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Male Privelege and Airplane Etiquette

Wendi Williams, the individual on the receiving end of the controversial video showing a man punching the back of a woman’s (Williams’) seat on an airplane, has since spoken out about the ordeal.


Williams was a recent recipient of neck surgery. According to her Twitter, she was caused a great deal of pain from her procedure, which was only made worse by the man’s reaction. In an interview with CNN, she told reporters she tried to accommodate the passenger behind her when he was eating, but due to her own discomfort, had to once again recline when he was finished.

When the man began punching her seat, Williams tried to summon flight attendants to help mediate the dispute. However, she was ultimately ignored. This was the moment that prompted her to begin recording, she told CNN.


Here is the video:  https://www.dailymail.co.uk/video/news/video-2110914/Video-Man-continuously-punches-womans-seat-reclines-flight.html


Seat-reclining on planes, especially when riding coach, is a controversial issue on its own. No matter the feelings surrounding that debate, this particular situation seems to have been handled rather poorly by everyone involved.


The debate over which person was in the wrong in this scenario has been prevalent on social media sites like Twitter, and even garnered a response from talk show host Ellen DeGeneres who came to the defense of Williams. No matter who people perceive to be the villain in this scenario, a question regarding gender has surrounded the topic.


Would the man have punched the seat if Williams was a man?


A prominent Twitter user that goes by the handle “Feminist Next Door” believes the fact that Williams is a woman gave the man a sense of entitlement to act with violence. “The relevant point here is that when men punch women, they do so knowing they are unlikely to be retaliated against, at least with equal force, and they choose to do so in spite of, or because of, that reality,” she tweeted from her account @emrazz on February 17.


This sense of male privilege to which Feminist Next Door is referring allows men to act in ways that will yield little-to-no repercussions. While there is surely no way to know for sure, the implication from this statement is that if Williams had been a large man rather than a woman, the man behind her would not have thought about reacting in that manner.


Similarly, there is the implication that if the person behind Williams had been a woman, then that passenger would not have acted in that manner, either, given Feminist Next Door’s explanation of men’s sense of entitlement to act in inappropriate and violent ways.


While Williams informed CNN she was “scared to death” after the situation and is considering seeking legal action, there will hopefully be some positive takeaways from the discussion sparked by the video about male violence, feelings of privilege or entitlement, and airplane seat etiquette. 




Sources: https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/18/us/plane-passenger-reclined-seat-cnn/index.html ; https://twitter.com/emrazz/status/1229600386966859785

Liz Whitmer

Bucknell '23

Liz, a Political Science major at Bucknell, is from Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania and began writing for Her Campus during the spring semester of 2020. In her free time she enjoys watching Seinfeld, online shopping, and arguing about politics.
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