Book Review

The Jet Sex: Airline Stewardesses and the Making of an American Icon by Victoria Vantoch

It is a great opportunity to be gifted the chance to read a book dealing with a part of history that you may never have thought to read about before, but the instant you are made aware of it you get really excited about what you will learn.

That’s as close of a description to how I felt when The Jet Sex by Victoria Vantoch was the next book chosen in my Book Club. You can say you are aware of the gilded age of flying, that you can assume how the lifestyle was, but until you actually read an academic dissertation on the subject, you’ll never now how your eyes will be forever opened.

The motivation behind Vantoch writing this book was that her mother used to be an airline stewardess and so a fascination with that world began. The book opens starting in the 1930s, when flight was still pretty much a dream for most people. There were no passenger planes and many couldn’t fly very far. Still, it didn’t stop some wealthy people from creating a travel market specifically for them.

During this time, planes were small, seating no more than maybe 10 passengers to a tin can. There was no circulated air (reference the tin can comment). There was no pressurized cabin, which meant that there was no way for them to go above the clouds without beginning to suffocate do to high altitude. There were also only male “stewards” who weren’t really stewards, but more like handy men on the flight that also happened to take passenger requests.

From here we move throughout history detailing how and why airlines switched to females and how they became stewardesses. The credentials needed to achieve such a prestigious profession and the standards imposed on woman that prevented them from continuing their airline career in lieu of being a wife, homemaker, and baby factory.

This novel deals a lot with the time period just after WWII where the pressure to make humans was rampant, but also due to the war, so was the inclination of women to want more than just the title of wife and mother. It was interesting to see the perspective from one of the few female dominant career paths during the time and how misogyny still managed to control most of the comings and goings of the airline stewardess.

It was an interesting take on what can arguably be considered a large chunk of feminist history, though there were moments where I cringed at the way certain things were described. I could easily brush these occurrences aside with the simple explanation that it was representative of the times, but it didn’t feel that way to me most of the time and in a way I felt the author was idolizing the aspects that I personally did not find that great.

GOOD POINT: I guess all I can say is that this is and should be viewed with a lens as it is an academic paper. They aren’t going to change things simply because you the reader may be made to feel uncomfortable about something.  This I do find to be a good thing, because if we are comfortable in normalizing things that are blatantly wrong then we are contributing to people not learning from the past.

I found Vantoch’s novel interesting, but I won’t lie it was hard to read as an academic paper. What can I say, most books such as this are not my cup of tea, but I can still sit back after having finished it and say that I walked away with a knowledge I didn’t have before. In that regard I think the book succeeds.

BAD POINT: Mandatory weigh-ins

3.5 Out of 5 Stars

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