Women In The Cockpit: Normalize It

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To your recent blog about news stories that promote women, I would add these comments: Yes, all-female flights or fake or minor women’s firsts have multiple negative aspects including the one you mentioned, “Imagine that. They could actually do it.” But also it gives an impression that women have just arrived in the industry as the eternal beginners.

A message that points out that it is “normal” as opposed to “extraordinary” for a woman to be involved in aviation and that they have been since the beginning of aviation would be far more attractive. Most people do not seek an extraordinary life; they seek a good, comfortable life. The “extraordinary” tag is in fact a barrier for most, whether male or female. 

We need to find a good balance between ignoring women’s presence as we did before 2010 when pretty much everyone had decided women were not interested and not worth seeking as viable candidates and talking about them every day. So it is not a question of whether to cover women, it is a question of how. 

The feminist movement was responsible for the most amazing growth for the American female pilot population. We went from 4218 fully rated female pilots in 1960 to 26,896 in 1980 thanks in part to strong positive messaging to women: “You can do anything than a man can,” and “go for it.” Including students, the female pilot population totaled 52,902 in 1980, the most ever. Proper messaging does work. Lawsuits also opened airline cockpit doors for women at the same time adding a positive prospect. 

In that era, women were willing to attempt to dismiss their gender identity to fit in. I do not think anyone should expect such behavior anymore, not in an era obsessed with uniqueness and identity. 

Social media has indeed lowered the standards for recognition. I think that “traditional media” has followed down to compete. I believe that if it continues to do so, it will lose the battle. It needs to continue to dig for and report real news and real accomplishments to keep its head above and remain a relevant source. 

The all-female spacewalk is an accomplishment, not so much for women who have been spacewalking for 35 years now, but for NASA who has actively worked to give a fair opportunity to female candidates. It deserves the pat on the back for this one – especially after the March wardrobe malfunction.

It is a great example of what a genuine internal corporate culture change can accomplish in terms of gender balance. We see it at flight schools that celebrate WOAW every year. In Squamish, there are now days when airplane renters are solely women.

Mireille Goyer is founder and president of the Institute for Women of Aviation Worldwide.

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34 COMMENTS

    • Unless she can define her terms, there is NO WAY to understand what she’s saying nor for for her to proceed in a logical steps forward. I don’t respect women as a class of people nor do I respect men as a class of people. Respect is EARNED. If she was fighting this “battle” for better pilots (and therefore better safety) then I would be 100% in support; but this article is only looks at people’s different plumbing.

  1. Nearly every ism that exists is the result of other isms. Don’t care for sexism? Better eradicate chauvinism, egoism, exclusivism, skepticism, and a few others first if you want to purge it from the boardrooms, media, cockpits and small minds of society.

    Life unfair? It’s really just a ruse. A man can’t do anything a woman can. I know that, and I’m at peace with it. Employ isms like self-determinism, optimism and meliorism. You’ll be fine.

    • C’mon, that’s not a truism. Sounds more like hypercriticism resulting from philistinism. Nonetheless, Good luck with your egalitarianism, if that’s what you think the author wanted, yet never mentioned.

      I found it to be a disjointed rant ranging from complaining about media coverage of women pilots, to airports filled with mostly women pilots. Confusing favoritism.

  2. You are absolutely correct! However, to not be perceived as extraordinary events, there has to be one standard, and one standard only. Pilot first, gender, race, ethnicity, etc. somewhere else. Otherwise, the accomplishment is perceived as an exception to the rule.

  3. And I thought it was Aunt Bee on Season 8, Episode 23 of the Andy Griffith’s show when she solo’d in her “Big Moment”…..

    I’d love to hear the back story of how the Cessna marketing department pulled that one off.

  4. Flying is no longer “a man’s job.” It has become a computer game – no strength required, just good reflexes and, because motion is involved, the ability to accurately project one’s current actions into what happens miles further ahead of where you are now.

