Sexism On Airlines - As Told By A Flight Attendant
Sexism on Airlines
As Told By A Flight Attendant
Sexism on Airlines - A Flight Attendant Speaks Up
Most women experience sexism in their day-to-day life, regardless of their daily routine or circumstances. Sexism is a huge problem that's intricately weaved into society. It's an everyday issue that is often magnified in stressful or atypical situations. When you put humans under pressure, their true colors tend to shine through, putting all of their subconscious predispositions in the limelight. As a flight attendant, I get to witness firsthand the best and the worst of people, because for the average person, traveling is one of the most stressful things in the world. Unfortunately, the “best and worst of people” includes sexism on Airlines.
Sexism signs start when boarding
In the last two years since I've started flying for a domestic American airline, I have witnessed countless sexist instances, involving me, fellow flight attendants, my pilots, and passengers alike.
During boarding, examples of sexism are best seen when observing the way men insist on lifting bags into the overhead bin. It isn't part of my job to help people get their bags up. That being said, if I see someone that clearly needs a little assistance, I'll gladly lend my strength. However, more often than not, if a man is near and sees me offering to help, they'll interject and insist on doing it themselves. I used to think this was a gesture of kindness, but after working for two years, I've noticed that the only men that offer are the machismo ones. You know, the ones that clearly need an opportunity to exemplify their superior lifting skills.
Generally, I just allow them to risk the back injury and step away. However, there have been a couple of times where my pride spoke louder than my rationale. Once, I told a man, "No worries, I go to the gym. I can handle it!" in an attempt to bring his macho behavior to light without being rude. His response? "Ladies shouldn't be lifting bags."
I'm sure he intended on being chivalrous, but I felt anything but grateful for the implication that I am too delicate to lift a frickin' thirty pound bag. Please.
I've noticed that it's also usually men that are talking over me during safety demos, or who that flag me down to ask me arbitrary questions like "Do you have headphones?" even if we’re doing something important like, you know, paging for a doctor during a medical emergency. It is also usually men who then yell at us when they don’t get their way.
Of course, women act out on flights, too. Like I said, traveling tends to bring out the worst in people. However, the mistreatment I've witnessed, regardless of who is doing the mistreating, is usually only directed at female flight attendants.
Generally, if a passenger screams at me, I will leave to have another flight attendant handle the situation. This is a diffusion tactic that I've learned through working in customer service. Sometimes patrons just hate my face. That's okay. What is not okay, and is a clear display of sexism, is when the passenger will act calm, cool, and collected if a man comes to talk to them - after bellowing at me.
Female Pilots perceived as flight attendants
The microaggressions seemingly never end. I work with female pilots who will tell people that they work in the airlines, and automatically be met with the assumption that they are flight attendants.
Also, whenever I tell someone what I do, there is always someone that wants to know how I plan on starting a family with my job. And don't even get me started on the "woman driver!" comments that get made when I run over someone's foot in the aisle - after asking them to move it three times.
Male flight attendants face sexism, too
Time and time again, I am reminded of the fact that I am simply less respected in my role than the men that work alongside me. Of course, men have their own batch of sexist issues to face in the airline industry, too. Parents will gladly hand me their infants when they have to go to the restroom or get something from the overhead bin, but I don't even like children. Nine times out of ten, I think babies look like gross pink legumes. Yet, I've never seen a parent ask one of the men I work with to hold their child. And I know that plenty of my male colleagues have children of their own or want them in the future, and would be much happier handed a baby than I, a woman, am.
Passengers will also approach the overhead bin differently if there is a male flight attendant in the aisle. Instead of having bags taken away from them, like women do, male flight attendants get pressured into lifting everyone's bags. Just like passengers assume that I can’t lift their bag, passengers assume that every single male flight attendant can.
Also, if a passenger is getting aggressive or appears to be intoxicated, it's usually the men that get stuck with confronting the aggressors. You get the gist.
Mind you -- this is all based off of my own speculation and experiences. It's possible that there are some flights that take off and land without a single sexist remark or action. It's also possible that there are flights that take off and land with remarks and actions much more sexist and demeaning than the ones I highlighted. I don't often witness the interactions between pilots, so I can't personally vouch for the power dynamic that exists between a male captain and a female first officer. I also don't sit in a passenger seat nearly as often as I sit in a jumpseat, so I can't speak for the creepy unwanted interactions that might happen when a woman is squished in a middle seat between two men. There are plenty of engagements that I don't personally partake in and cannot speak for.
What I can speak on, and I do regularly, is that I have seen enough to know that sexism on airlines is a universal problem. I fly upwards of eighty hours per month, often seeing more than four hundred fifty people per day. My exposure to personalities from all upbringings, backgrounds, social standings, and cultures has given me an up-close and uncensored view on how people truly behave when put under pressure. I get to witness people in their truest form as they buckle to the stress that comes with traveling. And let me tell you: it can be ugly. The inappropriate comments and demeaning behavior is nearly unavoidable, so I have learned how to address it while remaining professional and non-confrontational (my two favorite things to be).
If a man makes a comment about my uniform, I'll remind him that my uniform signals that I'm the person in charge of ensuring cabin safety.
If someone makes a crass joke, I'll say, "I don't understand, why is that funny?" and continue to ask them to explain the joke until they realize that it was inappropriate.
If someone dares to touch me, which isn't unheard of, I remind them sweetly that I am protected by federal law.
Over time, as I've progressively learned to make more space for myself, it has gotten easier to confront sexism directly. Though it is not always quite this simple, I urge everyone to do the same. Especially on planes.
Want more stories from the perspective of a flight attendant? Check out Haley’s website or keep up with her on Instagram.