The progress made in the field of aviation has reached new paradigms. The simple airframe of the Wright Brothers has been modernized beyond belief. Although this industry has been claimed as the frontier of men, none can overlook the significant contributions made by women aviators. Women have been able to break the glass ceiling and rise to the highest levels in the aviation industry since 1903. Despite the laws and policies that protect the rights of women, inequality between men and women still remains widespread and deep rooted especially in this field dominated by the male counterparts. Little do we know that women received their voting rights only after the 19th amendment was sanctioned in 1920 and amidst of this tussle their contributions in the aviation field was innovative and remarkable (Douglas, “United States Women in Aviation, 1940-1985”).
While this research primarily discusses the progress and participation made by American women in aviation industry and chronicles the innovative and remarkable contributions made by women pioneers during Amelia Earhart’s time. I believe this paper also opens up a more interesting or rather challenging observation on the receptiveness of the society towards the progress of women in the flying fraternity. To broadly analyze this topic of interrogation, the paper has been arranged into four parts. The first two part cover the role played by women in the aviation industry and their history. In the third part highlights the contributions and achievement of Amelia Earhart. Finally, the paper concludes with the sources that were cited.
Women in the aviation industry
It all started in 1903 when the Wright’s twenty-two second flight that initiated an epoch of air transportation expansion in the rest of the world, particularly in the United States. This take-off mesmerized many men who started dedicating their time and effort in the building of aircrafts and various flying accomplishments. Nevertheless, women equally exhibited great interest in this new flying field and wanted participate and enjoy the diversified experiences it had. While facing a regime of setbacks, women aviators were still found accomplishing successful careers in the past. Even in this egalitarian age, though various solutions are put in place in order to increase the percentage of women pilots in aviation, a spectrum of questions and concerns remain evident. How much have women progressed in this field? And whether the view from society changed from the Amelia Earhart’s time? This involves a greater analysis of the history and the study of the development of female pilots is imperative.
History of women pilots in the United States
Between 1900 and 1920, aircraft was still not perceived to be a reliable means of transportation. And women’s intervention changed this prevailing approach which gained more dependability and consistency. The challenge and record set by the women aviators such as Amelia Earhart, Louise Thaden, Harriet Quimby, and Blanche Scott motivated other women to endeavor into flying. At the same time, the need to possess this daring trait created a misapprehension that women did not possess the required capabilities such as courage, great physical dexterity and extraordinary energy. Early women aviators developed a new strategy writing books and short stories on their flying experience. Through their writings, women were able to convey to the large audience that the idea that considered female flying unwomanly is a myth. The ‘Ninety-Nines’ which was an all-women pilot’s group founded by Amelia Earhart also helped protest the various forms of discrimination women experienced in their work environment (Lebow 163).
Amelia Earhart (1897-1937)
Amelia Earhart inspired many and secured a place in the hearts of Americans with her daring flight achievements during the 1920’s and 1930’s. Being a role model she opened the doors to aviation for other women. She was a pioneer, as well as an explorer of new technology. In January 1935, she became the first person to fly solo across the Pacific Ocean by going from Honolulu to Oakland, CA. She set a speed record for flying from New York to Los Angeles. She also made the first-ever flight from Los Angeles to Mexico City and was the first woman to cross North America in a nonstop flight.
Challenges faced by women aviators
It is a sensitive issue that still prevails in the military aviation. In addition to facing the initial challenges in adapting to the different duties and stresses of the aviation industry, women aviators are not free from sexual harassment. After twenty years of women’s incorporation into the U.S. Air Force academies, reports of sexual harassment increased by 50% (Ogden, “Tailhook ’91 and the U.S. navy”). The harassment in the Armed forces discouraged women aviators however; it also structured the possibility of women in air combat roles. There have been policy changes and even panels to look into incidents of sexual harassment however; the practice still looms in Air Force bases even today.
