We Have Come A Long Way Baby

Published April 28, 2012

Sometimes we forget that the world has made progress in the matter of discrimination. Consider gender discrimination, i.e. being treated differently because you are a woman or a man. In the New York Times, on Sunday, March 18, 2012, there was a front page article on the longest flying flight attendant, Ron Akana. Akana has been a flight attendant for 63 years. At 83 years, he is still working. This is almost unbelievable but it's true. I cannot image being in the air serving passengers (some nice and some not so nice) for 20 million miles. According to the Times, Akana has been in the air the equivalent of circling the globe 800 times or flying 40 times to the moon and back. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/18/us/63-years-flying-from-glamour-to-days-of-gray.html?pagewanted=all

Mr. Akana has seen many changes in the flight industry. It has gone from passengers dressed up, to passengers showing up in their pajamas or wearing cutoffs and a tube top. You can see just how trashy or sloppy passengers have gotten by watching the reality show Airline (airing on MyLifetime) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gjw585ZnJwI

Mr Akana was one of the first male stewards hired by United Airlines in 1949. Male stewards were very unusual. As the Times article points out, most airlines hired only young women and there was mandatory retirement at age 32. If you got married or pregnant, you were fired.

In 1966, a New York Times classified ad for stewardesses at Eastern Airlines listed these requirements: "A high school graduate, single (widows and divorcees with no children considered), 20 years of age (girls 19 1/2 may apply for future consideration). 5'2″ but no more than 5'9″, weight 105 to 135 in proportion to height and have at least 20/40 vision without glasses"

When I read this classified ad in the Times article, my blood pressure spiked. I was PISSED. I knew I wanted to write a blog on this topic. It brought back memories when I first started practicing law in 1980. I had no idea what I was doing and my only point of reference was The Perry Mason show.

I remember being in the library and looking at a volume of Texas Jurisprudence (Tex. Jur.). In Tex. Jur., women were listed as chattel, the legal word for personal possessions. I still get mad thinking about it.

In those days, women lawyers were suppose to write wills and practice family law. Heaven forbid, trial work was out of the question. I remember confronting the senior partner and accusing him of not believing women were capable of trying lawsuits. In my typical Blunt (I refuse to call it in your face) style, I walked in to his office and confronted him with that statement. The senior partner, a sweet, extremely talented, wonderful man, shot out of his chair like a cannon. He jumped out of his chair, red in the face, and announced that he certainly didn't believe that, but I needed to get back in the library ASAP.

I don't want to suggest that he was a chauvinist because he wasn't. He was an excellent mentor and a giant in the legal world. It was just a different time. He was brought up in a different era. He was extremely supportive of me.

My point here is that times have changed, Thank God! I think it is important to remember that there has been improvements. There is still discrimination, unfortunately, but we have gotten a lot better about recognizing it and not tolerating it.

My final word on the 1966 classified ad is the use of the word "girl". I know it is not correct to call women, girls or gals, if it is used in a putdown way. However, you can call me a girl. It makes me feel younger.

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