I’ve been thinking about this topic since I started flight training. I wasn’t sure I had enough experience or insight into it yet to write about it. I figured to tackle it anyway though.
Women in aviation. From statistics, they make up 17% of students nowadays, 7% of private pilots, and 6.5% of flight instructors. Not a lot, but I’ve been lucky. I’ve had two female instructors. I changed only because my first one wasn’t checked out in the airplane I wanted to train. Looking back though, I’m glad I did because my current CFI is more experienced in teaching, doesn’t have a corporate job to distract her, and I just feel like she’s more prepared. It doesn’t make me respect my other less, flying badass corporate jets.
I believe my flight school purposely always tried to match me with female instructors though, their only two. I wasn’t expecting that going into training. I was prepared for male instructors. In the end, I do like being paired with a female CFI. We can relate better to one another and bond. Of course, I could have that with a male instructor, if we have things in common; but there is a difference. This article talks about her hypothesis that females are more likely to finish their training when paired with female instructors, but her surveys weren’t able to come to that conclusion. From that article, I read this one. Reading that article made me realize how much my instructor asks if I have any questions and I feel comfortable asking anything to her. I thought that was just a given in all flight training.
Having two female flight instructors and always talking to at least one female controller a lesson, I didn’t really notice that there is a lack of women in aviation, or at least in my aviation world. I also have found great blogs by other female student pilots, so I just forgot about the lack of females. Then I thought about it. I have never seen another female student at my school. I know my instructor had one other who is now moving away. I want to ask next time I’m there how many female students there are at the school. I’m beginning to suspect I’m the only one.
Then I was surprised when thinking about friends who have done discovery flights. Not many. One guy. One woman I know bought it for her husband and went along in the back. And then just one woman I work with asked me about it to buy for her boyfriend. All men who did/would do the flying. The woman who bought it for her husband made a post on Facebook about how maybe she would take it up because there needs to be more female pilots. Never heard anything about it after that. I was shocked by the woman who wanted to buy it for her boyfriend not wanting to do it herself because she’s very much a feminist. Why weren’t they attracted to the idea of flying themselves?
I knew going into this there wouldn’t really be any females and it doesn’t affect me too much. It makes me want to try all the harder to make sure I finish my license so I can be part of changing the norm. I’ve embraced my girliness in this endeavor. I got a pink logbook! Summer is fast approaching and I know I’ll be flying in a skirt. Why try to hide the fact I’m a girl?
The two biggest insults to me about my training have come from 1. a doctor I called to get the price of a 3rd class medical 2. a fellow pilot girlfriend. The doctor, oh man, I was pissed after this happened because of what he did and because I wanted to respond in a different way than I did. I was checking for doctors in the NYC area, but most of them cost $250 for a medical that should be closer to $100. This specific doctor got on the phone and said he charged $450, ridiculous. He then proceeded to lecture me about how aviation is expensive and said I should take up knitting instead. Really, knitting? Would he have said that to a man who called? Would he have even lectured him? I just wanted to get off the phone, but I wish I said something to him. It was just insulting to me to say I should take up knitting. Plus, I already knit.
The second was right after I got up the courage to tell my boyfriend I was going to do flight training. Something I had been working on doing for months. We were on vacation in Colorado with all his pilot buddies from college, but we were alone in the living room so I told him. I got his support, then his friend and his girlfriend entered the room. I don’t like this girlfriend at all. They asked what we were talking about and I was horrified when Embraer Boyfriend told them because to me it was a private thing I shared with him. And you know the response it got from the girlfriend? “Oh, I went through that phase too.” Excuse me? The way she said it was filled with such arrogance and condescension, like I was stupid and would never achieve a license. Here the thing, yes, I would have never been interested in aviation without meeting my boyfriend. I acknowledge that. But now, I am interested and want to do it, for myself. Not for him, not to impress him, it’s 100% for me. It was just completely insulting towards me, because I had worked so hard for months researching, budgeting, and building up the courage to talk about it. I was shocked to hear it from another woman, her lack of independence and confidence showed with that comment. Now, it’s just one more motivation to get my license and prove her wrong. Those two things have really only been the discouraging comments I’ve gotten through this whole process.
I can’t wait to get my license and afterwards I hope to try to get involved with trying to get more girls involved with aviation. I know there are good organizations out there. I don’t want to get involved yet, because I want to prove I can do it to myself before trying to encourage others to fly.
Please know I am quite aware of the hazards. I want to do it because I want to do it. Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail their failure must be but a challenge to others.
— Amelia Earhart, in her last letter to her husband, 1937.