Elan Gale’s in-flight tweets: Yet more misogyny “for the good of all”

By now plenty of people will have heard about the quite-possibly-imaginary Elan Gale vs Diane “plane note row”. Depending on where you stand, it’s either hilarious or really fucking frightening. Me, I’m veering towards the latter. Elan Gale, I hope I’m never on the number 12 bus, let alone on a plane with you.

The plane note row (if it actually took place and wasn’t just some misogynist’s wildest fantasy) was live tweeted by Gale last Thursday. It (allegedly) reached its height with Gale sending a note which included the line “eat my dick” to female passenger, having smugly tweeted out said note to all his followers. To put this in context, the woman – “Diane” – had been rude to flight attendants (a crime for which, as far as I am aware, the recommended punishment is not sexual harassment within a confined space). During the exchange that ensued, Gale pressured flight attendants to become complicit in his abuse by transferring the notes between him and “Diane” – who, he happened to tweet, was “in her late 40s or early 50s” and was wearing “mom jeans” (hence not only rude but not even shaggable!).

Whether real or imagined, Gale’s behaviour was manipulative, misogynistic and self-aggrandising and yet he deliberately made it public in an effort to gain approval — and, most disturbingly, he got it. His twitter follower count tripled and #TeamElan became the boorish bystander’s hashtag of choice.  

In a later post in which he explains the whole scenario, Gale depicts himself as a noble saviour, propelled to heights of frat boy misogyny only due to memories of his former life as a common worker:

My first job was in a video store. I rewinded tapes and put them back on the shelves. I was a caterer. I put ravioli into divided plates and cut bagels in half for hours at a time. The difference between someone being nice and someone being mean was the difference in how I felt when I went home that night. 

Well, whoop-de-doo! So Gale’s done shitty jobs. So have I have. So have millions of other people, some of whom go on to better work, some of whom don’t. Having worked in service doesn’t make you a lifelong authority on the Woes of the Serving Classes. Other passengers on that flight will have known what it’s like to be at the mercy of The Customer. For all we know, “Diane” was one of them, too.

I’m not wishing to suggest that waitresses and flight attendants aren’t treated badly. Nonetheless, what Gale proposes as a response only furthers any exploitation. It’s not just that it’s an incredible abuse of power to pressure workers to hand over offensive notes while they are trying to get on with their jobs (especially when their discomfort with this is made clear). Worst of all is the pretence that this all for the good of the little man:

I don’t care what’s going on with you: Don’t be rude to people who are doing their job. 

Don’t do it.

Don’t dismiss them. Don’t act like they are less than you. Don’t abuse them just because you’re the customer and “The Customer Is Always Right.”

How very fucking noble.

I’ll be honest: I’ve met difficult customers and suppliers, some of whom have been female. I’ve often wanted to be rude to them and yes, it’s frustrated me that my job depends on me not responding. At no point, ever, have I wanted someone to appropriate whatever abuse I’m suffering in order to indulge in a little misogyny and sexual harassment on “my” behalf, not least because, as a woman, I feel it only extends the loss of power. First you’re insulted due to the power imbalance inherent in your work, then you’re insulted again by the reminder that, if anyone comes to your defence, it will be at the expense of basic respect for your sex. It has been decided, without your consent, that the continuation of misogyny is a price worth paying for some minor victory “for you” (and a hell of a lot of grandstanding for your saviour). And who has decided this? Someone who is neither a server nor a woman. How convenient.

There are plenty of “Dianes” around. By that, I don’t mean women who are rude to flight attendants (although I’m sure there are plenty of those, too). I mean women whom men like Gale — privileged, self-styled men of principle — identify as Women of Privilege and hence suitable targets for all the misogynist shit they’re too inhibited to hurl at the average woman. Diane is Private Eye’s Polly Filler. She’s Louise Mensch, or Harriet Harman, or any female MP you can think of. She’s the middle-class white cis feminist to whom all the right-on dudes of Twitter are sending rape threats. She’s the yummy mummy in her 4×4, taking up road space that rightfully belongs to men like Gale. She’s the woman who makes misogyny okay. She’s the reason women who claim to be feminists don’t say a word when their nice, lefty male allies tell women such as Helen Lewis or Caitlin Moran that they are cunts and bitches. It’s not because there’s validity in sexist insults. There isn’t. “Eat my dick” is “eat my dick” in any context. No woman is ever asking for it.

I’m not recommending standing by while customers abuse staff just because they can. However, to stand up for someone who’s being victimised or ignored rarely involves grandstanding. On the contrary, making a genuine stand can make you unpopular yourself or, at best, go unnoticed. That’s because it’s rarely about you. To take the complainer to one side and advise them to calm down, or to tell someone under pressure that you appreciate the work they do, isn’t particularly dramatic or interesting, but it’s the little things that matter. On the other hand, to spy an opportunity to be a sexist bully “for the good of humanity” — and to then use it — doesn’t make you a caring, if flawed, person. It’s not some complex balancing act between means and ends. It just means you’re a sexist bully. And if being nice and kind truly matters to you, that’s something you’d do well to think about.

17 thoughts on “Elan Gale’s in-flight tweets: Yet more misogyny “for the good of all”

    1. Yes. But since you’re just a random troll behind a computer screen and we’re not together in a confined space you’re not being as effective as Gale. Sorry.

