Speaking of Women's Rights: Women's Roles --- Still Up in the Air?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Women's Roles --- Still Up in the Air?

The news that four women were in space at the same time this week is perhaps not news.

As we've progressed from the days when Sally Ride broke the gender barrier in the U.S., through Bonnie Dunbar, who not only carried out 5 space shuttle missions but is now the President and CEO of the Museum of Flight, to today’s quartet in space, we seem to have developed a nonchalance about women who reach this pinnacle of scientific and aeronautic achievement. Though I couldn’t help wishing reporters had been able to refrain from asking Astronaut Stephanie Wilson about her hair. Come on, folks: did anyone care about Neil Armstrong’s sideburns?

Not being news is truly good news in many ways: it means we no longer marvel that women can be so smart, so accomplished, so ambitious. We’ve moved beyond silly, sexist stereotypes. Now we celebrate the heroism and valor of the “Fly Girls” of World War II, as the current exhibit at Arlington National Cemetery does, and as Congress did earlier this year (and as we discussed here.

Thank goodness we’re a long way from the infamous “Coffee, Tea or Me?” days in the 1960’s and ‘70’s, when women were not even allowed to apply to be commercial pilots, and flight attendants were ‘uninhibited’, salacious and acknowledged objects of desire. Aren’t we?

Well, no. (You saw that coming, I bet.) Now on the CW Network you can see “Fly Girls”, a ‘reality show’ that follows four flight attendants on Virgin America Airlines as they meet handsome passengers, accept invitations to posh parties, and show off their “smiles in the aisles”. Granted, we don’t count on television to break stereotypes, but it’s disheartening to see such an old and negative one resurrected. At least it’s stirring up some opposition and artistic as well as social criticism. Even if it’s ‘just a silly TV show’, it’s not something we should let pass: women (and men) who work as flight attendants deserve better. So do the millions of young women and girls who could be looking to Stephanie Wilson and the other women astronauts and envisioning their own trajectories. Not to mention the disrespect to those amazing women in World War II.

I wonder if Buffy is available to come back and slay the creators of the show?