Book Review: ‘The Great Stewardess Rebellion’

Girdle checks. Public weigh-ins. Computerized termination at age 32. Such had been the situations skilled by many feminine flight attendants within the not-so-friendly skies of the Sixties and Seventies, as journalist Nell McShane Wulfhart makes clear on this compelling account.

Removed from dwelling the stylish picture of worldwide jet-setters, American flight attendants — numbering greater than 20,000 by 1967 — labored punishing schedules, earned wages typically decrease than these of cleansing crews, had been portrayed as intercourse objects fairly than essential security professionals, and misplaced their jobs in the event that they gained weight, turned pregnant or married.

Wulfhart illustrates her factors with some modern commercials within the ebook, together with Braniff Worldwide’s 1965 “Air Strip” marketing campaign, which had flight attendants take away articles of clothes all through every flight. Thwarted of their efforts for extra simply remedy from their union and airline administration, flight attendants enlisted outstanding feminists corresponding to Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan for help, undertook efforts at group and publicity and turned to the fledgling Equal Employment Alternative Fee for authorized motion beneath Title VII of 1964’s Civil Rights Act, though the EEOC tended to prioritize race fairly than intercourse discrimination. Authorized circumstances — together with these of males, who had been principally shut out of the flight attendant occupation — resonated past the airline business and established necessary precedents for fairness within the office.

Wulfhart follows just a few key gamers on this battle. Amongst them are feisty flight attendant Patt Gibbs, who later turned a pilot and union president; diplomatic flight attendant Tommie Hutto-Blake, who additionally served as a union president; flight attendant Brian Hagerty, who confronted homophobia; and flight attendant Cheryl Stewart, who encountered unusual questions corresponding to “How does it really feel to be coloured?” Their inspiring tales of grit and guts illuminate a darkish area in aviation.