Manhood up in the air : gender, sexuality, corporate culture, and the law in twentieth century America

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Date

2007-05

Authors

Tiemeyer, Philip James

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Abstract

This project analyzes the sexual and gender politics of flight attendants, especially the men who did this work, since the 1930s. It traces how and why the flight attendant corps became the nearly exclusive domain of white women by the 1950s, then considers the various legal battles under the 1964 Civil Rights Act to re-integrate men into the workforce, open up greater opportunities for African-Americans, and liberate women from onerous age and marriage restrictions that cut short their careers. While other scholars have emphasized flight attendants' contributions in battling sexism in the courts, this project is unique in expanding such consideration to homosexuality. Male flight attendants' status as gender pariahs in the workforce (as men performing "women's work")--combined with the fact that many of them were gay--made them objects of "homosexual panic" in the 1950s, both in legal proceedings and in various forms of extra-legal intimidation. A decade later, aspirant flight attendants were participants in some of the first cases brought by men under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Their victories in the courts greatly benefited the gay community, among others, which thereby enjoyed greater freedom to enter a highly visible, public-relationsoriented corporate career. As such, my project helps to recast the legal legacy of the civil rights movement as a three-pronged reform, confronting homophobia as well as racism and sexism. Beyond legal considerations, Manhood Up in the Air also examines how both labor unions and the airlines negotiated a legal environment and public sentiment that largely condoned firing homosexuals, while nonetheless accommodating gay employees. This form of accommodation existed in the 1950s, though much more precariously than in the post-Stonewall decade of the 1970s. Thus, the project records the pre-history to the current reality, in which both corporations (with airlines at the forefront) and labor unions have become core supporters of the contemporary gay rights movement.

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