Saturday, August 02, 2008

Women Fly

A small two-man camping tent at Oshkosh is not the best place to spent a restful night. (Or as my friend put it: "that's not a two-man tent. A two girl tent, maybe!") I was thinking of doing a blog post with an alphabetical catalogue of all the noises that were keeping me awake, when I remembered that I had brought earplugs for the airshows. A few minutes of time for foam expansion later, and I was fast asleep.

Friday morning I and one of my camping companions were discussing the "Women Fly" or "Women Fly Too" t-shirts you sometimes see. We both think they are weird and insulting. Women have been flying since airplanes were invented. Anyone who doesn't know that probably isn't observant enough to learn things from a t-shirt slogan, and someone wearing a shirt like that seems likely to have a chip on her shoulder. I'd far rather have a t-shirt that said simply "I Fly." Print it across my boobs and I'm sure people will figure out that I'm a woman and do the math. We said catty things about the women who would choose to wear them, and then went to the show.

Friday's first order of events was the Women in Aviation Celebrity Breakfast. We found the tent where it was being served, after running around what seemed like the whole fairground (but was probably less than a tenth of it). It's fun to come together with other women and talk about flying, especially with the celebrities. Most were older women who overcame barriers so that now I can speak dismissively of needing to inform people that women fly. I suppose the shirts were designed by the older generation. There were also some men there, such as an airshow performer named Corky (I forgot his last name and can't take the online time to try to look it up, yes I'd make a terrible reporter). Corky found out after the fact that he hired the first female jet aerobatics pilot. He described the first time that he was sent as a representative to to speak to a female aviation group, by someone who was asking a favour. "Wait a moment," he claims he said, "You're asking me to go to a place where there are two thousand women, and they all speak airplane?" He said he got to sit at a table full of C-5 crew who all wanted to know about his flying, but he demanded they tell him about their airplane too. He says he learned things he didn't know, like how many toilets were on it. (Eight). Later, he claims, he asked male C-5 pilots how many toilets were on their aircraft, and they didn't know. The real gender differences come to the fore.

Breakfast itself was of course a simple buffet, but I noticed that even though I was there pretty early, they were already completely out of fruit. I wonder if they ordered a standard buffet for two hundred and if the fruit would have been demolished so soon had the crowd been the more typical aviation mix of less than ten percent women. My mind holds a stereotype than women are more likely to choose fruit and a bagel for breakfast and men the sausage and bacon. So, um, the WIAI breakfast was not a sausage fest. What else is news, Aviatrix?

The president of Sporty's Pilot Shop came up and announced two $5000 scholarships available to Women in Aviation members (membership is open to anyone, including men). The scholarships are intended to finance a recreational pilot licence for aircraft mechanics, to help them better speak the language of pilots. I'd love to see a guy win one. It would probably help if you have an ambiguous name like Lee or Jean, and get your references to avoid gendered pronouns in the recommendation letter. I don't like to see sexism in either direction, as I want to avoid being clobbered by a pendulum swinging back the other way.

At the end of the breakfast was a prize draw, mostly for books and notepads and the like, but I'm having a good week. Yesterday I was standing in the middle of Aeroshell Square peering through my binoculars at an aircraft flying overhead when I was tapped on the shoulder by a "prize patroller" who handed me a sack of goodies just for wearing the right sticker. At the draw I won a silver necklace. I have to go and enter the "win an airplane" draws today. Or maybe "win an airline job." Yeah, being here has got me all fired up about my career again. Silly woman. I went out next and had my picture taken with what was supposed to be the largest mass of women pilots ever assembled, but I guess we aren't as numerous as the organizers had hoped, because it wasn't that impressive a showing, considering how many people are here. I'm right next to Sarah. Or maybe three over.

I forgot to tell you what the necklace looks like. I won't try to upload photos on this poor connection, so I'll just say it's a little sterling silver square with an airplane, and the words. "Women Fly." The Fates are always depicted as a women, aren't they? And they have an endlessly wicked sense of humour.


Kate said...

Just a lurker here, never posted before, but just wanted to say it's refreshing to see another woman with similar view to mine.

Enjoy KOSH!

nec Timide said...

I really enjoyed reading this. Looking forward to more. Thanks.

Peter said...

Actually from the photo on the Oshkosh air show website, the photo of female pilots shows a pretty good turnout. (

Anonymous said...

Inquiring minds want to know if you, too, were wearing pink?

Yellowbird said...

"Inquiring minds want to know if you, too, were wearing pink?"

If not, she shuold be easy to spot: She's the one with the blue skin!

Paul said...

Glad you had a good time.

What struck me besides the size, was how friendly everybody was. I was there earlier than you and the PX that was going to go we me bailed. I was a little worried that I would be bored with nobody to talk to. I quickly found out that everybody there is there because they have a keen interest in aviation.

You just can't see it all. It's just a good reason to go back.



Sarah said...

I have to admit I feel the same way about the "women fly" shirts. I didn't wear one, and it wasn't entirely due to the heat.

Partly it's my non-conformist streak. I don't wear slogans or logos if I can help it. Even my bumper stickers are enigmatic. I put the AOPA wings on my bumper but trimmed off the "Airplane Owner & Pilots Association" verbage. I just like the wings. And the color.

And partly, I agree that the idea that "women fly too" is a weird slogan for a shirt.

I think you're on the right track identifying the impulse as one from the previous generation. When men actively repressed women's involvement in aviation ... yes, it did happen, and not that long ago... it's more understandable that the political impulse is stronger.

The group photo was still a fun thing for me. It is perhaps not necessary, but is really a nice thing to have other women involved (too) in something so important to me. I do get a little tired of being the only woman in the group. Which is still mostly true.

Here is a picture from Oshkosh '08. You'll have to rotate your screen, I tried to rotate the image.

oshkosh 2008>

The contraption sputtered and popped all over the grounds, with the horned one waving... the specious humor rumor is that it was Patty Wagstaff's penance for "an incident" Late Thursday Night.

Sarah said...

One last thing... I happened to re-read my own comment and winced. Patty is a hero of mine, and whatever happened is serious enough I shouldn't have yucked it up.

But the valkyrie picture stands.

flap flap flap ...