’s a matter of respect for the beliefs and feelings of others.” Oh really? What about his respect for my feelings? Not all beliefs are created equal. If Mr. Orthodox Man thinks that he shouldn’t sit next to me on a plane because I’m a woman, I respect his right to hold that belief. However I think the belief itself is incredibly stupid, and sexist, and I’m not about to lift a finger to accommodate it. Furthermore, I think that people who hold beliefs like this, and wish to take public transportation, and are willing to disrupt and delay everyone else’s travel plans until their beliefs are accomodated are rude and delusional. If they find some pushover who’s willing to swap seats, fine. But by refusing to sit down so the plane is unable to depart is a bridge too far, and they should be thrown off the plane. What’s stopping them from chartering their own plane as a group? Surely they’d feel more comfortable not having to deal with the general public, and they wouldn’t be gumming up the works for everyone else.

  • Sb0Tz4ZxB0

    I disagree with you, Croquet_Player, but I will be kind and respectful in my dissent. Please consider doing the same for others. Kindness is a funny thing, the more you give it away, the more it comes back to you. I wish you peace.