British Airways

Aeroplanes should not become flying bastions of sexism.REUTERS

Is it fair, or feasible, to combat child abuse by stopping all men sitting next to children on planes?

Tracey Spicer thinks so. She’s a proud feminist and a presenter with Sky News Australia who caused controversy just a few days ago by saying “I know it’s sexist, but I don’t want my kids sitting next to a man on a plane”.

Spicer is one of a growing band of parents who let their young children take unaccompanied flights and she thinks that airlines should prevent any male passengers (including fathers, male nannies and the Dalai Lama), from sitting next to her son and daughter.

It would be a laughable suggestion if it wasn’t for the fact that some airlines already operate such a policy. Quantas hit the headlines in 2012 after forcing a male nurse, Daniel McCluskie, to swap places with a female passenger, to save a 10-year-old girl from the “risk” of sitting next to him.

“It seemed I had this sign I couldn’t see above my head that said ‘child molester’ or ‘kiddie fiddler’,” said McCluskie after the flight.

Even Mayors of great cities are not immune to the public humiliation of being told to “sit away from the child”. In 2006 Boris Johnson revealed that he had been asked to swap seats by a stewardess who didn’t realize the children he could be grooming were his own flesh and blood. Johnson responded with characteristic wit by quipping: “they are right that I would worry about some strange adult sitting next to my children, chiefly because I wouldn’t want the poor fellow to come to any harm”.

One man who didn’t take these sexist seating policies sitting down was Mirko Fischer. The Luxembourg businessman was travelling with his pregnant wife in 2010, when British Airways forced him to move to another seat in case he abused the child next to him. Fischer successfully sued BA for sex discrimination and donated his winnings to child protection charities.

So how dangerous is it to sit your child next to a man on a plane? The world’s airlines carry three billion passengers annually and only a tiny handful of incidents of child abuse have ever been reported. Every case I’ve uncovered seems to involve an opportunistic predator who chose to sit next to an unaccompanied child during a domestic flight, where seats weren’t allocated.

Allowing adults to roam around a plane in search of unaccompanied children is clearly a negligent business practice, but assuming every male customer who steps on a plane is a potential child abuser is just stupid.

The collective noun for people who sexually abuse children isn’t “men”, it’s “paedophiles”. According to the Lucy Faithful Foundation, around 20% of child sex offenders are female, so assuming all men are a risk and all women are safe is not an effective way for any business to screen for child abusers.

As Tracey Spicer openly admits, the belief that all male travellers are a potential threat to children is clearly sexist. But it isn’t just sexist against men; it’s also sexist against women.

Last year a study of sexism in Britain found that 50% of people think men make better pilots than women, with 8% of men saying they don’t trust female pilots. In contrast 76% of Britons think women make better nannies than men, with 20% of women saying they wouldn’t trust a male nanny.

Nothing prevents women from proving they can be as successful as men in the world of business more than the belief that men can’t be trusted with kids—whether that’s fathers, men working with children or male airline passengers.

The fact that women account for only 3% of pilots worldwide means you are probably more likely to put your children on a plane with a female paedophile, than with a female pilot.

As a feminist and a successful career woman, Tracey Spicer wouldn’t tolerate anyone telling her daughter that “only men can be pilots” and if she really believes in sex equality, she should stop telling her son that “all men are potential paedophiles”.

Glen Poole is author of the book Equality For Men, you can follow him on twitter @equality4menUK, or buy a copy of his acclaimed book by clicking here.