The stories are familiar from flights to/from Israel, but now we have one in Canada. Per CBC News, an "ultra-Orthodox" man on a Porter Airlines flight from Newark to Toronto requested that a woman, Christine Flynn, change her seat, so that he wouldn't need to sit next to her on the flight.
The article includes harsh indictments of the man and his religion:
Flynn said she might have been willing to accommodate the man had he spoken to her directly and politely asked her to switch seats. She admits language may have been a factor — saying his English "wasn't terrific" — but said his refusal to even make eye contact was offensive.
"He could have made a plan, he could have put in a request," Flynn said in an interview Wednesday on CBC Radio's Metro Morning. "When someone doesn't look at you, and when someone doesn't acknowledge you as person because of your gender, you're a lot less willing to be accommodating.
"Leaving it to the last minute and expecting me to move is appalling. He's expecting me to fall in to that archetypical feminine role and acquiesce."
Flynn says she's frustrated she was asked to move and upset others on the flight were willing to help the man.
"I have a problem with that. He [the flight attendant] probably, maybe, didn't realize that asking a woman to move because the fact she had a uterus made the man next to her uncomfortable ... I don't think he even would have put it together that that's kind of insulting and maybe even discriminatory," she said.
"If someone had refused to sit next to me because I was gay and maybe they were some kind of old-school religion that doesn't like gay people no one would have switched with him. It would have been off the table," she said.
[Update: I have now seen another CBC article on the story, here. Not any better, sorry to say.]
My three thoughts:
1. The man should recognize that taking public transportation may involve sitting beside women. If he believes that sitting beside her is wrong (and he certainly has basis in Shulchan Aruch), then it is not her job to move; it's his job to move. If he doesn't want to sit next to a woman, and he cannot select a seat guaranteeing that, then he should find another means of travel.
2. The man is guilty of chillul HaShem, desecrating Gd's Name, for voluntarily taking public transportation and then practicing this discriminatory act.
And yes, I do believe this qualifies as discrimination, per the Supreme Court of Canada (Andrews v. Law Society of Canada, 1989):
Discrimination may be described as a distinction, whether intentional or not but based on grounds relating to personal characteristics of the individual or group, which has the effect of imposing burdens, obligations, or disadvantages on such individual or group not imposed upon others, or which withholds or limits access to opportunities, benefits, and advantages available to other members of society.
Since a man would not have been asked to move, this is discriminatory.
3. The people interviewed in the article and writing in the comments are depressingly judgmental. I know that they feel no obligation to assume the best of someone, but do they really need to assume the worst?
They assume the man did this because he sees the woman as evil or dirty because she "had a uterus". In truth, separating men and women is simply a barrier against sexual impropriety - a woman might make the same request for a man to move.
Of course, society as a whole doesn't view sitting next to someone as a sexually charged situation - but society as a whole has an abysmal track record for sexual safety. I personally don't believe that switching seats was required by Jewish law, but frankly, if people would observe such strictures then we would be able to avoid much of the rampant sexual harassment and abuse we tolerate as "normal" in our world.
I wish the writer had interviewed someone with knowledge of Judaism.