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:


  1. I make no apologies for being female and I certainly make no apologies for being a pilot. Just one more mental barrier to knock down in the "old school." But it will change someday. Would be nice to be the "old schooler" one day saying "I remember when..."
    But for now, I gotta say it. Women Pilot's Rock. The pilot in command of the Aloha 747 that lost it's top was Madelline (Mimi) Tompkins. She is an inspiration and definitely NOT an inferior pilot.

  2. Anybody out there who really believes all that junk is living in major denial. And if it comes from male a professional pilot, he's really kidding himself. Most of those comments sound a lot like what my mom heard in 1943 when she was training as a WASP. She flew dozens of types (including 100s of hours in B-25s) for thousands of hours in her lifetime.

    Women pilots rock! Keep spreading the word!