In the several years I’ve been writing this column I’ve never had the occasion to immediately follow up a piece with a second pass at the topic. It just didn’t seem relevant. Until now.
It’s not unusual for me to receive email from readers. I answer most of them, only rejecting the anonymous ones. Yet, last week was the first time I was physically stopped by female pilots who wanted to thank me for writing a piece about their travails. Their gratitude was palpable. And that got me thinking.
Appearance isn’t everything was intended to illustrate the lack of respect women often face when moving into the aviation industry. The two women featured are real women whom I’ve known and flown with. Their stories are true.
As it turns out, the anecdotes they share are not isolated incidents. They’re pervasive. And a review of the comments left on that article show that to be truer than many of us might like to believe.
It’s true women have been involved in aviation since the earliest days of heavier-than-air, powered flight. Harriet Quimby was the first woman licensed to fly in the United States. Dubbed the “China Doll” by some press outlets, she was not quite as universally respected or admired as some revisionists might suggest.
Bessie Coleman was a popular flier of the early days, too — although she found so much resistance to her desire to fly she had to travel to Europe to get into flight training.
During World War II the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) distinguished themselves as capable pilots who often flew multiple types with minimal training. During the war, 38 WASP died, mostly in crashes brought on by equipment failures. Sabotage has been suggested as the cause of some of those fatal accidents. Think about that. The implications are chilling.
Aviation has never been particularly welcoming to women. And by “aviation” I mean “men involved in aviation.”
Suck it up, boys. We’re the problem now, as we were then. You can disagree, but you’d be wrong. We make up more than 90% of the pilot population. If we welcome newcomers, we get newcomers. If we make their lives miserable, we don’t. It’s that simple.
Wading through the comments on that last piece, I was astonished by the misinformation, bad assumptions, and plain old belligerence toward fully qualified pilots based on nothing but their gender.
One commenter announced with indignity that he’d discovered the Ninety-Nines, an organization designed to promote and support female pilots, won’t accept men into their membership. Hmm, that’s a dubious claim. The Ninety-Nines is indeed a membership organization for female pilots, but the Friends of the Ninety-Nines is open to anyone, male or female, pilot or not.
He also took Tammie Jo Shults to task for media outlets routinely referring to her as a female pilot. I’m not sure how this former Naval aviator and Southwest captain might control the comments of others who reference her, but that’s become her responsibility according to at least one reader. That same commenter equated a female pilot with tattoos to a dirty, unkempt, and apparently drunk male pilot. Seriously? Drunk and tattooed are on the same level now?
I don’t think so.
I may not be the best CFI ever to take to the skies, but I’m pretty sure women applicants are tested using the same Airman Certification Standards the men are judged by. Isn’t that the common metric we’ve been presented with for applicants regardless of weight, height, nationality, religious conviction, skin color, or gender? Did I miss something?
Another commenter admonished women pilots to “get out and get your ratings and apply for jobs like everybody else, or is it better to sit back and cry “discrimination” and want jobs handed to you.”
This dolt (and yes, I choose that word specifically to describe a cretin of this sort) apparently didn’t catch the drift that both women mentioned in the story have their certificates and ratings, they have jobs, they’re respected and trusted by their employers, they’ve got time in fixed wing aircraft and helicopters. In short, they’re better qualified than the vast majority of pilots in the marketplace. But it’s still okay to disparage them because…they’re women.
I wonder if the more mean-spirited men commenting would accept the challenge to show off their immense piloting skills on a ride with Patty Wagstaff or Julie Clark?
I wonder if they’d like to strap onto the tip of a rocket and try to keep up with Eileen Collins for an orbit or two. I have no doubt they can show us the time they’ve logged in more than 70 types of aircraft flown in a war zone while unarmed, as Suzie de Flores did.
How many times have these malignant nay-sayers been asked by a passenger why they became pilots and didn’t just become a stewardess? I’ll wager they’re by and large less accomplished and more bitter than any of the women mentioned in this story or the previous one.
For those who don’t know, the job of a CFI is to transfer knowledge, to provide the insight that can help develop skills in others, and to increase the confidence and competence of those they fly with. How do so many of us miss this simple truth?
Being a pilot isn’t about belittling others who have attained the same certifications we have. I’m at an absolute loss on the topic of making assumptions about a pilot’s qualifications, professionalism, or motives simply because of their gender.
Women make up more than half the overall population, but less than 10% of the pilot population. It’s not for lack of effort, either. They’re out there. The rest of us are doing our best to drive them away, though. In my humble opinion, we should stop doing that. It’s counter-productive.
Incidentally, on Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019, at 10 p.m., on CNBC, you can watch former Tonight Show host Jay Leno climb into an ICON A5 with my good friend, Genesah Duffy. The same Genesah Duffy who was insulted so cavalierly in the comments section of last week’s column. You’ll note Jay doesn’t have any qualms about flying with her, because Jay is a class act.
Aim higher, boys. You’re missing the target by a wide margin and shooting yourselves in the foot in the process.