“Woman dies after being nearly sucked out of plane,” [UPDATED]

reads the headline in the Guardian‘s e-mail on yesterday’s Southwest Airlines engine failure. What it doesn’t say is,

“Woman pilot saves the other 148.”

I am divided on the fact that this is not lead news.

On the one hand, the matter-of-factness of it pleases me. Her femaleness should NOT be a big deal, any more than our previous president’s African Americanness should have been. Courage and competence are the proper focus.

Authorities said the crew did what they were trained to do.

“They’re in the simulator and practice emergency descents … and losing an engine … They did the job that professional airline pilots are trained to do,” National Transportation Safety Board chairman Robert Sumwalt told reporters.

And maybe that was her choice. She hasn’t been available for comment.

On the other hand, it betrays an insidious old habit of getting all excited about women as victims, but not about women as heroes.

“She has nerves of steel,” said [a survivor]. “That lady, I applaud her. I’m going to send her a Christmas card, I’m going to tell you that, with a gift certificate for getting me on the ground. She was awesome.”

She “was among the first female fighter pilots in the US military, according to friends and the alumni group at her alma mater, MidAmerica Nazarene University.”

So, I’ll say it #TammieJoShults is #TheNewSullySullivan.

UPDATE: The story I read was one of the most poker-faced about this aspect of the story. (Oh, those Brits.) The Guardian (which I rely on, don’t get me wrong) also published a photo of the victim but not of the hero. We’ll remedy that in a moment. But many other media are, in fact, focusing on the hero—and comparing her to Sullivan.

Ms Shults, originally from New Mexico, has previously revealed that she might never have become a pilot.

She was quoted on fighter plane blog F-16.net saying she tried to attend an aviation career day at high school but was told they did not accept girls. [“Nevertheless, she persisted.”]

Ms Shults, however, never lost the urge to fly and, after studying medicine in Kansas, applied to the US Air Force. It would not let her take the test to become a pilot, but the US Navy did.

She was one of the first female F-18 pilots and became an instructor before she left the Navy in 1993 and joined Southwest, according to the blog.

A Christian, who is married to a fellow pilot and has two children, Ms Shults said that sitting in the captain’s chair gave her “the opportunity to witness for Christ on almost every flight.”

Of course, the first photo I could find of her was taken a quarter century ago, when she looked the movie part:

TammieJoTammie Jo Shults in the early 1990s. (Courtesy Linda Maloney. Washington Post.)

She’s 56 now. We wouldn’t want to see THAT, would we? Yeah, we would.


(Tammie Jo Shults with husband, Dean, at MidAmerica Nazarene University. KEVIN GARBER, DIRECTOR OF ALUMNI RELATIONS AT MIDAMERICA NAZARENE UNIVERSITY. From Newsweek.)

UPDATE 2: Here’s a summary of the considerable challenges and skills involved.

Published in: on April 18, 2018 at 8:07 am  Leave a Comment  

Hillary update

A commenter just asked me whether, in the light of the recent revelations about Hillary’s e-mail and donor machinations, I still thought she was a good candidate.

Even before that, I was coming around to thinking: No, she’s not.

Three reasons: she’s a baby boomer (so am I, and I’m sick of us; I suspect the culture is too); she’s dynastic (what, another Clinton running against another Bush?? Groundhog Decade!); and she’s half of a corrupt political couple.

I have no patience with “It’s time for a woman president” arguments. Sexism can’t be fought with sexism, and preferring and promoting someone simply because “it’s time” for their category to be represented is as sexist or racist as barring or demoting them for same. If their category can’t come up with a good candidate this time around (for reasons that most certainly include persistent sexism in the culture as well as the malign influence of money on politics), it is extremely patronizing to put forward someone you otherwise wouldn’t want in the office. What’s more, it does the category more harm than good, because it leaves an opening for the other wing of sexists/racists to blame a mediocre performance on the category rather than the individual.

I thought it was a mistake to elect Barack Obama primarily for the reason that “it’s time we had a black president,” even though that was a moving milestone and created a glow of emotion and self-congratulation that lasted for a brief honeymoon before it was time for him to start governing. The only thing that would have been not-racist was to judge him on his merits. Which are? He can be very eloquent, he’s intelligent to the point of being cerebral, he’s deliberate and calm, somewhat removed. I didn’t think he had an executive temperament; didn’t have enough zest for wading in and getting hands-on. That assessment, whether you agree with it or not, has nothing to do with his “race.”

I also don’t buy that the Republican obstructionism against Obama really has anything to do with his race — although politics being an “all’s fair” game, Republicans have been perfectly willing to enlist the racism of some of their constituents in the effort to defeat and discredit him. No, Republicans want to do as much damage as they can to his record because he’s a Democrat, and they want the White House back. People seem to have forgotten that Republicans also detested and did their best to destroy Bill Clinton, who, despite being “the first black president,” was, last I looked, white, all the way down to Slick Willie (no, I didn’t get a look at that).

That said, I’m entirely the wrong person to listen to about politics. I have nothing good to say.

Published in: on May 21, 2015 at 11:35 am  Comments (4)  

Girls can do anything.


(Sorry I couldn’t figure out how to embed this video.  Well, I guess girls can’t do everything.)

Published in: on October 15, 2012 at 10:26 am  Leave a Comment  

“I was still a young fighter pilot learning my trade.”

Air National Guard Pilot Heather Penney remembers 9/11. Who has an hour to listen to an interview?  (Wouldn’t you know it’s C-SPAN?)  It’s worth it, though—among other things, to gaze on and contemplate a tough, pretty broad who flew an armed F-16.  She says things like (on air defenses during the Cold War) “to defend our sovereign soil from the Soviet bear.” Fight like a girl, indeed. (Video unfortunately not embeddable.)

