amelia earhart

Common belief is that Amelia Earhart was someone who broke down barriers in order to become a famous pilot. However I have not been able to find any indication that anyone tried to stop her from flying. No law prevented women from flying and even her father permitted and even encouraged her pursuits. What exactly was she supposed to have done that broke so many barriers or is she the subject of modern feminist story telling?

Being first counts for a lot. Clearly there were not a lot of women pilots about.

Perhaps her dad was encouraging but that did not mean society as a whole was ok with women doing such things.

She is a hero for women because she was breaking down gender barriers at a time when the society at large was not ok with women doing such things. That does not mean society worked to stop her from doing what she did but rather it was discouraging women.

If you are a man then consider if you wanted to break into pole dancing.

Can you do it? Sure. Will anyone actually stop you? No. Will you find society is not really ready for drewder the pole dancer and frowns on it? Yeah.

Well considering her flight instructor was a woman I don’t know that she was first.

She was not the first woman pilot.

She was the first woman to solo fly across the Atlantic.

Yeah took her 11 months after Charles Limburg. Hardly the stuff that makes for huge amounts of discrimination.

The barriers are not laws or people saying “no you can not do this”, they are the pervasive cultural expectations that flying is not a suitable pursuit for a lady. To this day aviation is a very heavily male dominated activity. A woman pilot has to fight both the perception that she is not as good as a male pilot would be and then once she has achieved something, whether it be a flying job or whatever, the perception that she only achieved it because she is a woman, that is she got special treatment by someone who was trying to meet a quota or had a soft spot for her or maybe she slept with the chief pilot. Then she has to put up with criticism that she seems to have something to prove, well yes that might be because the sexist pilots who still work with us assume that she is there because she has tits, not because she can fly an aeroplane. Then there are the small time general aviation employers who think that because they’ve given her a job, maybe they should get a little something in return, no? wink wink?

It’s not like Amelia Earhart single handedly opened up aviation to women, but she was one of a number of female aviation pioneers who paved the way for future women pilots. And I think she, and other female aviators of the time, had an influence on the acceptance of women in male dominated industries in general. Had Amelia not existed would things be different today? Probably not. But if all of the Amelia Earharts hadn’t existed then we would be at least a generation behind in the acceptance of women in aviation and other male dominated careers.

Just to illustrate how male dominated the industry still is, my partner is a pilot working for the same company I do. She is pregnant and our HR department has never had to deal with a pregnant pilot before, in 2015! She doesn’t have access to female specific pilot shirts let alone a maternity pilot shirt. When asked to provide something for her to wear in the latter stages of pregnancy, while quite understanding, our management kindly told her she’d just have to find something herself that fit in with our uniform.

The first paragraph isn’t all based on my partner by the way, just a collection of attitudes I’ve observed during my time in the industry.

Flying is hard enough to get into for anyone, never mind being held back because you happen to have been born with ovaries.

It strikes me that your very phrasing of the question and subsequent responses are exactly the type of thing that holds women back.

You’ve apparently lead a very sheltered life. There are quite a few male pole dancers. Society doesn’t really care.

Lillian Todd was the first Woman to Design and Build an Aircraft in 1906, 32 years before Amelia.

Harriet Quimby flew across the English Channel in 1911, only three years after Bleriot.

Amy Johnson flew from England to Australia in 1930

I think that Amelia just had better publicity than the others. I also expect that American schoolbooks cite her as a ‘first’ while ignoring the other pioneers.

Believing she was the “first” is part of the genuine ignorance most Americans have for history, but it cannot be denied that she was an influential pioneer.

Her disappearance was also good for myth building - if she had completed that round-the-world voyage she probably would have been a “Special Guest” at air shows until the 1960s and a tough trivia question for anyone not an aeronautics buff.

That is rather the point, however. I do not recall reading about her being the “first,” other than the actual things that she was the first to do. What she did was to present a very (photogenic) visible face for women in aviation, inspiring more women to pursue aviation. Rather than breaking down legal or even social barriers, she very publicly demonstrated that such barriers were pointless. She probably inspired a lot of the women who became WASPs during WWII, even if they were thrown onto the back of the fuselage when the war ended.

I guess my main question is: Is there any evidence that there was a barrier against female pilots that Amelia Earhart overcame? The small number of female pilots is not in and of itself evidence of such if any female who chose to be a pilot was able to become one. Assuming an anti-female bias without evidence is not helpful and is how myths are born. “Everyone knows” is not evidence.

**Richard Pearse **is spot-on as to airline aviation. Even today it has a macho culture. Women have always been, and to some extent still are, outsiders.

When I first joined a major airline in the late 1980s we had about one female per 700 male pilots. And of the women we had, about 3/4ths of them had been hired in the last 4 years. This at a company that at the time had an average pilot tenure of about 20 years. IOW, rewind to the early 1980s and women pilots were one-in-a-couple-thousand oddities.

All the language in our manuals was still “he”. All the uniforms were male-only. Female-shaped shirts & pants were available from 3rd party generic uniform suppliers in more or less the right colors & everybody just accepted that as the way things were.

The work culture had a very definite guy’s locker room feel. It would have been very lonely to be a woman and a pilot in those days. She’d encounter some overt hostility and even more covert hostility or carefully calibrated distaste.

