From the moment the first stewardess took flight in 1930, flight
attendants were glamorous icons of femininity. For decades, airlines
hired only young, attractive, unmarried, white women. They marketed
passenger service aloft as an essentially feminine exercise in exuding
charm, looking fabulous, and providing comfort. The actual work that
flight attendants did—ensuring passenger safety, assuaging fears,
serving food and drinks, all while conforming to airlines’ strict rules
about appearance—was supposed to appear effortless. The better
stewardesses performed by airline standards, the more hidden were
their skills and labor.

Yet today flight attendants are acknowledged safety experts; they have
their own unions. Gone are the marriage bans, the mandates to retire
by thirty-two.
Femininity in Flight traces the evolution of flight
attendants' glamorized image as ideal women and their activism as
trade unionists and feminists.

Praise for the book:

"Barry’s feminist analysis is clever and somewhat poignant, for it sees that in
the role of the air hostess a vision of female selfhood and freedom has been
forced to rub, rather uncomfortably, against a rather ogling set of corporate
— Andrew O'Hagan,
London Review of Books

“Sparkling prose, informative visuals, and keen analysis bring alive the story of
women’s flight service. . .  Highly recommended.”
— M. Greenwald,

“Exhaustively researched, rich in insight, and written in a brisk, lively style, this
is the definitive historical study of flight attendants in the United States.”
— Ruth Milkman,
American Historical Review

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© Kathleen M. Barry, 2006 -  

  • Now available as an e-book and in
    paperback on Amazon

The Civil Rights Act @ 50: The
Pioneering Role of Flight
Attendants in Fighting Sex

On October 23, 2014, the U.S. Equal
Employment Opportunity
Commission sponsored a panel on
flight attendant activism to mark
the 50th anniversary of Title VII.
Author Kathleen Barry shared the
podium with Mary Celeste Lansdale
Brodigan, plaintiff in
Lansdale v.
United Air Lines, Inc.
; Mary Pat
Laffey-Inman, plaintiff in
Laffey v.
Northwest Airlines, Inc.
; Patricia
Friend, former international
president, Association of Flight
Attendants-CWA, AFL-CIO; Sonia
Fuentes, former attorney, Office of
General Counsel, EEOC; and law
professor Mary Rose Strubbe.

The event was co-sponsored by the
IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law's
Institute for Law and the Workplace
(Workplace Institute); and the Equal
Employment Opportunity
Committee of the American Bar
Association's Section of Labor and
Employment Law (ABA Committee).

For more, see the
EEOC website.