AvWeb: 100 Years Later, Where Are The Women Pilots? Also known as, “The Lack of Women in Aviation, as Debated and Explained Primarily By Men”:
It has now been 100 years since the first woman earned her pilot license. So, why are we still celebrating women pilots’ firsts?
Could it be our sheer numbers, or rather lack thereof? When Raymonde de Laroche earned her pilot license in 1910, number 36, she represented about three percent of the pilot population at that time. One hundred years later, women still only constitute about 6% of the pilot population in most western countries. With so few women pilots, it is not difficult to understand why firsts are still being made. But why are there so few women flying?
Mireille Goyer is perfectly capable of defending her own arguments, and advancing her own positions, so I’ll leave it to her to offer an explanation for why women aren’t well-represented in aviation. She picks out a fairly superficial example — the uniform of flight crew at an airline — and runs with it, in what I suspect was probably an attempt to illustrate the cultural dynamics at work and the problems facing women who aspire to a career in aviation. It is thought-provoking stuff: is your aviation workplace a friendly environment for women? If you’re a man, how do you know? What does it look like from a woman’s perspective? Are you doing everything you can to make sure that women (and minorities) are welcome? If not, what do we do differently?
Ms. Goyer doesn’t come out and say it in her article, but the post linked above does posit an explanation for why there are so few women in aviation. Go read the comments! (In this case, I mean it.) I mean, in a field where people say things like “can any of you name one – just ONE – discipline which has been upgraded, improved or created any new interest in it – by virtue of women being involved in it? The answer is a simple…NO!” — gosh, why, a woman would have to be crazy to think about not getting involved in the field! Amirite?! I mean, clearly the problem is that women are just ______, not that men involved in aviation on a day-to-day basis are knuckleheads or anything like that. Or that there might be serious structural impediments to prevent women from getting into a flying career. Anything but that.
Touch and Go, added later: Probably the most unsurprising thing about the whole article/comment thread (as you can probably see from a brief glance at it) is that you have women, on the one hand, who say, “There’s a problem here” and men who say “No, there isn’t.” The display of privilege here is truly staggering — it’s breathtaking in its completeness. This is why there aren’t more women in aviation. This, right here.
(This is also an awesome example of what privilege looks like on a daily basis; it’s not all name calling and back-of-the-bus seating. This is a bunch of guys who have never once had to consider whether other people thought it was right for them to be pilots, who have never had to consider their own built-in biases and their own structural advantages, and who’ve never ever thought about what their “inclusive” world looks like to someone from the outside. Turns out it’s not so inclusive now, is it? I sound disappointed, and maybe I am, but I guess it’s going as well as the open source adventures in equality. So maybe there’s hope.)
I posted a few comments and got a few replies; some of the more odious sentiments expressed included disbelief or uncertainty as to why we’d want more women flying in the first place — a statement so arrogantly sexist as to defy understanding. Nevertheless, dude AvWeb readers are apparently happy with the current configuration of aviation, have no problem with the size of the existing pilot pool (maybe they’re disgruntled renters who don’t want more people flying for lack of aircraft availability, or are worried that getting that airline job is going to be that much more difficult), and don’t see any need to change. That’s their right, of course, but they should at least be honest about what they’re doing: restricting access to aviation.
And even further (1500 PDT): First, Twitter tells me there have been a few readers who’ve wanted to leave comments, but couldn’t; sorry about that. I’ve fiddled with the settings and it should work now.
Second, I finally came up with an analogy about privilege that might make sense to pilots; it’s the post in the AvWeb thread about turbulence and ignoring your passengers. Note to self: write post about “pilot’s privilege.”
Third, to clarify my comment about “restricting access to aviation” — my understanding is that we want to grow aviation, and that we want to ensure that we continue to grow as an industry. Adding people passionate about flying is only ever a good thing. If we refuse to work to create an environment where all feel welcome, regardless of gender/gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnic background, or religious creed, we are deliberately excluding specific segments of the potential pilot population from participating. Some will suck it up and soldier on. My greater point is that they shouldn’t have to suck it up — so that the folks who don’t want to bite their tongues feel able to participate, too.
That exclusion is not a goal. But it is the unintended consequence of failing to be as inclusive as possible; indeed, this is the major problem with systemic discrimination — it’s never the intent to be discriminatory. Fix this, and we have a better chance at surviving the next 20-some years as more people learn how to fly, spend money on flying, and become passionate supporters and political defenders of flying. Leave things as they are, and in 20 years GA will probably look a lot like it does now — just a lot smaller.