Airline, Cruise Line Reveal Obsession, Prejudice About Sex

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A pair of transportation giants revealed last week that as parts of Western society become more comfortable acknowledging sexuality, discomfort and fear of sexuality are still as powerful as ever.

For starters, Carnival Cruises of Miami will not book another “cougar-cub cruise” (younger men and middle-aged women meeting for erotic connection, either temporary or long-term), even though the first sold out and demand for a second is high.

It’s not clear what Carnival objects to—middle-aged women having sex, middle-aged women having sex with people other than the crew, or simply all that legendary 24-hour-a-day food going uneaten.

On a more ominous note, British Airways has revealed its policy preventing men from sitting next to children to whom they are not related.

Mirko Fischer, a 33-year-old businessman, discovered the policy while flying with his wife. Six months pregnant, she had booked a window seat. Fischer was in the middle seat between her and a 12-year-old boy.

When all passengers were seated and buckled in, a flight attendant asked Fischer to change his seat. When he refused—explaining about his pregnant wife—the flight attendant raised his voice, warning that the plane could not take off unless Fischer obeyed. Apparently BA crew stalk the aisles of every plane before takeoff, demanding that men sitting next to kids move. Fischer has sued for the humiliation of being treated like a potential criminal.

BA’s failure to grasp the most simple dynamics of human interaction is breathtaking.
Molest a kid on a plane? There isn’t enough room in coach to move that much. Besides, most molestations are done by someone the victim knows. The more reasonable policy would be to prevent kids from sitting with their parents, not with strangers.

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To understand the true problem here, let’s imagine slightly changing the two companies’ policies. Say Carnival’s policy was “no cruises focusing on older people meeting each other for companionship,” or “no cruises focusing on young people in the travel industry looking for professional mentors.”

Similarly, let’s alter BA’s policy. Say it was “no handicapped people allowed to sit next to children,” or “no African-Americans,” or “no Arabs,” or “no one over 60.”

Not only would such policies be condemned, they’d be considered bizarre. The problem with CC’s and BA’s policies isn’t merely that they’re discriminatory, it’s that they don’t make sense—but because the discrimination is based on sexuality (imagined or real), people tolerate it.

In the 20th century, civil rights were granted to blacks, women, and the handicapped when enough people complained that discriminating against these groups was unreasonable. In this century, we have to make the case that discrimination against people based on the fear of their sexuality is equally unreasonable (and equally unconstitutional).

Some will inevitably protest, “Some men do molest kids. Some cougar-cub pairings are unhealthy, or done in public.” And of course that’s true.

But imagine blocking anti-discrimination laws against blacks, women, and the handicapped by telling the parallel truth—that some blacks are criminals (true, of course); that some women are stupid or vapid (true, of course); or that some handicapped people are clumsy and selfish and aggressively in others’ way (true, of course).

As public policy, we don’t withhold rights from a group because of the behavior or characteristics of a few of its members. And this should be equally true regarding sexual-related issues.

Millions of Americans shouldn’t be punished because a few people misuse nude beaches or spend the rent money on lap dances. But if we’re going to scrub cruise ships, airlines, beaches, bookstores, and other places so Americans can’t use or misuse them sexually, let’s start with an institution that, while most participants engage it legally and peacefully, is a proven haven where thousands of people have sexually exploited children: the Catholic Church.

Meanwhile, if BA doesn’t trust me enough to let me fly next to a kid, I’ll take my business to some other bankrupt airline. United apparently trusts me much more—much to my dismay, they love to sit me next to kids.

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