“Obviously you’re not the pilot”

So I was at Costco to stock up on things. I grabbed a hot dog on my way out because I was rushed and hadn’t eaten. Went over to the tables, and all the tables were full.

But a lady saw me looking for someplace to sit, and invited me to sit with her. I was feeling pretty awesome, new job and all, so I sat down and introduced myself. I told her how I was starting a new job, and stocking up on things for my new job, since I was going to be working for a small charter/air taxi operation and based at the airport 5 days a week.

And she said “Oh, that sounds exciting! What are you going to be doing for them? Obviously you’re not the pilot.”

*sigh*

I wasn’t nasty about it, I let it just be a learning experience for her; she backpedaled pretty fast when I told her I was in fact the pilot. Tried to say she’d said it because I looked too young, but you just know, the real reason was because I was a woman. But it was innocent; obviously she wasn’t trying to be sexist; it was an unconscious bias; I bet she didn’t think through what she said at all.

Or possibly even, she didn’t want me to feel like I was disappointing her if I wasn’t the pilot, unfortunate as the phrasing she chose was. I mean, when people hear someone’s a pilot, usually the first question is “Oh? What airline do you fly for?” And then the poor private pilot has to explain that they don’t have a commercial licence, they just fly for fun, etc. (And I’m not gonna lie, being able to reply to that question with the name of my current employer feels so frickin’ good, lol.)

But whatever the reason, it’s what comes when people don’t stop and be self-critical about the assumptions we make about people. And it’s why young women don’t look at jobs like commercial piloting, construction, electrician, things like that, as things they might be good at and enjoy as professions. Because, obviously that’s not the sort of job for them.

Obviously.

A co-worker back at the call centre told me one day about talking to her daughter about women pilots. Her daughter was convinced that being a pilot was a boy thing, and girls could not be pilots, and her mother had a hard time convincing her otherwise. She was four.

And it’s a prejudice that comes from outside the aviation industry almost exclusively in my experience. So far, I don’t have any story of sexism that I’ve experienced that has come from anyone involved in aviation. The only examples I have are from people who know nothing about it. We’re getting to a point where lots of male pilots have flown with women and they’ve mostly gotten past the oh-god-how-do-I-handle-this stage to just treating other crew members as crew members. My new boss seemed to care far more about my farm background than my gender. The one other pilot working for him at the moment is also another woman, and as far as his assumptions about my ability suitability for the job, the fact that I’m a farm girl seemed to trump all else.

In conclusion – yes, there’s progress been made. Yes, women pilots still deal with sexist attitudes. No, it’s not just the older generation, nor is it only men who share those attitudes. Because there are lots of old guys who are 100% supportive of women in aviation and think the idea that women can’t be pilots is absurd. So let’s move forward and celebrate our victories and successes, and let change come, until it’s obvious to everyone that women belong wherever their hearts are.

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2 responses to ““Obviously you’re not the pilot”

  1. Thanks for this, Lindsay. Educators rightly warn of ‘The Tyranny of Low Expectations’. Narrow expectations can also be tyrannical. We all belong where are hearts are. Getting there is the challenge.

  2. These kinds of attitudes prevail in a lot of industries, unfortunately. People stop me all the time in my visual merchandising job and ask, “Excuse me? Do you work here, or are you just the decorator?”

    So many things wrong with the question that I just can’t even…

    Best thing we can do is (kindly) educate others, I suppose. Still, it’s very frustrating! (Honestly, I’d much rather be the snarky b**** sometimes, but, y’know, I also kinda need the job, lol.)

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