May 22, 2022


Only The Finest Women

Book review of “The Great Stewardess Rebellion: How Women Launched a Workplace Revolution at 30,000 Feet” by Nell McShane Wulfhart

Book review of “The Great Stewardess Rebellion: How Women Launched a Workplace Revolution at 30,000 Feet” by Nell McShane Wulfhart
Placeholder whilst report actions load

For youthful ladies in the 1960s, taking to the skies and getting a stewardess was a daring selection. The airlines boasted about how a lot of applicants they turned absent who didn’t meet up with demanding beauty and excess weight necessities. “Presenting The Losers” blared a 1967 advert showcasing an assemblage of 19 superior-looking but unsmiling women of all ages whom the now-defunct carrier, Jap, reported it had rejected. “If appears to be like had been every little thing, it would not be so challenging,” the ad says. “Sure, we want her to be really … do not you? … But we do not quit there. … We don’t want a stewardess to be impatient with a issue you may well have, or careless in serving your dinner, or unconcerned about your wants.”

Some sexist necessities had been drop when the 1964 Civil Legal rights Act produced gender discrimination unlawful, but the airlines’ design of a cadre of youthful, single, stunning women catering to mainly male business vacationers resisted meaningful adjust until stewardesses took matters into their personal hands and structured. (Nowhere does the Eastern Air Traces ad mention protection. It wasn’t till 2003 that Congress agreed that flight attendants need to be protection-certified and accredited by the Federal Aviation Administration like pilots and mechanics.)

The vacation author Nell McShane Wulfhart delivers a treasure trove of classic advertisements and relatable anecdotes to “The Excellent Stewardess Rise up: How Women of all ages Introduced a Workplace Revolution at 30,000 Ft,” her narrative of how the airline business was remodeled from within just. The women of all ages at the heart of this transformation had been meant to stay in their positions only a couple of yrs and have been accustomed by the times to accepting blatantly unreasonable calls for — this sort of as compelled retirement at age 32 — in trade for an experience they could not locate anyplace else. While the occupation promised glamour and independence, there were being also demeaning “girdle checks” (girdles ended up obligatory), draconian bodyweight restrictions and a bare minimum height prerequisite arrived at by an airline govt who brought in women of all ages of various sizes and had them reach up to the overhead compartment although he sat and viewed. “He made a decision when he was seeing much too significantly leg, and when he was not, and so the minimum amount top need was born,” Wulfhart writes.

Currently, the expression “stewardess” has been retired and the at the time woman-only work opened to men. “Flight attendants” have taken their location as beleaguered entrance-line pros in an significantly unruly workplace 30,000 ft in the air.

The procedure of shifting younger stewardesses into union activists was a prolonged just one, comprehensive of setbacks and phony starts off. An first attempt, a help business called Stewardesses for Women’s Rights (SFWR), was limited-lived, but it received the public’s focus when Harry Reasoner, an ABC information anchor, applauded SFWR’s purpose of basic safety certification, declaring: “I do not want a intercourse item in a slender aisle. But I really do not want a surly union member possibly. I want somebody youthful and illusory who appears to be like she thought traveling was exciting even if she is aware of extra about emergency evacuation of airplanes than I’d like to consider about.” About stewardesses in standard, he extra, “They really should be there for a couple of a long time and then, like the clouds exterior home windows, be changed with soft and fluffy new types.”

The SFWR blasted Reasoner, expressing his statement was just as ridiculous as suggesting that he must action aside “to make room for the young, extra desirable and virile searching adult men in your industry.” Reasoner retracted his assertion.

These groundbreaking girls did not shy absent from their attractiveness. They used it as a weapon. In 1963, eight stewardesses held a news convention in New York’s Commodore Resort. In uniform, flawlessly coifed and exhibiting a large amount of leg, they dared the assembled reporters to guess who was more mature than 32.

“Do I search like an old bag?” exclaimed the oldest of the team, who was 35. The airlines did not generally fire older stewardesses, as an alternative moving them into other work opportunities, in impact disappearing them — in some cases at good emotional charge. Wulfhart cites 1 girl so despondent around currently being hidden absent and created to truly feel much less relevant that she took her life.

Following the passage of the Civil Rights Act, the airlines hired psychologists to make the situation that women possessed qualities of nurturing that gentlemen did not, and that the ban on married girls was crucial to harmony at residence airline executives apprehensive about acquiring to offer with angry husbands. The Equal Work Option Commission roundly turned down these gender-dependent arguments in 1968.

Wulfhart starts her narrative with the “charm farm,” a faculty for stewardesses in Dallas operate by American Airlines, exactly where Patt Gibbs, the book’s principal character, arrived at age 19, having had a troublesome hole amongst her entrance tooth closed for her to make the grade.

Gibbs was critiqued from prime to base, on traits these types of as hairstyle, nail treatment and gait. “You wander like a gorilla,” she was told. A starry-eyed Midwesterner keen to escape dwelling devoid of any thoughts of a career, she was an unlikely union activist.

After attending an early arranging meeting out of curiosity, she was immediately drafted to one management place after yet another, and through her eyes, the twists and turns of how the Association of Skilled Flight Attendants was born in 1977 arrive into look at.

There were fights over recognition and equivalent shell out and stewardesses getting to share resort rooms as these courageous gals deemed breaking away from the impressive Transport Workers Union and becoming a member of the Teamsters union, the place the infamous labor boss Jimmy Hoffa reigned.

Hoffa sent Frank Sinatra’s personal aircraft to provide Gibbs and her cohorts to Washington for a conference. He gave Gibbs a sign in Latin that, translated, reported, “Don’t enable the bastards get you down,” which she later learned he routinely handed out to website visitors. It was heady things for women of all ages screening their bargaining electric power in a speedily switching tradition.

There is so a great deal persuasive detail in the story of how stewardesses turned flight attendants, how the subject was opened to adult men and equalized for all, that the timeline of these inflection details receives misplaced in the telling. Significantly societal change that Wulfhart tangentially promotions with manufactured the local climate additional favorable for a breakaway union spearheaded by women of all ages. In 1972, Ms. Magazine published its initially problem, which bought out in 8 days. It called for desexing the English language, changing “policeman” with “police officer” and “stewardess” with “flight attendant.” In 1973, Billie Jean King defeated Bobby Riggs in 3 straight sets in what was billed as the “Battle of the Sexes.”

With this e-book, Wulfhart, by her prodigious investigation, secures a spot for the gals who endured all way of indignities to forge a far better potential for those people who place their life on the line every single working day in a career the moment regarded as frivolous.

Eleanor Clift is a columnist with the Everyday Beast.

The Great Stewardess Revolt

How Women of all ages Launched a Place of work Revolution at 30,000 Feet