an explicitly feminist agenda to airline labor activism
November 29, 2018 12:08 PM   Subscribe

"The innuendo-laden campaign cost National a small fortune—they spent over $9 million a year on the ads—but it paid off. The National Organization for Women objected to the ads, calling them sexist, saying that they presented flight attendants as a “flying meat market” and invited passengers to make sexual advances. Nevertheless, the “Fly Me” series raised the carrier’s profile and won a handful of advertising awards. Advertising the bodies of women employees was good for business."How Flight Attendants Organized Against Their Bosses to End 'Swinging Stewardesses' Stereotyping
posted by everybody had matching towels (17 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
 
Black flight attendants also used the courts and the EEOC to challenge the airlines’ white beauty standards. Deborah Renwick, a stewardess with United Airlines, received a three-week suspension and then was terminated for having an Afro. With the support of the NAACP, she successfully sued United Airlines and won the right for flight attendants to wear Afros.
Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In gave United the Flying Fickle Finger of Fate for that one.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:26 PM on November 29, 2018 [7 favorites]


The bodies of women flight attendants have long been an integral part of the airlines’ marketing strategy. In the postwar period, government regulations ensured that fares, routes, and planes were nearly indistinguishable. To stand out, airlines marketed their flight attendants’ looks and promised an exciting or erotic in-flight experience. At the dawn of the commercial aviation industry, airlines introduced formal and informal policies to ensure that their flight attendants were uniformly young, slender, unmarried white women, running job ads with explicit requirements for height, weight, and marital status.
Fascinating history. The things that we totally take for granted today (like why we even have flight attendants in the first place) are because the competing airlines said hmmm, how can we stand out? Let's add pretty women!
posted by Melismata at 12:37 PM on November 29, 2018 [1 favorite]


Flight attendants were also among the earliest and most effective anti-smoking advocacy organizers.
posted by Etrigan at 12:52 PM on November 29, 2018 [14 favorites]


Wow I didn't know any of this, thanks so much for posting!
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 12:55 PM on November 29, 2018 [2 favorites]


File under Things Kids These Days Would Be Astounded To Learn: Airplanes with smoking & no smoking zones, and people lighting up before the no-smoking light turned off.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 1:00 PM on November 29, 2018 [5 favorites]




In my high school, I found a copy of Coffee, Tea or Me? I don't know whether it was a library book or in that sad pile of books that the library doesn't want. You talk about a hot pile of garbage. I wouldn't say it made an impact on me, but it was definitely something else that gave me the idea that I was uptight and generally bad at womaning because I wasn't that aggressively sexual. Naturally, it was written by a man under two female pseudonyms.

Some time ago, I read a Life article from the '60s or early '70s about a group of young career women who shared an apartment; since they were mostly stewardesses and never home at the same time, there were a lot of them. I particularly remembered how one was described as living on "a quart of Diet Coke and an apple a day." At the time, I thought she was just a lucky spark of genetics, someone who didn't need as much as me and could make do with even less. Now I see she was probably forced into it.
posted by Countess Elena at 1:15 PM on November 29, 2018 [5 favorites]


Naturally, it was written by a man under two female pseudonyms.
Not just any man, but a man with the middle name of ..Slitheran.
posted by memento maury at 1:49 PM on November 29, 2018 [1 favorite]


In my high school, I found a copy of Coffee, Tea or Me? I don't know whether it was a library book or in that sad pile of books that the library doesn't want. You talk about a hot pile of garbage.

That "book" and its sequel are on the list of books that I read when I was about eight and had no idea what I was reading because it came in a $1.00 mystery box from an auction and our parents didn't believe in restricting our reading. I can remember moments growing up when I'd learn something and suddenly a passage would make sense to me.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:52 PM on November 29, 2018 [6 favorites]


I missed the era of sexualized flight attendants, but through my childhood and teenage years in the 80s and 90s there was still a lot of residual "flight attendants are sexy, sexy sexmuffins" in pop culture, and I remember being so puzzled because the flight attendants I'd seen didn't dress or act any sexier than anyone else did.

(Similarly: nurses, secretaries, basically any other job that had been restricted to young single women in earlier decades. I filed it all under "grownups apparently have weird turn-ons" and didn't figure out the actual situation until I was into my 20s.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 1:52 PM on November 29, 2018 [14 favorites]


Two or three years ago, I cancelled my (cheap bargain!) subscription to Bloomberg Businessweek. I really liked the content, but I got bone-tired of flipping past creepy flight-attendant-centric airline ads every single week.

The type of ads that would feature an attractive young woman flight attendant, with copy like "we'll make you comfortable" or similar. No mention of extra legroom or free pillows, just the image of the woman. I don't think the era of sexualized flight attendants is entirely behind us yet.
posted by reseeded at 2:18 PM on November 29, 2018 [8 favorites]


I don't think the era of sexualized flight attendants is entirely behind us yet.

Definitely not behind us. VietJet has dancing bikini-clad stewardesses/models. It's not their regular uniform, but even as an intermittent PR stunt it's just... ugh.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 7:01 PM on November 29, 2018 [2 favorites]


Definitely not behind us. VietJet has dancing bikini-clad stewardesses/models yt . It's not their regular uniform, but even as an intermittent PR stunt it's just... ugh.

That video:
A. looks like it was made by someone who barely knew how to use a video editing program
B. makes me want to never fly that airline ever.

I think the dude on the left at 1:04 really sells the image the airline is going for though.
posted by zekesonxx at 8:08 PM on November 29, 2018




Currently reading Airline -- Style at 30,000 Feet. It frames a lot of historical airline aesthetics as glamorous and exclusive. A generation or more removed from the images in the book, it's easy to be drawn into the glamour without considering how it was exploited or cast in ways that were wholly regressive for gender equality.

I'm all for the glamour when it's dignified and empowering for its subjects. Thanks for sharing this article; it's a fantastic companion to my style-based read. And, plus, it's well-written -- my book has great photos but reads like it was written by some AI bot or something.
posted by Theophrastus Johnson at 9:29 PM on November 29, 2018 [1 favorite]


i am so fucking sick of everything being always advertised to straight male horndogs as if they’re the only ones who want to be entertained

why weren’t there airlines ad bombing with free roaming kittens and complimentary delicious cake? we would live in a much more interesting world! but no, swollen dicks and gross jokes about tails and the commodification of bodies. sigh.
posted by zinful at 11:11 PM on November 29, 2018 [8 favorites]


I like Southwest mostly because they are wearing sneakers. I wish our safety could be as valuable to capitalism as convincing guys to sit on a long flight by providing free live porn for them to ogle.
posted by bleep at 1:16 AM on November 30, 2018 [4 favorites]


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