“You get in life what you have the courage to ask for” – Oprah Winfrey
How many times have you experienced this?
You settle into Seat 35C, stick your bag under the seat in front of you, pop in your headphones ready to zone out and watch movies for the entire flight, when it happens.
The gentleman next to you…spreads. Seat back, legs out, arms on both arm rests.
You think to yourself…hey, WTF! Do you tap him on the arm and ask for your space back? Eh, that feels kind of weird. Is it really that big of a deal? Plus you really don’t want to be rude. That would make the flight super awkward. So you cross your arms, pull yourself in a little tighter and mentally prepare to be annoyed the entire trip.
Yes, Armrests = Gender Inequality
Let’s start here, right off the bat. This isn’t about bashing men. But it is about shining light on a symptom of gender inequality.
The problem of gender inequality is so deeply rooted in our world that often we don’t even know it’s in our psyche, like a virus wreaking havoc on our body while we twiddle our thumbs thinking we’re healthy. It is only when we acknowledge its existence and actively try to erase it that we can truly begin to heal.
When it comes to gender equality, the little things matter
It isn’t just about the right to vote or about equal pay. Ok, yes, it’s about those things, but it’s about so much more.
Sometimes it’s the little things that are most insidious. It is girls still being raised to be quiet, to not speak their minds, to be polite and well behaved, to deflect to the men in the room.
And boys being raised to speak their minds and own the space around them.
An informal study done by ABC sums it up pretty well:
As part of an experiment, they made lemonade but instead of sugar used a lot of salt, then offered the drink to both girls and boys:
The boys immediately expressed their dislike for the salty lemonade or even spit it out.
The girls said nothing.
When asked why they didn´t say anything, the girls explained that they didn´t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or be rude.
Little girls learn at an early age that they should literally drink salt before they speak their minds. It should come as no surprise then, that this behavior carries out into adulthood.
A study by sociologists at the University of California, Santa Barbara wanted to see how often men and women interrupt each other, so they studied conversations between same-sex and male/female groups.
In the two same-sex groups, the researchers found just seven instances of interruption total. In the male/female group, however, they found 48 interruptions, 46 of which were instances of a man interrupting a woman.
Are you seeing the pattern here? It seems small but these things lead to big problems. If men are taught to take up more space with their thoughts, wants, words and preferences and women are being taught the exact opposite and to make themselves smaller, is it any wonder then that a 2017 study found that women around the world earn a quarter less than men?
Taking back your armrest is a small way to practice regaining your power
The next time 35B spreads into your space, take it back. Take. Back. The. Armrest.
It’s small, it’s doable, and it’s the perfect practice for reclaiming your space. Get good at this and who knows where you’ll take that skill next!
How do you take back your armrest? Here are a few tips:
- Do not be mean or insulting – Putting someone down is never the way to get what you want. Lead by example for others. Be kind but firm.
Don’t cave – Don’t let that little voice in your head tell you it isn’t worth it or that it would be rude. That little voice is probably the same one telling little girls to drink salted lemonade and women to let men interrupt them 3 times as much.
- Hold your ground – Own your Use all of it. If someone tries to put something in your space, don’t move away.
- Say what you need – Yes, say it. Simply tell him to move. Move his arm, his legs, his bags. Tell him “no” or even “hell no.”
- Get help if you need it – Gender equality is a team effort. If the voice in your head is too strong to get you to say anything or your seatmate just won’t listen to you, leave and go find a flight attendant.
Join the #TakeBackTheArmRest movement
Girls Who Travel is a community that exists solely to empower all women. We believe true empowerment happens not just when we are united in the big ways but in the little fights that happen daily.
We invite you to join us in spreading the #TakeBackTheArmrest movement. In addition to reclaiming your own space, here are some other ways you can join in:
- When you see a woman is in a similar situation – not just on an airplane but on the train, in the office, at the bus stop – HELP HER! Offer your support, speak up and empower her to do the same.
- Talk to your girlfriends about this. This is a worldwide epidemic and we need to start talking about it. Make each other aware of this issue and encourage each other to take action when it happens.
- Learn to use your gentle female power in the right ways. Look for women who you believe are already using it, study them, talk to them. Talk to the women in your life about this issue, their experiences, thoughts and feelings. We are each other’s support, not competition. Let´s unite.
- Share your experience of taking back your arm rest on your social media and use the #TakeBackTheArmRest
- Tell your story in our amazing Girls Who Travel Facebook group. Every person who shares a #TakeBackTheArmrest story gets a free TBTA sticker!
- Buy a #TakeBackTheArmrest sticker or a button in the Girls Who Travel store to show your support while on the go and encourage other women reclaim their space.