Pregnancy and Motherhood
This is yet another challenging phase a women needs to undergo amidst of the struggle. Aspiring women aviators often desire to be wives and mothers as well. Nonetheless, women have faced complexity when attempting to balance family and flying career aspirations. Before 1995, a naval aviator who became pregnant would be expelled from a U.S. academy, unless the pregnancy was terminated in a month. This policy was eventually changed and women were allowed a one-year leave of absence at the academy, but would thereafter have to reapply for admission. Though more effective than the latter, it was apparent that a pregnancy would partly stall the progress of women aviators in the military
Health and disease prevalence among women pilots
The specifics on the kind of side-effects and health conditions as a result of constant flying is an unknown realm for women especially since this sector was always dominated by men. Fears concerning the increased risk of breast, cervix, and skin cancers for female aviators have been observed. However, a study conducted in 2002 on disease prevalence of females in four U.S. airlines revealed that cases of breast cancer had specifically increased with flight attendants (Annals of Epidemiology, “Women on the flight deck: Disease prevalence among female airline pilots in four U.S. Airlines”). Cases of non-cancerous diseases such as hypertension and high cholesterol were also observed.
Furthermore, a much larger study is required to gather empirical data on women aviators especially on disease prevalence. If enough radiation exposure is received early in pregnancy, this could even cause sufficient damage to the embryo to result in a miscarriage, possibly even before the pregnancy was known. Fertility problems in flight attendants have already been identified, with radiation exposure mentioned as one of several likely causes. An analysis of flight durations and routes is important when deciding whether to fly during pregnancy. However, it would also be beneficial for a pregnant pilot to consider taking medical leave when long-haul flights at high attitudes are frequent and potentially hazardous to her unborn child.
Financial and Cultural Factors
The cost of flight training has risen dramatically over the past century. Although loans have helped flight students pay for their training, the high costs can cause potential female pilots to pursue other cheaper careers. Flight training costs have also become a major challenge in developing nations where student loans are unavailable and pre-paid training is required. Culture also plays a major role in the development of women pilots globally. The perception of women’s roles in society varies among nations and can consequently affect the growth in the number of female pilots. Culture, social norms, and narrow outlooks on women’s career opportunities may influence the choices women make on pursuing aviation careers. Professional women pilots in conservative cultures may be challenged by the structural and attitude barriers related to marriage, motherhood, and climbing the aviation corporate ladder.
Women pilots have played a central part in the development and success of the aviation industry over the past century (Dr. Schrader, “Winged Auxiliaries: Women Pilots in the UK and US during World War Two”). In today’s industrialized societies, it is essential that continued support towards women aviators occurs. Accommodating initiatives would help prospective women pilots to achieve their career aspirations and promote the development of more egalitarian nations. Additionally, proposing methods of enhancing female aviator growth globally would encourage future generations to follow suit (University of California, “Speed and Accuracy in Decision Responses of Men and Women Pilot”). Examining various physical, psychological, social, cultural, and economical factors affecting international women aviators and thereafter implementing explicit proposals is paramount. Contentment from the ability to pursue career dreams effectively would occur and a consistently growing aviation industry observed.
Lebow, Eileen F. Before Amelia—Women Pilots in the Early Days of Aviation.
Brassey’s Inc. of Dulles: Virginia, 2002. Print. P. 145-289.
“Speed and Accuracy in Decision Responses of Men and Women Pilot” University of California. 2007. Web. Accessed on 13 July 2015.
“Tailhook ’91 and the U.S. navy” Ogden, J. 2009. Web. Accessed on 13 July 2015.
“United States Women in Aviation, 1940-1985”. Douglas, Deborah G. 1990. Web. Accessed on 13 July 2015.
“Winged Auxiliaries: Women Pilots in the UK and US during World War Two” Dr. Schrader, Helena P. 2006. Web. Accessed on 13 July 2015.
“Women on the flight deck: Disease prevalence among female airline pilots in four U.S. Airlines” Annals of Epidemiology. 2002. Web. Accessed on 14 July 2015.