Graduation Date

5-2017

Document Type

Master's Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts

Department or Program

Graduate Humanities

Department or Program Chair

Joan Baranow, Ph.D.

First Reader

Thomas Burke, M.A.

Second Reader

Mairi Pileggi, Ph.D.

Abstract

Airline stewardesses in the decades between 1950 and 1980 reflected a microcosm of the American feminist movement. Subjected to what feminist theorist Laura Mulvey called “the male gaze,” in which women are viewed as objects who exist for the viewer’s pleasure, they were selected for their youth and beauty and trained to serve. Regulations about height, weight, age, and marital status, ensured that stewardesses were young, thin, and single, and women in this job were fetishized as everything from girl next door to sex kitten. Stewardesses were expected to fulfill archetypal and stereotypical female roles, including mother, nurse, comforter, and idealized wife. However, they also defied the role of object or victim through tenacity, independence, and professionalism, helping forge the way for women who wanted to pursue a career instead of—or in addition to—marriage and family. This thesis includes oral history interviews with former American Airline stewardesses (including my mother, the inspiration for this project) and investigates how their experiences intersected with traditional gender roles in the American workplace and the shifting social, economic, and political climate of the Civil Rights and Women’s Movements.

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