Thursday, May 12, 2016

What I learned from Amelia Earhart (besides that she was an author)

I finished reading Amelia Earhart's The Fun of It the other day. It was interesting to read her thoughts on flying and feminism with my 2016 goggles on. She wrote the bulk of the book while she was (somewhat secretly) preparing for her solo flight across the Atlantic in 1932 (eighty-four years ago).

I only started marking passages in the second half of the book because Rachel had been carting it back and forth to school while reading it (she stole it from me, which I guess is alright because we got it for her school project, but still...).

At one point she asked a head honcho weather bureau man if there was any reason there couldn't be such a thing as a weather woman. He answered that there wasn't, "except that they would have to go out in bad weather sometimes and climb ladders to collect data." Truly there wasn't anything holding women back from being meteorologists except that women simply weren't meteorologists (p. 127).

A bit later she supposes that autogiros will take over the skies for short commutes through cities and things like that. "In fact," she says, "with the giro as with many new developments, so much is likely to happen that I am planning on returning to earth in a couple of hundred years to check up on its doings" (p. 139).

I had to look up what autogiros were! They're like a cross between a plane and a helicopter, kind of. They're still used but they're not incredibly common. Though I think if Earhart were to check in on things she'd be happy to see that there are, at least, several female meteorologists.

On page 143 she discusses how boys and girls are treated differently from the very beginning. "Even from the early grades, they take different subjects. For instance, boys are usually put into woodworking classes, and girls into sewing or cooking.... I know many boys who making pies and girls who are much better fitted for manual training... Too often little attention is paid to individual talent. Instead, education goes on dividing people according to their sex, and putting them in little feminine or masculine pigeonholes."

I'm sad to say that this is still very much the case. I see it with how segregated products are. Some toys are girl toys and some toys are boy toys and if you dare cross that border then you're breaking all sorts of social norms that make people feel uncomfortable. Even colours are arbitrarily delineated into masculine and feminine, which is ridiculous.

A few weeks ago at the dentist Benjamin got to pick a little prize out of their prize box. He picked out a plastic noisemaker ring that happened to be pink.

"Oh, you don't want a pink one!" said the dental assistant who was walking him back out to me. "Why don't you put it back and choose a green one or a blue one or some other boy colour?"

I sat in my seat seething as my sweet three-year-old cowed to the soft-spoken yet impressive power of Adult-in-Uniform. He put the pink ring back and chose a green one, which he was fine with, but he wanted the pink one.

Benjamin likes pink. This does not make him a girl. Benjamin is still very much a boy (case in point: we were skyping with my parents on Sunday when out of the blue (or pink?) he said, "My head is a cannon," then aimed the crown of his head at them and said, "Boom! Boom! Boom!" as he 'shot' them with his cannon-head (everything is a weapon lately). To be fair, I should mention that my girls happily joined in this game). He just happens to like pink right now. I don't think allowing him to, for example, claim dibs on all the pink dishes for dinner is as much of a problem as telling him, "Pink is a girl colour and if you like pink then you're girly."

I think Benjamin will probably grow out of "liking" pink (and by "grow out of" I mean society will likely beat it out of him). Even girls give up liking pink because it's "too girly." It happened to my little Rachel-girl and it's happened to many others that I know of. I even have friends who refuse to dress their baby girls in pink because pink is "too girly."

As if there's something wrong with being a girl! There isn't.

There's nothing wrong with being a girl. There's nothing wrong with pink. It's strict delineation that's the problem—if you're a girl you can like and do these specific things; if you're a boy you can like and do these specific things. If you don't conform something is wrong with you. That's a societal fallacy. In truth you can be a girl and like planes and the colour blue and ballet dancing, for all I care. You can be a boy and like ponies and the colour pink and football. We need to stop "dividing people according to their sex, and putting them in little feminine or masculine pigeonholes." Thank you, Amelia Earhart.

I should say that this same dental assistant allowed Rachel to chose a blue toothbrush, because it's fine for girls to choose blue over pink (it's just not fine for boys to choose pink over blue). I don't think this is because feminism has done its job because there are still very real inequalities between the sexes—Earhart mentions that in the 1930s women were (still) fighting to be called "pilots" rather than "sweethearts of the air" or "ladybirds" or similar names. We're still trying to earn names for ourselves in other facets of society—rather I think it's because it's alright in our society to appear more masculine but it's "weak" to appear too feminine. And I don't think that's because of feminism (the goal of which is not to make pink better than blue or make blue the new pink); rather I think it's what feminism is trying to battle altogether (pink and blue are equally good choices).

I'm sure I'm explaining that all very poorly, so I'll move on.

One guess Earhart got right was that air travel would take over rail travel. That is especially true in North America, I think. Going by train is much more common in Europe and Asia, I'd imagine, than in North America. Of course, I didn't look up any information to back that up; I'm flying by the seat of my pants. (Here: I looked stuff up and my imaginings were correct).

I love when she says, "What about trans-atlantic flying? Of course that will come—and, according to good reports, sooner than most people believe," (p. 207) because what she didn't say, of course, was that she was nearly ready to embark on her solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean.

"That women share in these endeavours, even more than they have in the past, is my wish—" she ends her last chapter (well, it would have been her last if they hadn't tacked on the bit about her flight). I think her wish is in the process of becoming true. But it's a long process.

1 comment:

  1. Zach chose pink sunglasses for himself when he was almost three, and I let him wear them around the mall in Chapel Hill. Since then, though, he's realized pink is for girls. I cringed when I heard him tell the nurse "I bet the girls pick pink and purple for their casts" the other day. Not sure who taught him that. Wasn't me!

    (He loves red the most.)

    Oh, I was one of those girls who hated pink because it was too-girly.

    Also, I remember reading that pink used to be for boys. I've heard in some cultures that women wear red, and they consider that a girly color. I recall reading an NPR or PRI story about an Afghani (I think) in the US who had to wear a red graduation gown, and he mentioned red being a woman's color in his culture.

    So interesting how societies assign colors to the sexes! Also in Arab culture - or maybe Muslim or Muslim/Arab culture - I heard that men don't wear gold as in gold wedding rings because that's too womanly.