After a drunk rugby team (trope alert) started sending her threatening messages, this legal analyst proved exactly why their behaviour was so problematic.
Women shouldn’t expect to be sexually harassed anywhere. Full stop. But although we wish that sentence could finish there, that’s unfortunately not the case.
Walking down a dimly lit street, through a park at night, entering a quiet alleyway, even past a construction site, the thought probably (almost definitely) flickers across your mind that you could be, at worst, attacked or, at best, hear a chorus of cringe-inducing wolf whistles.
One place you probably don’t immediately expect to be harassed, though? A plane. But apparently even 30,000 feet in the air, women still can’t catch a break – or any respect.
Jessica Van Meir found this out for herself when flying on a Virgin Atlantic flight this week, after a group of men targeted her through the flight’s internal messaging system and sent her sexually inappropriate messages.
Van Meir shared the details of her experience on Twitter, writing: “Yesterday I was on a Virgin Atlantic flight, and I unexpectedly received these sexually harassing messages on my screen (I was in 55C).
“The flight attendants were helpful and dealt with it swiftly. Have any other women had this happen to them?”
From the images attached in the tweet it’s clear to see that a conversation is established by a user called ‘smacks back tin’, who writes: “55c you tidy babe.”
Another user called ‘big dick swinger’ then adds two winking emoji faces, while a third, calling themselves ‘dirty mike’, writes: “welcome to hell.”
The messages are not only unwanted and inappropriate, they are sinister and threatening. Messaging a woman who is in an enclosed space which she cannot leave and telling her she’s in “hell” (other messages visible in the screen shots show the same user also telling Van Meir she’s in “the danger zone”) can’t be perceived to have any other intent than to scare and intimidate her.
In a word, the behaviour of this group of men is disgusting.
Van Meir’s response is impressive. She writes back: “I work for a law firm that specialises in online sexual harassment. Enjoy being reported to Virgin.”
She wasn’t joking. Van Meir’s Twitter profile explains that she’s a legal analyst working on cases of sexual assault, harassment and discrimination and also describes herself as a feminist.
In the Twitter thread Van Meir explains what happened next, which reads like a how-to if you’re ever in this situation yourself, thanks to the dignity and efficiency she dealt with the predators in question.
She writes: “After the flight attendants spoke with the guys, I walked through the aisle and took a picture of them. Afterwards, a young guy came up to me and said he heard about the chat between me and the guys and wanted to apologise on their behalf.
“They were on a rugby trip and he was one of the leaders. He said the guys had been drinking and he’d talk to them, was sorry and hoped we could leave it at that. What matters to me is not going after these guys, but making sure they understand why it was harmful.”
Van Meir also reported the incident to Virgin and tweeted the airline, asking it to “take measures to prevent this from happening by flagging specific language and putting in place a reporting function on the chat to report abusive users”.
Several women have replied to the Twitter thread sharing uncomfortable stories of bad experiences on planes.
One woman wrote: “Once I was seated next to a man who kept offering me chocolate in between looking at dick pics he sent his girlfriend. It was awful! He also ‘accidentally’ touched me via the arm rest a few times. Anyway, I’m so sorry this happened to you! I’ve often wondered about how these chat functions could be abused. It’s awful someone had to experience it for airlines to notice.”
But something that is just as disappointing as the behaviour of the men on the plane are some of the reactions on Twitter of other men who fail to understand why this is a problem.
A few opted for full blown misogyny, like one man who wrote: “OMG can’t women handle simple male interactions these days? Feeling unsafe from a few words. I’d be happy they found you attractive enough to try and communicate with you. But nope, had to make a drama about it.”
Others used an ever-so-slightly subtler tactic to show that they didn’t have any comprehension of what Van Meir’s experience was like, including one Twitter user who wrote: “It’s grossly inappropriate that people can send you words like that on a public board – which is definitely a question for Virgin.
“However whilst cringe worthy and very clumsy the guy or girl were trying their luck because they thought you looked nice. Not sure sexual harassment.”
Not sexual harassment coming from someone with the username ‘big dick swinger’? Hmm…
Another said: “Inappropriate? Sure. Harassment? Not even close. But hey, 15 minutes of fame is 15 minutes of fame. Enjoy it while it lasts.” And yes, because everyone woman prays for the day that she can get 15 minutes of fame for being sent vile messages by a drunk rugby team.
The behaviour of the men on that flight and the continued lack of understanding and patronising language from men who have read about Van Meir’s experience on Twitter just prove her point about why it’s so important that boys and men are educated on what is and isn’t appropriate. It looks like we’ve got a long way to go.