Thursday, November 12, 2009

Part 2 of Changing gender stereotypes

Recently I posted a blog entry on Changing gender stereotype, like, 50, 100 years at a time... about a couple of news articles about women in aviation and aerospace that had negative comments published by readers. I then followed with a recap of a conversation I had with an old salt flight instructor that prompted a reader to send me the following message:

I sure hope things are not as bad as you say. My 10 year old daughter is really eager to fly. I'm just an amateur at this flying thing (instrument rated, with maybe 600 hours over too many years).

It would be cruel to see her interest squashed by this sort of stupidity. I often point out all the female voices on the air when we fly.

She's practically counting the days before she can start glider training at age 14.

Let me emphasize, Dad, that "things" are not that bad (and I didn't SAY those things, just quoted them). Some people's perceptions of a woman on the flight deck may be horribly misguided, but this "flying thing" is awesome, incredible, fascinating and something I wouldn't give up in a million years no matter how many stories I could tell you about some Neanderthal who tried to ruin it for me. As a fellow Army helicopter pilot and I discussed not too long ago (ok, maybe in the last decade), I can't believe we women pilots are still considered "pioneers" in aviation. [And my friend is female AND African American.] Instead of being "squashed" by people's ignorance, the journey has made me stronger, more outgoing, more fulfilled and definitely into the person I am today (and I kinda like the way she turned out after all). Girls With Wings would have certainly never come about if I had thought it was going to be easy, just like I would have never become a pilot unless the career track hadn't been presented as a challenge.

As I have said countless times before, nothing of any value in life comes easily. Our male counterparts will tell your daughter, as I'm sure you have, that this flying thing itself is tough regardless of your gender! Yes, you throw in a few knuckleheads who think every woman should have a safety pilot at the controls at all times, but I dare anyone to say that to Nicole Malachowski, the first female Thunderbird pilot, or Jill "Raggz" Long, a military airshow pilot, both one of many women in aviation role models on the Girls With Wings website. Especially if he's the one sitting in the other seat. Without the benefit of holding a sick sack. None of the women on the GWW website have had their interest squashed by someone else's stupidity. I hope those women who have been turned away from aviation have found their passion elsewhere or have been able to resume their dreams of flight.

I believe the attitude of male pilots toward women performing duties in the cockpit could be drawn in a bell curve. There are always those few on one end that can barely contain their contempt for a woman with a pilot's license (or driver's license for that matter) or those on the opposite end to whom it truly doesn't matter what gender their co-pilot is (heck, they may even prefer a female in the other seat). The vast majority of men are somewhere in the middle. Some give a woman the benefit of the doubt, let her "prove her skills" as it were, before she is accepted as a full fledged crewmember, or they might be super critical of every mistake she makes (while ignoring his own) which just encourages her to make more in her self consciousness and prove their unspoken opinion that women make "lesser" pilots. [Trust me when I say I am not the only pilot that sometimes feels judged under this modified standard.] That gender would take precedence over skills, and even factor into the dynamics of perhaps sticking two people who may have never met into a technologically advanced airframe to climb thousands of feet into the air and hurtle at great speeds to a long stretch of concrete hours later on the other side of the country is a issue I hope will evolve in the next few, uh, decades, to where the female isn't subconsciously considered the inferior pilot. But there it is.

So I am still doing this pilot thing after 16 years. Why? Because I love it. Because there is no other way for me to get the same joy I get from accelerating down a runway for takeoff and piercing the big blue sky. I especially love making a turn-out over the airport that I just took off from, but I am now looking down at it over one MILE in the sky. Suh-wheet!

