Thursday, April 25, 2013
New History Tracks Flight Attendants and the Sexual Sell
Victoria Vantoch’s book is a welcome history of a career that got a lot of women off the farm and out of dull offices, promising glamorous travel (never mind the low wages) and the opportunity to meet “interesting people” (i.e., potential rich husbands during the years flight attendants were required to be single). Vantoch shows how ad agencies pushed the sexualization of flight attendants in advertising, with the airlines cooperating by vamping up the stewardesses’ apparel. Vantoch’s book contains a terrific collection of ads that show how the military-style stewardess uniform was shed in the late 1960s in favor of mini-dresses, “hot pants,” and go-go boots. The advertising copy made sure you didn’t miss the point: An “I’m Cheryl. Fly me” ad showed a National Airlines stewardess in close-up, with a come-hither look. In 1974, Continental Airlines introduced the slogan, “We really move our tails for you.” Porn movies featuring stewardess characters inevitably followed.
The airlines' sexual sell in the 1960s and 1970s was intensifying as the women's movement was gaining ground. Inevitably, there was a collision.
Flight attendants rescued their dignity through their union, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and legal complaints. They eventually succeeded in striking down the no-marriage rule, the no-pregnancy rule, the age limit, and unreasonable height and weight restrictions. And the you-must-be-female rule, too. The steamy airline advertising faded away. Finally.