Back when we were kind of obsessed with “man” and “woman” symbology — e.g., whether traffic lights ever include female figureshow stick figures tend to be male, unless they’re parenting, the weird world of default avatars, and also this interesting alternative symbol for disability — I had considered writing a post featuring the then-stewardess, now-flight attendant icon seen on airplanes.  Airplanes have a longer life than cars and, so, many of the airplanes operated by commercial companies still have the old stewardess icon: a friendly round head with a dress.  These were old planes though, I figured, so the post wouldn’t pack much of a punch. They were like that, back then, after all.

Lo and behold, MirandaB took a flight on Delta and snapped a photograph of an undeniably modern incarnation of the friendly round head:

Delta chose to use a digitally-skirted stick figure on its task screen.  Just to be clear, Delta still, in 2011, feels comfortable representing “flight attendants” as 100% female.  That’s a win with the language, a fail with the symbology.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women account for 81% of flight attendants, not 100% by a long shot.  But you can see why men might be reluctant to join their ranks.

Also in gender, sexism, and air travel: Sexism in Aviation, Then and Now, Selling Feminine Passivity, “Singapore Girls” and Emotion Work, and Fly the Unfriendly Skies.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
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