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
Femininity in Flight traces the
evolution of flight attendants' glamorized image
as ideal women and their activism as trade
unionists and feminists.

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© Kathleen M. Barry, 2006 -                                                                                                                                    
Hear the author's appearance on:

The Diane Rehm Show
National Public Radio /
WAMU, Washington, DC
March 1, 2007

The Brian Lehrer Show
WNYC, New York
February 28, 2007
"[Femininity in Flight] combines all the
strengths of a scholarly monograph—extensive
archival research, a solid historiographical
framework—with the kind of stylish layout and
eye-catching illustration more common in
books for the general reader. And Barry writes
with clarity and wit. She tells a complicated
story, but engrossingly.”
 Joshua Zeitz , American Heritage

Femininity in Flight makes a significant
contribution to our understanding of labor
feminism, joining a body of work that
challenges the notion that feminism was
essentially a white middle-class movement. . . .
A great read; it will keep you enlightened and
entertained through even a lengthy flight
Nan Enstad, Labor History

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