Today women are still a small minority. They represent roughly 5% of the new-hire intake group. We’re not an entry-level job, but the folks we do take in have been in the industry for 5-10 years. IOW, even among people who started in this career area in the 21st century, women remain a tiny minority which doesn’t seem to be growing much.

And the culture is still macho, but simmering hostility is pretty much gone. You only hear about it from the hard-right religious nutbags who believe that god put women on earth to cook and be pregnant, period.
Having said all that, I agree with folks who suggest Amelia Earhart had better PR than most. She wasn’t the first. But she was the first to be famous as she was. And just as we see today with viral media & the 24 hour baying news cycle, which specific thing gets famous is mostly random. But the things that do get famous are the ones which dominate the common person’s perception of what’s going on.

So she was the face of “women in aviation” as a class.

Last of all, the media had a feeding frenzy when she disappeared. I think there was a bunch of retconning that went on after that to overstate how significant she was before then. And we today are reading the aftermath of that retcon.

Taking a quick look at her bio, it seems to me like she is a “feminist figure” less for her flying, and more for her championing of women’s rights.

She was an early supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment, was active in political groups focused on women’s rights, helped form an aviation society for women and worked as a career councilor for young college women. All this in an age where “should women really get to vote?” was still considered a valid question.

Indeed, feminism seems to be the driving force in her life. She advocated consistently and relentlessly for women in aviation. On a personal level, she advocates for dual-career families and equality-focused marriage.

So it seems to me that she wasn’t a second-rate aviator who happened to be picked up by feminists. She was a pioneering feminist who happened to be a world-famous aviator.

I’m not sure how old you are, but I’m guessing fairly young.

If you can’t comprehend the idea of social barriers in general I’m not sure what we can do to educate you about how things were about 100 years ago when she was starting out.

By and large in those days, people didn’t do what they wanted. They did what they thought was expected of them by parents, extended family, and the greater society. And society had (by our standards) very narrow and very rigid ideas of what women’s “proper place” was.

The barriers may have been mostly in their own head, but they were very real. Today any woman with the skills & drive can get into a military academy. No organized barriers there. But she’ll have a very high likelihood of being raped before she graduates. Like 75% chance. Sure she’ll physically survive the encounter, but that *might *form an insurmountable barrier to some womens’ desires to actually attend one.

I am encouraged at how far we have come in the past forty years that a person can actually ask this sincerely.

If by “barriers” you mean written laws or regulations, then no, there were no significant “barriers.” However, the unwritten rules about what a “proper” role for a woman were stronger than any written legislation.

There is a process in place to amend or remove laws from the books. Societal attitudes are much more difficult to change.

It’s possibly relevant that Lillian Todd had a rich sponsor, Amy Johnson was given an airplane by her father and Amelia Earhart also received money from her family to help her flying career. (see their individual Wikipedia pages)
Harriet Quimby also apparently had wealthy parents so it would seem that women needed a helping hand to get into aviation whereas men could presumably get entry level jobs, etc. without one.

K.B.Spangler, author of A Girl and Her Fed, blogged this a few months back:
“Amelia Earhart was fantastic, by the way. I know I’ve said this before, but if she were alive today in the era of social media, she’d be killing it. Yeah yeah, she flew a plane. Whee. But did you know she addressed women’s social roles so thoroughly that she decided to start her own clothing line focused on practicality and wearability first, and appearance second, because she knew women needed to Get Shit Done?”

The words “her own clothing line” were a link to this article:

Yes, it helped that she looked a bit like Lindbergh, especially with her hair in that bob. It helped even more that she had a fairly wealthy and publicity-minded husband in George Putnam to help promote her.

But she really did what she did, legitimately, and really was on the forefront of social advancement in many ways, even if sometimes she was pushed there. She was legitimately a very skilled and accomplished aviator, and a legitimate hero.

As to male domination of aviation, that’s still an issue today, and perhaps for largely the same reasons STEM professions are still male-dominated despite there being no inherent reason they should be. In the US anyway, only about 6 percent of licensed pilots at all levels are female, and I think it’s even less for the airlines. There’s some discussion in the magazines about female pilots having lower accident rates, perhaps because on average they need higher levels of determination just to get into the field, and that may correlate to higher overall ability and decision-making performance.

That’s actually a very good thing, IMHO.

The story of Earhart flying across the Atlantic is a good illustration of how society viewed women.

A year after Lindbergh, Wilmer Stultz and his co-pilot and mechanic Louis Gordon asked her to be a passenger in their trans-Atlantic flight. This was not as big a deal as Lindbergh: not only were there two pilots, they were taking a much shorter and much less glamorous route from Newfoundland to Wales.

Earhart was uncertain about the flight; she later said she was baggage, like a sack of potatoes. But it made her internationally famous. She wrote an entire book about the journey, 20 Hrs., 40 Min., and publicity turned her into “Lady Lindy.” For doing nothing. (Well, nothing with some real risk.)

She used that fame to help found The Ninety-Nines, Inc., the first organization for women aviators and she did go on to become the first woman to solo across the Atlantic in 1932. She had real accomplishments and was a true advocate for all women. The difference then was that women were by default unequal and inferior. Merely being a passenger was considered an achievement. Women could fly but no one in the airline industry or the military would hire them. At best it was an eccentric hobby. Those are the kind of barriers that are now defined as the “glass ceiling,” invisible but unbreakable.