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For all our nostalgia about the “Golden Age of Air Travel”, it was more mythical than we like to think.  As with other forms of transport then, until the 1970s, commercial and military aviation were strictly gendered and racist divisions of labour, both in the cockpit and cabin – piloting was a lifetime career for white men, “stewardessing” a temporary one for women.  Western culture was built upon images of men as chivalrous knights, cowboys, and soldiers — all living rugged manly lives, their greatest joy the comradeship on cattle drives, or men-of-war or in the trenches. In reality, by the beginning of the twentieth century, few males had ever been cowboys or seen active military service. Nevertheless, fueled by paperback novels and later Hollywood, the mythology persisted. National identity was defined by masculinity- in the United States it was the cowboy, in Australia the “digger” and in Canada, the lumberjack, the Mountie and since the last war, the air ace. Women in pulp fiction and movies were either the faithful forgiving wife and mother, the schoolmarm - or the dance hall prostitute. Pilots were defined by their training, professionalism, and their courage in the air. To frightened passengers – and that was everyone then, whoever sat in the flight deck was omnipotent.

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