  5. Couple of things: There have been great female pilots for a hundred years. Not sure where “ignoring women’s presence as we did before 2010” comes from, that sounds like nonsense. It was hard to see where the author is going with her points. Some of these female-first “accomplishments” sound silly like when you hear about the first Papua New Guinean to race in NASCAR or the first all left-nutted male crew of a space mission. At what point does group identity stop being an accomplishment if other groups did it already for decades?
    I learned to fly in 2002 and my CFI was a talented woman. The female CFIs I work with do the job as well as anyone and they are following their dream but there just aren’t a ton of them. I can’t speak to sexism or other things that might culturally discourage women, but aviation is the only career I can think of that there is NO external barrier to entry other than spending a lot of money. At some point, for every other career you can think of, there is someone who will tell you you are done and its time to give up on your dream, but not aviation. You can’t be a dentist or lawyer, podiatrist, electrician, accountant, bus driver by just by spending more $$ when you fail out of something, but literally anyone who wants to waste (invest?) 4 years and $150k and work/spend through PPL/Inst/Com/CFI/CFII/Multi Com/ MEI can then be qualified to wear three-stripes and earn $47k/a year at your fave regional airline. They will hire anyone. They’d even hire me, and that’s insane. So at no point in is someone going to say you can’t stop spending money towards qualifying for an ATP and an almost-guaranteed career in aviation. At my thousands of hours at flight schools, FBOs, hangars I have never seen a CFI who was the least bit opposed to taking a female student’s $$ and helping her toward the checkride. What a country!

    So I always laugh at the idea that there is some barrier to entry for women in aviation. It’s the same barrier that’s there for everyone – it’s a ton of $$ that you need someone to front you or its a huge s–t sandwich for 6 years or so to earn those 1,500 hrs, and anyone with a brain (except for few marginal male weirdos who wanted to fly since they were 4) is going to find a different career. A smart 23 yr old woman is going to get a MS in biochemistry and have a better life than working as a CFI in FL for $13k for three years and then working as an RJ FO in Newark with an even worst quality of life.
    Oh and fast forward to 2019, my CFII from 2003, yep she has an ATP and a CRJ type rating, but she and her husband (also a CFI) flip houses and are a million times happier running their business than being A320 FOs…

  6. Carl R. That’s the best presented argument I have read in a long time on this subject. Its all about the money and being able to live through the ladder of s–t jobs whether your male. female, or gender neutral.

  7. Aviation is more than willing to take anyone’s money for training and is also more than willing to take a decade of your life as a near-slave to be a CFI and regional pilot. The author ignores that reality and embarks on a journey of feelings and viewpoints and politics. That’s fine, but you don’t get to order other people around to change their lives in order to fit YOUR world view.

  8. I’ve taught women to fly in airplanes which got a lot of attention. People at the gas pumps always wanted to talk to me and not the owners because they assumed I was the pilot even if I got out of the rear or right seat. I’ve been in airline training sessions in which instructors have said they were glad there weren’t any women in the room. I’ve seen the pilots’ lounge at a respected corporate FBO labeled as “Man Cave.” A friend of mine was tapped on the shoulder and reminded that the airline event she was attending, hosted by her company, was for “pilots only, not for wives or flight attendants.” Any time women might try to discuss any of these sorts of challenges, they’re immediately attacked and told to lighten up and suck it up. I’ve never faced any suggestions, either direct of passive, that I didn’t belong in aviation. Women face these kinds of things all too often. To have the strength to become a good flyer and also do deal with some of their colleagues who may only begrudgingly accept them at best, women who make a career flying have more stones than the men who dismiss their challenges as false.

  9. Feminists need to make a decision. Do they want women to be treated equally, or as part of a special tribe? Every time we hear about “an all female this” or the “first woman that”, that’s special treatment, not equality.

    Airplanes don’t care about the genitalia of the pilot. We need more pilots, not special treatment. We don’t need the 99s or WAI or the women’s air races. We just need pilots.

  10. I’m sick of all this drivel about women in aviation or any other area of life. Prove your abilities or shut up. We have enough “protected classes” as it is. Demanding preferential treatment is actually an admission of your inadequacies.

  11. “Women In The Cockpit: Normalize It”

    If that is what YOU want, then YOU should be pointing your finger at women for not investing in a career that YOU want them to invest in so that YOU can be happy. It seems rather selfish of you to demand that others perform for you.

  12. Your comment is awaiting moderation
    Want to be a pilot?
    These organizations offer help and support for female and male (CVYAEP) aviators:
    * Women in Aviation International, wai.org/
    * The International Society of Women Airline Pilots, iswap.org/
    * The Ninety-Nines, ninety-nines.org/
    * The Coachella Valley Youth Aviation Education Program, Facebook.com/CVYAEP
    Reply

  13. “The feminist movement was responsible for the most amazing growth for the American female pilot population.”
    Really? How does Ms. Goyer quantify that emphatic statement? I suggest those years were incredible growth years in aircraft production combined with air travel becoming mainstream for the average American citizen. Without the internet of today, businesses leveraged airplanes for the fastest way to ink a deal. The Vietnam War, demands for business aviation, and aircraft production was at an all time high. Pilots were needed to fill those seats.

    “In that era, women were willing to attempt to dismiss their gender identity to fit in.” Isn’t that the way for all people to behave when engaged in business?