Being a pilot has allowed me to meet some of the most incredible people because of my involvement in aviation. Yes, my fellow women aviation enthusiasts, who always comment how they love to get together with other female pilots to bond by sharing their stories of trials and successes that their other girl friends just don't get. But I have also met some amazing men in aviation who have shown such support to me on a personal level, as their first officer or captain, or for Girls With Wings as a volunteer organization that they can get behind. There are too many to name, but it includes Don, who did so much getting together our GWW training day at Rhinebeck Aerodrome, Keith from Jones Dykestra and Associates, guys I have met on, Dave and all the folks from Twitter, my 400+ friends on Facebook, companies like ForeFlight, oh, and last but definitely not least, my father, who has been cheering me on from day 1 and who, well, happens to be a man. Any of these people may be assisting behind the scenes or making contributions to our scholarship and other GWW projects. But most of all, a HUGE portion of the emails I get, the folks that come to talk to me in the booth, stay after the presentations to talk, call me to ask how they can get their daughters (or sisters or mothers!) more interested in aviation, are MEN.

So, hopefully I will be dispelling any residual perception of my own stereotyping of men. I try to reserve judgment until I find out the other person's point of view. And that pathetic guy who said he wouldn't "give this silver-spooned neophyte the least consideration for single pilot IFR ops?" I would not waste my time trying to open his closed little mind. "If ignorance is indeed bliss, it is a very low grade of the article." -Tehyi Hsieh Chinese Epigrams Inside Out and Proverbs. I've got more important things to do. Like some simulator flying to study for. So I can go fly again.

So please don't let my discussion of the unfortunate and minor negative realities of this occupation deter your daughter or your support of her reaching her dream. I look forward to talking to your daughter (and you) on the radio soon!

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Changing gender stereotype, like, 50, 100 years at a time...

Sometimes things just BEG for a blog entry...

A Girls With Wings Role Model, Kristine, tweeted this question: "how do guys really feel about female pilots? are we inferior? apparently my entire human factors class thinks so."

Of course my initial reaction was "lemme at 'em!" I've been around too long and talked to too many people, from students, full-fledged pilots to instructors to know that is not the case. Men and women have their different strengths, but it would be awfully hard to prove that one gender is better than the other at flying. Men certainly have been logging a lot more time overall.

It's sparked quite a bit of discussion on twitter and on facebook, where people have been sending and posting links to me about a story about "Pilot wants to inspire other young women."

Malvika Matharoo, 24, is Earhart's heir. A native of Punjab, India, she grew up in the Middle Eastern nation Oman. Matharoo studied aviation at the University of North Dakota and moved to California in December 2007. She lives in Petaluma and works for North Coast Air in Santa Rosa. Read more:

She says, "I just started a program called "Take to the Sky," with North Coast Air and Valley of the Moon Teen Center in Sonoma. It's a flight program where I'm trying to encourage young women to pursue their dreams, hopefully in aviation. To say, "You can do it. I've done it.""

Unfortunately, the first comment on the news story was the following:

"Just inspiring.

We're still rolling on the floor laughing at this one! It is really nice that Daddy BigBucks could finance her flight training to get into an industry where there are NO JOBS available - but as long as she's "pursuing her dreams of being a role model" I suppose it's fine.

I like the opart about your "flight" starting 24 hours ahead of time. So much for on-demand charter operations I guess. Hopefully (if she's lucky enough to land a real flying job the annoying naivete will give way to reality - but i hire anywhere from 10 to 20 pilots a year - and i can assure you I wouldn't give this silver-spooned neophyte the least consideration for single pilot IFR ops.

I'm sure she'll do well in the right seat of a regional airline as long as some guy is sitting beside her telling her what to do. But let's keep the accolades to a rational level please!" (my italics)
I didn't see the part in the story that talked about her silver spoon. I did see where she "even [flew] in temperatures of minus 45 degrees with wind chill." Blech. And did she earn a pilot's license or a co-pilot's license, mister? Who are you to judge?

Of course we women pilots know this attitude is out there. The husband of my best friend, a pilot on furlough from a major airline, currently flies for a major cargo carrier. He has told us both that no matter how bad the things that have been said to our face are, they are nothing compared to what is said behind our backs. *Sigh* [This of course, does not take away ANYTHING from all of those great, supportive, talented male aviation contemporaries (a necessary disclaimer). You know who you are.]

