Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Is this Girl With Wings sending a hurtful message?

Apparently two men, electing themselves to speak on behalf of  women in aviation everywhere, do. They have sent me emails (attached below) to let me know how wrong I am for the way in which I'm encouraging girls to have an interest in aviation, especially with this "shrinking violet in her soft pink cuddly airplane." Note: it's purple.

For the six plus years I've been working on Girls With Wings I have gotten so many emails (some that have moved me to tears) with statements of support, so I think it's only fair that I hear from my critics. I know I cannot please everyone, so a ratio of 2 to several thousand or so is pretty darn good.

I'm not going to say any more about the emails, but I hope you do. I'd like to hear YOUR honest feedback on how you would respond to these emails before I frame a response to the second. You can let me know how I'm missing the mark (though I may not agree with you OR be able to comply due to time, resources and financial issues), but at least you can be heard.  Thank you.

Email #1:

I have a commercial pilots license myself (not flying professionally at this time) and know three other women who fly for the majors (Continental, Alaska and UPS).

Your website is so highly OFFENSIVE that I'm nearly speechless.

Is there a reason you portray female pilots right down there with Holly Hobby and My pretty pony???

The MANY pilots (female and male) that I know are Professional, Serious, and (in the case of the females) ALL WOMAN without having to resort to cutesy stereotypical crap that you're trying to hock here.

If you TRULY are trying to encourage girls to find an interest in and love of flying, you're undermining your own efforts and offending PROFESSIONAL Pilots along the way (both male and female).

ARG!!! I can't believe how pissed off this site makes me!

My response to him:

Thank you for your email. It's unfortunate that you find Girls With Wings offensive, but I assure you that the Girls With Wings program has been enormously  successful with those professional women for whom you believe you are speaking and the girls to whom the outreach effort targets. The women - and men - of all ages, professions and interests, that support our extensive volunteer organization are able to see the value in the website,, and the items we provide, with such inoffensive phrases as "Yes, Girls Can Fly!" - after years of only being able to buy aviation themed items too boyish to interest girls. Your email does let me know that there is one person who so strongly opposes our mission, in contrast to the many who feel so strongly in support of it.

Ok, so now there's two, since I got another email last night. I find it interesting that these emails only came after I started advertising the Girls With Wings Pilot Shop on Facebook. I think people have always gone to the website first and the store second, if at all. The store helps us to raise funds for the educational programs of GWW, though most comes from donations, memberships, etc. The ads are hitting a whole new segment of the aviation field, it appears.

Coincidentally it came just after I received an email from a dad who has ordered a couple of times for things for his kids, saying, "You are a wonderful person and do a great job for our young ladies, and may God always bless you. Please let me know if you are ever in the _____ area. And you can call [me] if there is any problems with the order or donating to GWW. Thanks again for all you do for the kids."

You can see why I'd get such a distorted perception of the appeal of GWW, right?

So here's Email #2, entitled "where is the pilot stuff in the pilot store:"

I am a 41 year old male who is an aviation enthusiast and have made my living as an aviation mechanic for the last 19 years. I stumbled across and thought "awesome, a group actually working to reach an entire segment of the population that the aviation hobby and profession have tried to ignore."

I so badly wanted to support what you say is your mission... but when I went to your "Pilot Store" hoping I'd see some actual aviation gear I could purchase to support your organization, all I found was girly trinkets, jewelry, hair-bows, and nicnacs. Don't you realize by only selling these types of items that you are reinforcing the very attitude you claim to want to improve?

I'm so disappointed that your store telegraphs the hurtful message that girls are only interested in pretty little things and clothes. It saddened me to see the profile photo of your facebook page was a Precious Moments style figurine of a little shrinking violet in her soft pink cuddly airplane. You are only subtly hinting that airplanes would be fine for girls if they were more girly.

It would be so sad to think a young girl that actually might be interested in flying (but not interested in princess items) would be discouraged by your message that she can only be a pilot if finds a way to do it as a girly girl in an airplane toe ring and a pink "girl with wings" cap.