      1. “Random troll’? Why, because his opinion differs to yours? He gives details of himself, occupation and place of residence online. Took me all of 2 seconds to check that out. Hardly a ‘random troll’. The message/point here is, the woman deserved what she got not because she was a woman, but simply because she acted like a twat. Oh, and you’re humourless, but in fairness you freely admit to that.

        1. So sexist abuse is a legitimate punishment for certain types of behaviour. And racism? Anti-semitism? How rude does a woman have to be to lose the right to be disagreed with on equal terms? It’d be good to know because honestly, the number of times women face this type of insult, we’re clearly getting it wrong.

    2. Why would you invite a woman to put on big boy pants and grow a pair? A pair of what? Ovaries? Is there some special significance to boy pants?

  1. Tbh, by his own account, she wasn’t even rude to service staff, merely (rightly – she’s the customer and it’s his job to be focussed on here experience, not his own) pointing out to one of them, that ‘it’s not about you’, when he responded in a rubbish way to her annoyance about the delay.

  2. I hadn’t heard of this but wow. At first I thought “glass of wine-funny way of making a point”. Should have ended there. “Eat my dick” was entirely unnecessary and he lost me right there. Horrible man.

    1. Yes, me too. After the glass of wine I started to feel very uncomfortable with the situation, and really believe that the woman wasn’t doing anything to further the “fight”; Gale went too far here by a mile, and has shown himself to be thoroughly unpleasant character.

    2. Yeah, I was reading his account (via Buzzfeed) and actually agreeing that “Diane” sounded like the really annoying passenger who seems to think that things are worse for her than for everyone else or that it will help if she Complains Loudly to people (like flight attendants) who can’t actually do anything about the flight delays or her connecting flight.

      And then I got to him sending notes that said “Eat my dick” to her, and I just …. no. That’s not acceptable behaviour. Not ever.

  3. The last paragraph nails it. As does a cracking Pearl Jam lyric, “Don’t forget the golden rule, if you hate something don’t you do it too” (Not for You) Don’t complain about unpleasant bullies by becoming a bully yourself.

  4. YES! I am SO sick of how lefty males think that class privilege or being right wing (if you’re a woman) makes misogyny acceptable. There is so much appropriation of the arguments of working class women and non-white women by white middle class dudes to make their misogyny ok and it is GROSS.

    That second to last paragraph was perfect, just perfect.

  5. I wonder whether Gale would have been such a big man if he disapproved of the way another man behaved?

  6. OK – just did some thinking about this, because it’s actually a pretty complex case. It’s important to distinguish what we are talking about, and identify what is misogyny and what isn’t in these types of conversations. There are really three major things going on here: social sanctioning, escalation, and misogyny. (Note: There is also an excellent analysis of the situation here: http://ethicsalarms.com/2013/11/30/ethics-verdicts-on-the-elan-gale-vs-crazy-woman-in-seat-7a-air-battle/ )

    Social sanctioning: This is the obvious, and is why Elan Gale was crowing about his actions. Diane was clearly out of line in her actions, and it is a good thing for someone to bring that to her attention (just as it would be to bring it to the attention of a David, Brian, etc.).

    Escalation: This is the first part of the problem with the manner in which Gale approached the situation. Sending the initial note and glass of wine is mostly ok, except for the insult towards the end. Pointing out “hey, we’re all in the same boat and this will go much more smoothly if you relax and let the attendants do their jobs” is a good thing to do. Insulting someone who is already irritable/irate negates the moral high ground and takes away most of the credit you just received, because it just creates another, equally irritating situation in a confined space.

    Misogyny: This is a more narrow issue, but also more complex. There are two main possible instances of misogyny here.
    1) “Eat my dick” – this can be interpreted as either misogynist or just inflammatory/immature. A lot has to do with common usage and context/intent on Gale’s part. The cultural context is misogynistic for obvious “submission/humiliation re: sex act” reasons. However, if Gale would use the same phrase when confronting a man, then the intent and context make this mostly just inflammatory and immature.
    2) Confrontation and the “male” counterfactual – If Dale is willing to confront belligerent/asinine men and women equally, then his confrontation here is not misogynistic (simply as a confrontation, not counting what he said, exactly). On the other hand, if he isn’t willing to censure men in the same way, or with the same level of vehemence, then it is misogynistic.

    Note that elements of (2) address the “woman of privilege” as a target. The issue there is motivation. Presumably, on the claims you are making, Gale would not confront a dickwad male making a similar scene.

    1. Or “eat my dick” could be simply homophobic when it’s said to a man.

      I’m trying to imagine a non-sexual situation in which a man could say “eat my dick” to a woman he’s having am argument with and it not be sexually aggressive and misogynist. You’re going to have top explain that again, because nothing you’re said here suggests that it’s “complex” our that there’s some magic factor that makes it not misogynist.

  7. Good side to the argument. The comments I’ve seen on a lot of websites about this “fight” have been pretty ridiculous. Full of very hateful speech towards rude people, specifically rude women. I think that there are lots of very terrible people out there, but he definitely took it too far. It’s fine to call someone out for being disrespectful, but it’s a whole different thing when you stoop to his level and then try to push it off like she was the only unbearable one.

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