There is a double standard in the aviation industry surrounding “girl talk.” While “locker room talk” or speech that is crude and vulgar is widely accepted for male pilots, female pilots have an impossible standard to meet. I understand that not all men engage in this way of talking, and I recognize that females can be equally vulgar; the difference is how each is perceived. Vulgar talk from male pilots is just “boys being boys,” but female pilots are chastised for being either too sensitive if they insist on keeping speech professional or too masculine if they use vulgarity. Either way, female aviators can’t catch a break.
This can be a problem because there is often pressure for female pilots to conform to more masculine standards, so they are accepted by their peers and because of a false narrative that masculinity is a necessary part of being a competent pilot. For instance, I have heard flight instructors (both male and female) accuse female pilots of being too “boy crazy” to take flying seriously. Yet male pilots are often seen as being competent and applauded for their romantic pursuits. Female pilots are often seen unfavorably if they use social media to share about their flying, while this behavior is expected and even encouraged for male pilots.
For a while, I was hesitant to share details of my personal life in the training environment. The familiar Miranda warning of “anything you say can and will be held against you,” seemed to become relevant to flight training after watching other female pilots being chided for conversations they have both inside and outside of the flight deck.
Now that I am a flight instructor, I try to remember how I felt when I was a student. I work to make my students feel comfortable, so they can have a normal conversation with me. In fact, one of my favorite flight instructors that I had did just that – he made me feel like it was okay to be a person--neither masculine nor feminine. I felt comfortable having genuine conversations with him and because of this, I made more progress with him than I did with any of my previous instructors. I felt empowered, and it benefitted my flight training.
There is a professional standard that should be adhered to, but performance improves when you feel like you are accepted for your interests, and well, for being you. We can all be better served when we embrace diverse personalities, allowing each of us to bring our strengths to the aviation industry.
Mattie is a CFII and a Graduate Research Assistant at Auburn University, where she is pursuing an M.Ed. in Adult Education. She enjoys drinking her morning coffee, traveling, and spending time with friends and family.