The article, which starts, "Women had the "right stuff," too, back in the '60s. But the data on their performance tests were buried in the Mad Men era, and it was two decades before there was an American female astronaut," talks of "the "Mercury 13" members of the private Woman in Space Program of the early 1960s did about as well as, or better than, male candidates identically tested." Read it here:

But also read THOSE comments if you can. There's 156 of them! For example:

citizen99 (0 friends, send message) wrote: 5m ago
The best way to explore space is with Women and Men as co-astronaut crews. That way the women can bake the pies and the men can eat them. The same way it has worked on earth for centuries. Women can do the dishes and the men can put them away, if they are not too busy with their experiments and flying the space ship.

Or: AngryRepublican2 (10 friends, send message) wrote: 1h 37m ago
More radical, socialist / feminist propaganda to make us feel "guilty." Frankly, I doubt the accuracy of these studies. Unless there was some double blind testing, I suspect bias. Second, the studies do not seem to measure temperament. And let's be realistic here: men and women are different. Men are much better at making command decisions -- yes / no in two seconds in an emergency. Women are more deliberative. They like to mull over an issue, consider all the angles. That may be good in household management (should little Jimmy wear his rain slicker today?) or social work, but not when you are hurtling through space at 36,000 MPH and something goes wrong as in Apollo 13. This is why you see so few women CEOs. So few race car drivers. So few pilots. They are not wired for quick reactions.

Of course one guy had to write: The only female astronaut that I can think of just now, is that crazy one that drove cross-country wearing a diaper so she could assault a romantic rival.

...and then I just couldn't read any more. Well, one more, to be fair. Andrewnbham wrote:
"Sure, its possible the neanderthal bigots on this blog are right, without 'double blind' studies as some mention we can't be certain about the qualifications of women compared to men for anything (including being a housewife).

Its also possible that those bigots are just demonstrating the effects of centuries (millenia really) of socialization that taught them to feel the way they do, with no basis in fact for their opinions. There is NO objective, scientific evidence that women are any less able to do virtually anythnig men can do, and frequently do it as well or better. There IS centuries of ingrained prejudice and stereotypes passed down through generations very much alive today (as evidenced by this blog)."

Which brings me full circle back to the reason for this post. Last week was the AOPA Summit. Girls With Wings had a booth, and was assisted by Sara, shown at left, and Mikel, to whom I owe many thanks for their help! It is always so great meeting people face to face, as I talk about often at Oshkosh, to get their feedback on the GWW organization and whether they "agree" with our mission of encouraging more girls to have an interest in aviation.

For example, I had an insightful conversation with a visitor to the GWW booth at AOPA. The older gentleman reluctantly accepted a brochure that we present with the explanation that Girls With Wings is a volunteer organization that uses women in aviation as role models to inspire girls to achieve their full potential. And that we sell items at the booth to raise funds for our outreach efforts, such as the website, our presentations to girls groups, and the annual scholarship. He read the brochure and the part about "6% of pilots are women."

He says to me, "that number seems to be increasing." To which I say, "Yes, 12% of student pilots are women." And just in case he thought I was making those numbers up, "those statistics come from the FAA."

"Well," he says, "I've been seeing more women in the cockpits of regional airlines." (Clearly, since they're just finally starting to filter in enmasse to such professional careers.) But I say, "I've been a military, commercial, and private airline pilot for 16 years and only flown with another woman pilot 4 times."

He tells me he has trained 11-12 women pilots so I ask him how long he's been a flight instructor. He says proudly, "For about 40 years." I ask, "How many male pilots have you trained in that time?" and he says, rather boastfully, "Oh, thousands." I return, "Then, percentage-wise, that's still not very women pilots overall, is it?"

Although a dim light dawns, he just has to get the last word in. "It's not going to happen overnight, you know."

To which I reply, "No it's taken over a 100 years, and we're still working on it."

See a video about Girls With Wings at the AOPA Summit: