Femininity in Flight: A History of Flight Attendants

Front Cover
Duke University Press, Feb 28, 2007 - History - 304 pages
“In her new chic outfit, she looks like anything but a stewardess working. But work she does. Hard, too. And you hardly know it.” So read the text of a 1969 newspaper advertisement for Delta Airlines featuring a picture of a brightly smiling blond stewardess striding confidently down the aisle of an airplane cabin to deliver a meal.

From the moment the first stewardesses took flight in 1930, flight attendants became glamorous icons of femininity. For decades, airlines hired only young, attractive, unmarried white women. They marketed passenger service aloft as an essentially feminine exercise in exuding charm, looking fabulous, and providing comfort. The actual work that flight attendants did—ensuring passenger safety, assuaging fears, serving food and drinks, all while conforming to airlines’ strict rules about appearance—was supposed to appear effortless; the better that stewardesses performed by airline standards, the more hidden were their skills and labor. Yet today flight attendants are acknowledged safety experts; they have their own unions. Gone are the no-marriage rules, the mandates to retire by thirty-two. In Femininity in Flight, Kathleen M. Barry tells the history of flight attendants, tracing the evolution of their glamorized image as ideal women and their activism as trade unionists and feminists.

Barry argues that largely because their glamour obscured their labor, flight attendants unionized in the late 1940s and 1950s to demand recognition and respect as workers and self-styled professionals. In the 1960s and 1970s, flight attendants were one of the first groups to take advantage of new laws prohibiting sex discrimination. Their challenges to airlines’ restrictive employment policies and exploitive marketing practices (involving skimpy uniforms and provocative slogans such as “fly me”) made them high-profile critics of the cultural mystification and economic devaluing of “women’s work.” Barry combines attention to the political economy and technology of the airline industry with perceptive readings of popular culture, newspapers, industry publications, and first-person accounts. In so doing, she provides a potent mix of social and cultural history and a major contribution to the history of women’s work and working women’s activism.

 

What people are saying - Write a review

Femininity in flight: a history of flight attendants

User Review  - Not Available - Book Verdict

Although these two new works draw on many of the same sources, their approaches are strikingly different. In her cultural and labor history, historian Barry traces the development of the occupation of ... Read full review

Contents

Psychological Punch NurseStewardesses in the 19308
11
Glamor Girls of the Air The Postwar Stewardess Mystique
36
Labors Loveliest Postwar Union Struggles
60
Nothing But in Airborne Waitress The Jet Age
96
Do I Look Like an Old Bag? Glamour and Womens Rights in the Mid1960s
122
Youre White Youre Free and Youre 21What Is It?
144
Fly Me? Go Fly Yourself Stewardess Liberation in the 1970s
174
After Title VII and Deregulation
211
Notes
223
Bibliography
271
Index
293
Copyright

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

References to this book

About the author (2007)

Kathleen M. Barry has a doctorate in history from New York University. She has taught American history at NYU and the University of Cambridge.

Bibliographic information