When women fly the planes I work on, they wear the same flight suit as their male counterparts. When I work alongside female technicians they wear the same coveralls I wear. And of these two groups of women, they range from the ultra-feminine to the severely masculine. That's because they are a cross section of society, just like any profession. There is no "mold" for them to be forced into... but a store like yours tries very hard to create one.

If you want to get young girls excited about aviation, how about offering books about successful women who fly? Why not use the very things that attract young boys to aviation (toy planes, video games, DVD's featuring cool aviation movies and documentaries, etc.)

What's really sad is that the photos I saw of of the women who donating their personal time away from flying to interact with groups of young girls are not represented in your store AT ALL!

In light of my blog entry from yesterday, this seems doubly ironic because I was just discussing how the methods we're using now to encourage more women (who, not surprisingly, start out as girls) to get into aviation aren't quite working as well as we would like, or else there would be more women pilots and aviation mechanics, and etc.

Ok. I have to stop typing now. First of all because I still haven't packed for my trip to DC and second because I promised myself I'd let YOU form the answer for me. Still here I am almost  physically restraining myself from developing counterpoints that seems so obvious to me since I've been immersed in this for so long. I need to hear from you to know how other people feel about the mission of Girls With Wings - even if it's just a fraction of how strongly I do - so I can continue to develop the organization.

So, please comment below or send an email to let your voice be heard!


  1. I think that both of these letters come from the standpoint that girls and women need to integrate themselves into aviation.

    The way I see your organization standing out is that you stand up and say Aviation is open to everyone. Where most products, toys, and materials are geared toward men. Where a young girl looking at a Sporty's catalog would see women modeling clothing with "Remove Before Flight" suggestively plastered on them. Your organization steps above that, and offers an alternative. You encourage women and young girls to expand their horizons, and see that they can accomplish whatever they set their mind too. If it takes a pretty toy to help feed that inspiration, then I say terrific.

    To these gentleman I would say that there are plenty of outlets where girls can access the male world of flying, but precious few where aviation is packaged to appeal to the girls who like My Little Pony.

    It is not demeaning to use cute and pretty toys to appeal to the female sex. It is a recognition that God created the sexes different (note I did not say he created any of the sexes superior, but different).

    Kind of rambling, but I hope you find it useful.

  2. Hey Lynda,

    I'm not saying this because I count you as a personal friend, (because I do) but as both a FATHER and a PILOT.

    My Daughter Amelia, (ya, I know!) is a precocious 4 and 1/2. She's smack in the princesses, and mermaids stage. He favorite colors are pink and purple. She's a girly-girl...

    So the stuff you sell to support the GWW mission is just fine with me. It fits right into my daughter's world of make-believe and fair-tales... Which is just fine for a pre-schooler if you ask me. Nothing wrong with flying being a part of her fun and imaginative world right now.

    The important difference here is that while I'm pretty sure that my girl will NOT grow up to be a Mermaid... (I'm not THAT good of a swimmer) I bet she has a good chance of learning to fly if she puts her mind to it some day.

    So in the mean time, if she like the cute GWW gear, and makes the connection that aviation can be fun... I'm fine with that.

    In fact, reading the notes above have inspired me to go and buy a bunch more GWW stuff right now. Just to support my daughter, just as much as it supports GWW and the work you're doing.

    Keep up the good work.


  3. Arty Trost9:22 AM

    I have a 5 year old granddaughter and she is completely into princesses and pink, pink pink! She loves swirly long dresses and tries to climb trees and go horseback riding in her princess gowns. I think this says something about our society - but I'm not going to change her passion.

    If I can help her get interested in aviation through pink and purple hair bows and a cuddly looking polymer airplane and pilot - then I'm going to do it! The way we've been doing it hasn't worked (only 6% of all pilots are women, and in my area of aviation passion - flying ultralights and Light Sport aircraft - there are even fewer.) So for me, anything that will "hook" young girls and help them see that they can get into aviation is a "YES!!!"

    Thank you, Lynda, for all the passion that you bring to helping girls into aviation - not just into flying, buy into all aspects of aviation.

    With admiration,

    Arty Trost