What An Airline Encounter Taught Me About Society’s Respect for Women


It is a warm spring morning. I am on my way home from my honeymoon: an 11-hour flight from Honolulu to New York. I need to pee, so I walk to the restroom behind my row. Alas, it is occupied, so I stand and wait patiently.

A kind man speaks to me from across the row, gesturing for me to cut him in line at an adjacent bathroom. We are in a standoff of sorts: chivalry versus patience.

“You can go ahead of me” he says, and gestures to me a second time. I gaze and see that I must cross a row of four with two sleeping passengers. I weigh my options, and realize I can get by with plenty of space to not wake them, so I accept the kind offer to go ahead of this man.

After using the bathroom, I get out to find that one of the sleeping men now has his feet out. This predicament means I am going to have to step over him to get back to my seat. As I am quietly stepping over him, his eyes shoot open and he flings his body up out of his seat, pinning me again the wall in front of him. Leaning over my constricted body, he motions to a sign behind me that says something to the effect of “this is extra leg room seating, don’t use this space as an aisle.”

“DO YOU SEE THE SIGN?!” he yells at me. I stand frozen in fear; I had not seen the sign.

In my opinion, his unwelcomed reaction to the situation was no way to address another person, let alone a young, pregnant woman. All I can muster is “okay” as I stand there defeated, dying to go back to my seat.

“Okay?!” he replies, backing away from me. “Okay, I guess you just have no respect” he says, sitting back down. I go back to my seat.

As I’m sitting there next to my husband — my sweet, sleeping husband — I want to bawl. This man does not know me; I could be anyone. He does not know my level of respect, my upbringing, how I spend my days. Yet, he still felt that it was his place to plant that seed of doubt in my mind that I sat there wrestling for the remainder of the flight. Do I not have respect? No, I just hadn’t seen a dim-witted sign when I needed to pee.   

My heart is racing and I can feel tears swelling in my eyes as I go back to this moment. I get it, he paid for extra leg room. Yet, I did not wake up that morning thinking “I’m going to ruin this man’s day today. I know he paid for extra leg room. I see that sign, and I don’t care.” No. I just had to quietly use the restroom. His reaction was in no way an appropriate response to the situation at hand.

We need to expect better of one another and not retreat to fury. I have also realized this situation is about women being silenced – a hot topic of conversation as of lately – but it’s true. I have realized that I was silenced in that moment. I had to let go of my self-respect to handle myself with poise. This doesn’t mean I was free from feeling crippled with terror, due to my history of being emotionally abused by my father. I sat in my seat for the rest of the flight, not wanting to use the bathroom again, holding myself in fear of not wanting to ever see this man again. In this time, I couldn’t help but think of all the things I wish I could have said or done, but couldn’t, due to the circumstance that this man put me in. I was silenced. 

I could have pushed him away from me, saying: “Get off me and sit down, you shouldn’t speak to anyone like this.”

The result? People wake up, flight attendants flock to mediate the situation. I am not the type to make a scene. I don’t want conflict in the middle of a long flight, when all I had to do was pee.

I could have woken up my husband and explain what had happened. After doing so, he would have either “hulked out” on this guy, or sat in the same agony I did. The restless feeling of wanting to address the issue, but not being able to say anything because we are on a moving aircraft with hundreds of other passengers.

As petty as it sounds, I even could have said: “How dare you say I have no respect? I’m sorry you are so little of a man that you feel you have to abuse women you don’t know to build yourself up.”

Once again, we are on a moving aircraft and he is a stranger, so he could have said or done anything if I had the guys to say this to him. He had put me in a position to not have the ability to fight back, both physically and verbally, and he knew it.

This situation brings up so many important points: women being silenced, treating pregnant women with respect, treating women in general with respect. When people say phrases like “Would you talk to your mother that way?” they are not just saying it for their health. These are the things I sat thinking about the rest of the flight. Would this man treat his wife, mother, daughter, sister or any woman in his life this way? If yes, this is a problem, and we need to be better mothers to our sons.

It genuinely blows my mind that there are grown, adult men in the world that think it’s acceptable to speak to women this way. I want to go on about how women deserve more respect, but I will conclude with this: my situation has made me realize we need to change the way we speak to one another. We need to throw this man’s words back at him. We must treat each other with more respect.

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Featured image by Tim Gouw via Unsplash

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