Gloria Steinem on how female flight attendants fought sexism in the skies (

March 30, 2016

In this exclusive excerpt from her memoir My Life on the Road, the writer and feminist activist reveals the harassment and discrimination women crew members faced in the ’60s and ’70s.

When I first began flying a lot in the early 1970s, planes meant only mindlessness, escape from phones, maybe a movie, and most of all, sleep. Even if I took work on board, I nodded off as soon as we were aloft. Like a flying version of Pavlov’s dog, just being carried through space made me feel I needed to make no further effort.

Once when I stayed awake long enough to admire the olive twill pants of a flight attendant’s uniform, she let me order a pair at her discount, thus combining shopping with travel. It was the beginning of a lifetime of finding girlfriends in the sky. I noticed that stewardesses were all young—and all female—but I assumed they wanted a few years of travel before doing something else, or this was an entry-level job and a pipeline for airline executives. I only began to pay attention when I was shuttling constantly between the start-up of Ms. magazine in New York and the organizing of the National Women’s Political Caucus in Washington. Once when exhaustion caused me to fall asleep with my credit card in my hand, a kindhearted stewardess removed the card, ran it through the onboard ticket machine—the way one paid for the shuttle in those days—and put it back in my hand without waking me. Neither she nor others knew who I was or why I was such a frequent-flying oddity among the mostly male passengers going to our nation’s capital, but we seemed to share a sense of being outsiders.

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