    Aviation has indeed provided an opportunity for over 100 years for both sexes to be private and professional pilots based solely on meeting all established performance parameters. Many women played key roles in developing those standards. Pancho Barnes, Louise Thaden, Blanch Noyes, Jerry Cochran, Amelia Earhart, Betty Skelton, Jerrie Mock, Katherine Stinson, Harriet Quimby, Tiny Broadwick, Julie Clark, Ruth Nichols, Elinor Smith, Fay Gillis Wells, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Nancy Harkness Love, Gloria Heath, Mary Utterback Barr, Willa Brown Chappell, Helen Richey, Evelyn Bryan Johnson, Patty Wagstaff, Vicki Cruse, Olive Anne Beech, Arlene Elliot, June Maule, Martha King, Hanna Reitsch, Shannon Lucid, Martha Lunkin, Judy Resnick….the list is long spanning from 1903 to present…and growing, including my flight instructor in the mid-nineties. I suggest Ms Goyer spend a little more time reading, studying, and reflecting upon these and so many other women who helped grow aviation. A study of aviation history can be quite refreshing and invigorating.

    No argument that there were challenges during all of this period of history. Those challenges included race, creed, gender, among a long list of selfish prejudices that is at the heart of the human soul creating unjust cruelties that all of us have had to deal with. Pure selfishness is an equal opportunity employer.

    However, aviation has been open to anyone with the money, tenacity, drive, ambition, and discipline to do what is required becoming a pilot, mechanic, administrator, engineer, etc, that encompasses aviation.

    Are their still “man caves” and male chauvinists? You bet, just like “she sheds” and female chauvinists. Ego is gender neutral. Are there prejudices in this world? Absolutely. But there is nothing stopping a motivated individual to become gainfully( a relative term) employed in aviation…and that has been a part of aviation since 1903.

    Instead of pink T-Shirts, women in aviation acronyms/alphabet groups, and photo ops showcasing women at airshows, etc., I suggest aviation deal with the rules, regulations, money, and time it takes to become an integral part of itself.

    For some reason, many within and outside of aviation thinks participating in a three dimensional world is the same as any other endeavor in a two dimensional world. It is not the same, never will be the same, and will only be taken up by a very small proportion of the population. They idea that aviation can be approached denying that reality is ludicrous.

    The three dimensional world is still a frontier, and will remain that for a very long, long time, if not forever. Challenging those frontiers will never be for the masses. Sound idealistic? The numbers speak for themselves.

    Even today, if anyone finds out I am a pilot and an aircraft owner, I am considered by most as somewhat unique, quirky, adrenaline junkie, rich, privileged, over-achiever, pick a stereotype, pick a prejudice…but never considered average. Sometimes that appeals to my ego, other times it is frustrating. We all have been there.

    And if I don’t cooperate with the three dimensional frontier, I can get hurt…or worse. All of those frontier physical laws, when dismissed, ignored, misunderstood, and challenged will hurt you eventually. Most human beings intrinsically know that. Therefore, it will never be for all, but is very open for anyone who enjoys those challenges…male or female.

    Normalize aviation? Really?

  14. Mireille Goyer studied Math-Physics at the Université de Poitiers, France, and then moved to the United States to study Computer Graphic Design at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Upon graduation, Goyer started her professional career as a corporate communication consultant, producing multimedia presentations for large live corporate events in North America and Europe.

    Soon enough, Mireille began to take flights for pure pleasure – she had the hands and the heart for flying solo, high up in the sky. Goyer’s passion earned her a commercial pilot certificate promptly followed by ground and flight instructor certificates.

    A safety advocate and a talented communicator, she began to develop multimedia pilot training programs and founded her first corporation headquartered in France with a branch in the United States in the mid 1990’s.

    With thousands of flight hours, many of which were spent passing on piloting skills to others, multiple airline transport pilot licences, a number of industry awards for her initiatives and roots in various countries, Mireille embodies the spirit of ‘Fly It Forward®’.

  15. Not long ago I was talking to a young woman who was eagerly awaiting a demonstration flight at our local flight school (we were both waiting for the same CFI to return). We talked about the plane she would be flying in, the controls, what her role and the CFI’s role would probably be, etc. She spoke of how excited she was, and how she was considering switching to a career as an airline pilot.
    And she asked “Can girls be pilots?” I was taken aback to hear this question in 2019, but I did my best to assure her that women could be excellent pilots, and that what mattered was dedication and willingness to learn – and money. It turned out that her grandmother had told her “Oh, you don’t want to do that. That’s not for girls.”
    The obstacles are still there, whether internal or external.