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!


  1. I had the pleasure of teaching an avition summer camp associted with a kids program called "Oakland Yard" in Oakland county MI while I was a full time flight instructor. There was this 12 year old girl named Erin who was absolutly sharp as a tack. She had the brains to go along with that great little smile of hers.
    Upon completion of the camp her father pulled me aside and asked about the chances of her persuing a career as a pilot. That short four days of flying with me and a couple other instructors was enough proof for her that she loved flying.
    While i was still at that flight school, her father would bring her in at least three times a month to keep that interest up. From the moment she got her pillows to sit on (she'll be a great IFR pilot, can barely see over the panel anyway) to the moment she left with her parents, she had an ear to ear smile.
    Sadly I have lost touch with them since I was no longer an instructor at that school. I can only hope that she will keep flying when she can until she is old enough to solo and then continue on with her dream.

  2. Anonymous8:46 PM

    It intrigues me that women fighter and bomber pilots have been taking lives in Iraq and Afghanistan since Lt Kendra Williams historic flight in 1998.The ladies you mention,Nicole Malachowski and Jill Long have possibly taken lives.How do you feel about this ?Would you enjoy being in aerial combat ?