I recently read a comment on an Instagram photo posted by a male pilot, which applauded his misogynistic stance, and ridiculed the hashtag “girlpilots” that women in aviation sometimes use when posting aviation related photos to Instagram or other social media. What surprised me about the support of comment was that it had been written by another female pilot!
It reminded me of a story I heard not too long ago, from the leader of a women’s support group at a regional airline, about how some female pilots were quite resistant to joining said support group. It seemed as though they didn’t want to be treated any differently from their male peers, she noted, and they resented the spotlight being shone on them as women in a non-traditional Aviation role. They had fought so hard to get where they had gotten, they were afraid, almost, to discuss this reality with their female peers, and just wanted to be seen as “one of the boys”.
But we #GirlPilots are NOT like the boys we often have to fly with!
It’s not uncommon, even in 2018, for female pilots to be harassed either directly (think derogatory comments or inappropriate touching by male captains to female first officers) and indirectly (where “the boys“ make sexually inappropriate, jocular comments about the women they share the cockpit with, not knowing that those comments may be overheard by their female colleagues or males not comfortable with this sort of toxic masculinity.)
As I heard first-hand at a dinner celebrating the accomplishments of women in aviation the other night, this sort of nonsense still happens frequently. But rarely if ever the other way around. (Seriously, aviation friends, when was the last time you heard a female captain discussing with her peers the size of her first officer’s cock, and how that must’ve played a role in his getting hired?! Actually, let’s just leave it at the first part, when was the last time you heard a female captain? Case in point!)
The aviation and aerospace industry is still stacked strongly against women. 50% of the human population is represented in only 6% of most airline cockpits, and this imbalanced percentage is often reflected in other non-traditional aviation roles as well: aviation engineers, mechanics, flight instructors, rampies, etc.... Not surprisingly, it’s even lower for women of colour or other intersecting identities.
Having being a student pilot in a flight school overrun by disrespectful ground school peers and male instructors who were clueless at best and in some cases downright misogynistic, I know I’m not the only one who chose not to plow through that minefield and continue on to a career in the field of aviation once I finally earned my coveted PPL. There are only so many sexist “jokes” and comments you can take with a smile and and apparently nonchalant come back before wanting to poke your eyeballs out with hot skewers rather than go back voluntarily for more, just so that you can fly an airplane!
No, I stuck with my nice, safe, gender-appropriate profession (I’m a public educator with more than 20 years of teaching experience, surrounded largely by women)!
I can’t believe that all men are naturally misogynistic pigs, though. In fact, among the many examples of jerks I had to put up with while earning my PPL, were some shining examples of decent human beings. Young men who were doing their best to just teach flying and earn some hours so that they could go fly bigger planes. And I’ve seen enough very young boys to know that – – no matter how early the dangerous socialization begins – – humanity grows up with the potential to be nurturing, caring, fair and equitable, regardless of their sex.
Gender socialization, and the promotion of “strong men“/boys who don’t cry, and who discard femininity as worthless, is taught. It’s taught by the adults – – men and women – – that surround a young child. And its effects are so powerful, that many women themselves believe, albeit sometime subconsciously, that they are the inferior sex.
It’s exciting and encouraging.
I saw another post on Instagram recently, too. It was a photograph of a young boy holding a sign. The second “boys“ in “boys will be boys“ had been crossed out and replaced with “good humans”.
Imagine a world where the approximately 50% of the population that identifies as male is not feared, despised and/or disrespected by the other 50%, but rather revered and respected, because they are decent humans who in turn revere and respect as valuable and necessary their female fellow humans, rather than seeing the as worthless pawns provided by some great deity for their personal sexual enjoyment, whether in aviation, or in any field. Imagine if a man‘s power came from his choice to be decent, kind and respectful, rather than to oppress.
In such a world, perhaps some of us would no longer feel the need to hashtag our aviation posts with #GirlPilot because we could just be #Pilots.