Jet Airways slap fight: Would it have been different if both pilots had been men

Jet airways

On New Year’s Day 2018, 324 passengers stood in line for the Jet Airways flight from London to Mumbai. Two pilots of equal experience, both commanders, were strapped in for the nine-hour flight. During the flight, the pilots got into a fight, and Pilot A slapped Pilot B. Yes, slapped – you read that right.

Pilot B then left the cockpit, ashen and upset, and presumably worried about the violence escalating. Pilot A sat there, and tried to buzz the victim back in.  Crew members were alarmed by demands to bring Pilot B back in. When there was no response, Pilot A recklessly put the plane on autopilot, and left the cockpit in an effort to make nice with Pilot B.

So, over 324 lives were left to machinery and fate. It takes 45 secondsto punch a security code to get back into a cockpit – and if the autopilot had gotten disengaged, or lost control, the plane might have crashed into another plane, or the ground, or the ocean. But Pilot A left anyway, and persuaded Pilot B to come back in. Only the black box knows what happened after, but Pilot B came out, upset again, but was forced back in by the crew, to spend God knows many hours worried about being slapped again or worse.

They landed. And when the slapping and the unmanned plane flying in the air was finally reported, Jet Airways sacked both pilots – rightly so. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation, Government of India, or DGCA, however, seems to have suspended Pilot B’s license.

But why, you cry! It should be Pilot A, right? He’s the psycho that hit his co-worker, and endangered a plane full of people with his idiotic decisions. Not only could this whackjob have not hit his coworker, regardless of their argument, but could have also sat in his seat after the assault and not endangered everyone on this plane? Why, you ask, shaking your head in utter confusion, is this person not being locked up? Why is Pilot B being punished, poor fellow?

The differentiating factor

Because Pilot B is a woman. And she was in a relationship with Pilot A.

Silence. That changes everything. Does it?

Pilot A still assaulted a co-worker, deliberately, in a high-stress environment. He still forced Pilot B to go back in. Pilot A still endangered 324 people’s lives, because he’s an abusive, unprofessional, reckless moron without morals, values or sense. Pilot B is still being punished and paying for it professionally. Is he?

But they were in a relationship, dude! They had their own complicated thing going on, man. It’s not as clear-cut as when everyone thought it was two guys, okay?

It totally is, dude. It’s gender bias, domestic violence and victim blaming.

This is victim blaming – where the perpetrator no longer shoulders the blame or punishment for his actions, but the victim does. This was domestic violence – the crew forced the poor woman back into it. How do we know why she walked out? What if he was getting more violent? Then we would have blamed her for staying in the cockpit, wouldn’t we?

And finally, and sadly, this is gender bias – where the moment we find out that Pilot B was a woman, the outrage dims.

Airplane cockpit

Aren’t women equal?

Why don’t we consider women as equal humans, deserving of all the rights and respect that men have?

2017 was a watershed year for women – in every way. The world learned about predators, about power imbalance, about being unable to protect yourself because no one believe you, and about the scale at which this has been going on through history. But we’ve just learned about a new predator, accused by no less than five women – James Franco. If you thought it was just Harvey Weinstein’s ‘generation’ as he claimed, you were wrong.

And it’s not just men who are desensitised to violence, and particularly violence against women – it’s women too. Consider the case of Catherine Deneuve, French actor, who’s part of a movement in France that denounces the #MeToo movement in an open letter. No, seriously. “Rape is a crime but insistent or awkward flirting is not, nor is gallantry a macho aggression,” the letter read. “Men have been punished summarily, forced out of their jobs when all they did was touch someone’s knee or try to steal a kiss.”

But what about the women they stole kisses and respect and peace of mind from? Weren’t they forced out of happiness or well-being? Clearly, any sort of change is still far away – across the world.

Related reading: 8 signs that say you are being sexually harassed at work

Why the bias in action?

In India, The DGCA has made more of a to-do about taking action against both pilots – but it’s not the same, is it? If Jet Airways had rules against dating co-workers, you can rap Pilot B on the knuckles. If Pilot B had insisted Pilot A leave the cockpit, you could have said that was a mistake. But Pilot B was in physical danger and took action to rescue herself – how can you penalise her for that?

The civil aviation ministry reports that safety norms were compromised 431 times in 2016, and 375 times in 2017 – shouldn’t the DGCA find the women responsible for those and penalise them too? Even if a woman was nowhere near the scene of the crime, I’m sure they could blame the mothers, wives and sisters of the offenders.

The punishment for Pilot A and B cannot be the same – because one person’s actions came from a place of assault, and the others from the urge to protect herself. How is dealing with them both the same way not unfair, not a result of gender bias, not a result of dismissiveness about domestic violence? In effect, Pilot B is being punished for being in a relationship with her co-worker. Let’s be honest – if Pilot B were a man, would he still be punished for protecting himself in the face of physical danger?

Domestic violence is serious

Why don’t we take domestic violence seriously? Research has proven that there are links between domestic violence and the perpetrators of mass shootings in the United States. Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun control group, analysed FBI data on mass shootings from 2009 to 2015, and found that 57 per cent of the cases included a spouse, former spouse or other family member among the victims – and that 16 per cent of the attackers had previously been charged with domestic violence.

In kindergarten, children who hit others are made to sit separately until they can play nice, and respect their fellow humans. Why are adults, and adult men, given a free pass?

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