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Flying Iron-y: Letter from Earhart is Echo of Women’s Heartache

Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our everyday nonsense that we forget our legacy–then fate sends us a gentle reminder.

Here’s a swift kick in the ass from our Aunt Amelia, in the form of a kind, ironic letter.

On the surface, this is sweet. But read between the lines and there is enough tart to make your lips pucker into a perfect cupid’s kiss–no lipstick required.

Written on August 14, 1933 by Amelia Earhart to Miss June Pierson, of Detroit Michigan:

Gary_Plant_Tubular_Steel_Corporation“There are many positions in aviation open to women, not only in the clerical field but in the factories. They are air hostesses and a number of specialised jobs. Perhaps one of the best ways of getting in is to perfect yourself in secretarial work and obtain a position on the ‘fringes,’ relying on your ability and desire in order to succeed.

As far as women’s opportunities in flying go I think they will improve as they have in all industries. Just now there are no pilots on the regular scheduled airlines. Someday I expect there will be. However, women do earn their living by teaching, by ‘joy hoping’, by ferrying airplanes from factory to purchaser, etc.

“I think you are fortunate to have the full cooperation of your parents.”

Earhart is no longer around for me to ask, but this letter could be read as either:

  1. a reflection of women’s perception of their opportunities at the time
  2. a nicely written note from a press representative to which Earhart affixed her signature
  3. an ironic commentary on the restrictions imposed on women, limiting them to supporting roles in the script of life.
  4. Yes.

It might not have been written ironically. But it was ironic even at the time it was written. There was already a well established precedent, long before Earhart, of women asserting their rights to equal participation in society–with far more vigour than what was expressed in this letter.

Whether Earhart was sincerely trying to soften a harsh truth for a young woman, being manipulated by image managers, or being coy doesn’t matter.

To us, this can be nothing short of irony because it is so darned close to the advice we give our sisters and daughters even now: Insinuate yourself from the ‘fringes’ and hope for the best.

Forget that horrible advice!     

Nothing was ever given to a person standing in the fringes. Rewards are reaped by those fighting in the fray.

I see so much pretence at “progressive feminism” in today’s society that it tears at the marrow of my bones. Mired in the supportive “you go girl” messages coming out of every quarter, we lose sight of the goal.

Fighting for equality is hard work. It is a struggle. It is a nasty business. The pacifying messages and happy news reports of women getting any kind of recognition for their skills hide an inconvenient truth: it is news because women are being recognised.

Somebody better pull out the calendar, rip out a day, and point out the time!

We_Can_Do_It!Sorry, Rosie. Evidently, We can’t.

We came. We saw. We stood still.

This is how Julia Caesar hopes to conquer the world.

We make a loud noise, then scare ourselves with the tone of our voice back to silence.

We are poor borrowers. We forget our debts.

Women owe everything they are, for better or worse, to women.

We are not and have not ever been perfect. We have sometimes been our own worst enemies. But we are obliged to our better mothers and sisters, mentors and heroes to ensure their sacrifice, humiliation, subjugation and endurance through unimaginable hardships were not wasted.

We owe them the courage to take one more confident step forward, head held high, and not mess about skirting issues, waiting for the boys to ask us out for a quick step.

It’s our ball. Our great grandmothers fought for the dance floor, dammit!

Excuse Me While I Kiss the Sky

A couple of weeks ago I was asked whether I thought that a press announcement from an airline highlighting an all female crew was newsworthy. I swear to you the very question made me my teeth hurt.

How can I still live in a world where a PR person thinks I’ll be impressed by women being used as a publicity stunt; this time with epaulettes instead of bikinis?

I’m thrilled to see women advance. I support all women aviators–heck all women in any field who want to push the bar further ahead so that the following generation doesn’t run into immediate obstacles.

But airlines should not be getting “special credit” for hiring women. By population alone, if the opportunities of education and training were equal, an all-female crew should be a rather commonplace occurrence.

Permit me to reserve my applause for the moment when that doesn’t make the news any more.

I will reserve my approval for a time when I’m busy interviewing as many women in airline boardrooms as men.

Frankly, I will celebrate attending any aviation industry event and no longer having the privilege of a relatively empty ladies room.

We need to be inconveniencing and embarrassing those in power who have not yet made these part of our everyday reality, not praising them for doing the bare minimum!

Ratchet Up Your Limbo Game

For women to celebrate low-bar messages is a form of madness. Don’t get me wrong. I do it too, from time to time. Yay! We got a crumb. Let’s go make a crumble!

Sometimes it’s nice just to say anything that makes us feel like we’re making progress. But it’s a ruse.

Just look how far we’ve come. We’re still satisfied with the same pacifier we were given in 1933. And our mothers sweated to earned our keep!

Not only have we failed to “come a long way” we have not budged from our spot. In some  ways, we have taken frightening steps backward, while our mothers and grandmothers, great-grandmothers and spinster aunts turn in their graves.

How much longer do we hold our place and our peace? Will we stand or stand still? Should we lean-in or out? Toss ourselves about? Do the hokey pokey and tear our insides out?

How far down the length of life’s tarmac should we run–hoping someone notices more than the height of our heels–before taking off?

These are questions women face everyday, not just in aviation–in all fields, in all possible roles.

Forget that!

Walk in, take a seat, let your presence command respect. Let everyone stare, ask uncomfortable questions, let everyone in the room laugh at you or hate you. Whatever! You’ve got work to do! Be that woman. Make trouble.

You’re not doing it for yourself, anyway. You’re doing it for your sister, your daughter, your niece, your friend.

You’re also doing it for your husband, your brother, your partner, your son. Why should they live in a world where their mothers are treated like second-class citizens?


Power is not given and it is not borrowed. Power is not divided among citizens in equal measure. There is injustice and oppression to overcome in every corner of society. We do not live and have never lived in an idillic world.

If we’re waiting for a fair game before we stand up, stride in, and take our place, let’s just sit out the dance another round.

It will have the same effect.

We owe it to Rosie. We owe it to June. We even owe it to poor lost Amelia to chart a better course forward and get on with the business of getting our own.

It will not be pretty. Wear a hardhat. 


All Featured Images via Wikimedia Commons.



1 thought on “Flying Iron-y: Letter from Earhart is Echo of Women’s Heartache”

  1. Pingback: Why Celebrating Amelia Earhart Sends the Wrong Message to the Women of Tomorrow – Flight Chic

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