Flying quite a lot I have had the chance to observe how gender roles and stereotypes permeate this sphere of society. And while nowadays there are already many male flight attendants it is still impossible (at least in my experience) to find female captains and pilots. Indeed there is a huge ‘genderisation’ of professional roles in airline companies, which are reinforced in subtle ways.
One example that crosses my mind is the trendy videos used by airline companies to substitute the old fashioned ‘live safety instructions’ usually done by flight attendants. In these videos children (and sometimes adults) play the role of the captain and flight attendants in giving passengers the basic safety instructions. Every time I travel with a new company I look insistently to the screens waiting the moment of this ‘lovely’ video, expecting to see something different… As you may imagine this hopeful and expectant moment is always followed by a big disappointment. There is still to come the video that will overcame my gender assessment by portraying, e.g., a girl in the role of the captain and a boy in the role of the flight attendant.
I have always asked to myself why, in the hundreds of flights I took in my life, there was never a female captain… Well, it will probably be equally hard to find one in the future, if flight companies continue to portray gender roles in such a static and rigid way. If I would be a little girl I would probably identify myself with the gentle and caring flight attendant, while if I would be a little boy would identify myself with the sympathetic and confident captain. And yet there is nothing wrong with being caring and gentle, it still means that women are not taking leading and high responsibility roles, because this kind of values are not cherished in leadership positions. More, the value society attributes to these roles is quite different: the captain role is much more important whilst being a flight attendant is less valued in society.
One of the Portuguese airline companies with which I flew recently goes a little further, in a slightly annoying way. Their video, besides the male captain and female flight attendant, shows a teen girl saying that ‘the life vest is fashionable’ and two guys saying something like ‘before reading the sports section read the safety instructions in the board magazine’. What drives me mad is the constant reinforcement of the gender stereotype of women obsession with their appearance, and on the other side the stereotype of the informed and sportive men. It would be great to change a little bit, not to repeat the same old ways over and over again. Diversity is wonderful and not all women care about their appearance and surely not as a primary concern at all moments of their lives. The same goes for men, information and sports.
Hopefully one day sooner all this will change and women and man will be represented in a variety of roles that allows for greater freedom of choice and less gender based discrimination.