Gloria Steinem honors Dusty Roads | The 2019 MAKERS Conference
Gloria Steinem, Author & Activist, honors Barbara “Dusty” Roads, Flight Attendant & Union Leader, who fought against the airline industry’s sexist working conditions and regulations. Watch the conversation from 2019 #MAKERSConference at Monarch Beach Resort.
- Please welcome Gloria Steinem. [MUSIC PLAYING] GLORIA STEINEM: Well, obviously I'm not Dusty, but I think maybe we have a photograph of me and Dusty coming up somewhere. She came. She came with her wife this morning, but she wasn't feeling well, so she can't be with us. But she is with us in spirit and photographs. And because she's not here, I get to tell you how important she is, OK? Because I think that flight attendants, as we now say instead of stewardesses, are probably the single most important group when it comes to telling the story of women's employment in this women's movement, because they were an all-female group in a very, very male environment. And I came to know how important they were to me because ever since I started wandering around on the road, in 19-- I don't know what. '69, or '70, or something? They were my flying girlfriends. They looked after me, right? And I listened to them and all of their labor problems. So I just want to say that-- I just want to take us through the history a little bit because the first stewardesses were registered nurses, hired to make passengers feel safe at a time when flying was new, and air sickness was frequent, and passengers were fearful. Some pilots so resented this female invasion of their macho airspace that they quit. You can't make this up, OK? [LAUGHTER] Once male business travelers became the airlines' bread and butter, everything changed. Stewardesses were hired as decorative waitresses with geisha-like instructions. There were executive flights for men only, complete with steaks, brandy, and cigars lit by the stewardesses. Though they still had to know first aid, evacuation procedures for as many as 75 kinds of planes, underwater rescue, emergency signaling, hijacking precautions, and other skills they had to go to school for six weeks to learn, nonetheless, their appearance was prescribed down to age, height, weight-- which was governed by regular weigh-ins-- hairstyle, makeup including one single shade of lipstick, skirt length, and other physical requirements that excluded such things as a broad nose. One of the many racist reasons why stewardesses were overwhelmingly white-- there were almost no black stewardesses. And actually, I once met one who had been put off the plane by a pilot who saw her reading an Eldridge Cleaver book. I mean, I'm just saying, OK? They had to be single as well as young, and they were fired if they married or aged out over 30 or so. Altogether, the goal of airline executives seemed to be to hire smart and ornamental young women to use them as advertising and come-ons to work them hard to age them out soon. Flight schedules were so merciless that on some airlines, the average stewardess lasted only 18 months. As one United executive said, if a flight attendant was still on the job after three years, I'd know we were getting the wrong kind of girl because she's not getting married. And in fact, when the head of an airline had to testify in Congress about some of this stuff, and explained that, you know, flight attendants had to be under-- explained what I just said, and Congresswoman Martha Griffiths, bless her heart, famously asked, "Sir, are you running an airline or a whorehouse?" I mean, sorry for the term whorehouse, but anyway, good for Martha Griffiths, right? [LAUGHTER] She was all right. So when I was wandering around on the road, they were so kind to me. You know, they would take the arms out of the three-across seats so I could lie down. They would sneak me meals from first class. You know, it truly was like having a flying movement. And that's why I met Dusty Roads, because she was part of Stewardesses for Women's Rights, and we met in 1973. She really made a huge, huge difference. And so many flight attendants made a huge, huge difference. And I began to realize something was happening when they had to wear buttons-- I think it was United-- "I'm Linda. Fly me." And that went on for a couple of years. And one day I got on an airline, and I saw a woman with a button that said "I'm Sharon. Fly yourself." [LAUGHTER] So I definitely knew that something was changing. And that is so much thanks to Dusty, who was and is a pioneer organizer in a field of women's employment that symbolized everything that we know that is wrong, right? And that is still wrong. They're still fighting-- the unions of flight attendants. There's still all kinds of job problems. So I hope that the next time we get on an airline of any kind, and now there are male flight attendants, which would have been anathema. As always, if you create more justice for one group, you create more justice altogether, right? So now there are male flight attendants. But it is a whole area of employment that kind of replicates all the problems that we have been talking about. So I don't know-- I mean, I'm sure that Dusty's going to be OK. She just was having breathing problems. She and her wife drove here. It's somewhat ironic that at this moment in time, she can't fly because of breathing problems. I should think that would be such a relief, you know, that she can't. But they drove here, and were here this morning. We hope and believe that she's gonna be just fine. So we thought we would make a little film of get well, Dusty. - Yes. GLORIA STEINEM: Just to make sure-- - Cue Dylan. OK. So we wanna send this to Dusty. And we're gonna say, since you're such an amazing audience, we're gonna say, get better soon, Dusty. Practice. - Get better soon, Dusty. GLORIA STEINEM: Get better soon, Dusty. - OK. And then you're gonna pull out your phones, and you're gonna tweet about watch Dusty Roads make her story. OK? All right. You don't have to do that on the film. That's after. GLORIA STEINEM: OK. - OK. So get better soon, Dusty. OK. Ready everybody? One, two, three. - Get better soon, Dusty. GLORIA STEINEM: Get better soon, Dusty. - Woo-hoo. Thank you, Gloria. Thank you all. Thank you for stepping in. Go have a nice break. Come, come. No, you can go. GLORIA STEINEM: Oh, OK. OK. [MUSIC PLAYING]