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Democracy

How fed-up flight attendants paved the way for women in the workplace

The Stewardess Rebellion changed way more than just the airline industry.

flight attendant

Stewardesses from the 60s

Of course there are more glass ceilings to be shattered, but a ton of notable progress has been made for women in the workplace—from actively addressing sexual harassment, to lessening the gender pay gap, to providing better maternity support and access for women to start their own businesses.

And to think, we can largely thank a mass stewardess rebellion for that.

Back in the 1930s, when the few career options available to women were domestic in nature—like teaching or secretarial roles—working as a flight attendant, aka stewardess, promised a more glamorous and exciting life. A chance to see the world, one flight at a time.


However, the job wasn’t all perks. Airlines capitalized on advertising the stewardesses as sex objects, even using highly suggestive marketing campaigns where stewardesses would all but outright say they were available for sex work. Companies would also exclusively hire young (we’re talking 27 as the cut-off limit), unmarried, white women with specific body measurements to promote their elite luxury image.

The strategy worked—by the 1970s, there was a huge increase in ticket sales. But stewardesses were fed-up with discriminatory labor practices, and became one of the first groups to band together to push for change. Using Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, these women were able to not only transform the airline industry, but help women in other fields take-off as well.

Gleaning from books “Femininity in Flight: A History of Flight Attendants” and “The Great Stewardess Rebellion,” as well as personal accounts from the revolt, the video created by Vox below gives a quick overview of this often overlooked chapter in feminist history.

Please buckle your seatbelts.


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