This should be required viewing for anyone (if there’s anyone left) who still thinks women are unfit to be full-fledged soldiers.

This sounds counterintuitive, but when the magnitude of the situation hit me, I really lost all emotion.  I didn’t have an emotional reaction at all.

It was really much more focused on what are the things that I need to do to enable us to protect our capital, what are the things that I need to do to facilitate us getting airborne. . . .

[Later, when getting ready to fly] It wasn’t so much that I kept my emotions in check.  It was just that they didn’t even exist.  They just weren’t even there.  But there was significant adrenaline.  And it was really just, “Dear God, just don’t let me screw up.”

Published in: on September 11, 2011 at 2:13 pm  Leave a Comment  


There’s a gap.  That’s the best way I can describe it.  There’s a gap women are afraid to leap or don’t know how to leap.  I feel it.  We — the majority of us women — still don’t know how to be primary in our own lives, how to relate directly to the world.  We don’t know how to start our own engine; we feel guilt and fear at the very thought of doing so.  We are deep-down sure that the only way to go our own way is alone and that the only way not to be alone is to compromise so deeply it bites to the bone.

Sure, I’m exaggerating.  Go ahead, tell me about all the exceptions.  Tell me love is worth compromising for.  (It is, up to the borders of your integrity.)  Tell me I should be saying “I,” not “we.”  But I hear a lot of seasoned, accomplished women saying or hinting at some version of this — that they still feel derivative, secondary.  Men romanticize this and see it as devotion.  It completes them and it diminishes us.  It’s also safe and easy for us, an ancient shtick, an existential cop-out with perks.

Freud thought the gap was the absence of a penis!  It’s so much more — the collective memory of physical danger; millennia of forbiddenness; void of precedent; human cowardice and inertia, always more easily forgiven in women.

The best writer I know about this — so good her writing scares people, scares me — is my friend Dalma Heyn.  Here she is on the danger of a new backlash, not so much against women but within them — a retreat from the challenge and chaos of rapid change into old, familiar, outgrown ways:

Women, conventional goodness isn’t your friend. Maintaining your vision for the future is. If we do all the things we used to do when chaos frightened us with, oh, loss of love, loss of husbands, loss of social approval, loss of funds, loss of everythng, we lose something far more precious: We lose our hope for evolving as women. We mustn’t ever again let anything, especially a flagging economy, threaten our own ability to push through the confines of that old story, the Romance Plot, the one that hurls women back into the kitchen.  Yes, we all yearn for security, but it never did come in the form of  old ideas, old roles, old habits.  Don’t idealize what never was. We’ve spent years setting free a new narrative, one that promises forward movement in the home, in our relationships, inside ourselves. The old story that we fantasize as being magically problem-free, actually brought more women lifelong depression than it did safety and security.

What Dalma writes about is not spurning love, but rather the challenge of loving without lying about who you are.  I’m a widow, which is forcing me to confront the gap in myself.  Male friends tell me radiantly that I’ll always be one with my husband and that ours was a great love.  I hate to tell them it was never that simple.  Don’t misunderstand me:  it was great.  But it was also safe.  Under his wing, my strengths were first derivative and then hypothetical.  They became mine, but I was safe from having to decide how to use them.  Eyes riveted on him — his grandeur, his trauma, his unquestionable genius for living — I never had to answer my own hard questions. And, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, that cop-out did not serve him well.

Don’t chicken out, women.  Go on, evolve.  Yes, I’m talking to you.  Me.

Published in: on September 8, 2011 at 3:28 am  Comments (3)  

What a brilliant idea!

Identify a freedom women in developed countries have taken for granted for decades. Recognize how the lack of that freedom in developing countries is yet another force — so simple and obvious it’s been unrecognized — holding girls and women back from access to education and achievement. Then turn the remedy into a business opportunity for young women.

What are we talking about? The availability of safe, convenient sanitary supplies.

Says Elizabeth Scharpf of Sustainable Health Enterprises (SHE):

I started SHE because of my shock and outrage at the incredible scale and effect of the problem: of girls and women lacking access to affordable, quality, sanitary pads. Currently, girls and women in this setting—if they have an option at all—turn to either premium priced international brands, which are too costly for widespread and sustainable use, or to alternative methods such as rags, which, in combination with a lack of a clean and accessible water supply, are potentially harmful and do not effectively contain blood flow. Poor girls and women in rural settings may even use dried mud, or even bark. As a result of girls’ unmet need for affordable, high-quality sanitary pads, they are often absent from school—missing up to fifty days of school per year—thereby, thwarting their educational and professional potential.

Slogan:  better sanitary protection.  period.

Talk about things that make you go “DUH.”


I just realized that that’s the precise word for my current political mood.  It ceased to be “ambivalent” quite some time ago.

It feels so good to put your finger on something.

Twittering was going on about this article on Politico, saying that a lot of Republicans are trying to figure out how to defeat Sarah Palin for the 2012 nomination.

Damned if it didn’t make her look good to me.  And I was not a fan.  (So why didn’t Democrats’ scorn for her have the same effect?  Because I discounted it so completely.  In the twisted logic of countersuggestibility, that somehow makes sense.)

I twittered that and got an e-mail from Ron:

I’m still unsure if Palin should be president…(first thought: no) but it’s more interesting to see all this stuff play out, while Obama is going in the opposite direction.  If Palin can defeat her own party…she may be getting the training needed to defeat the dems!  2 years is a long way off….

I answered:

I’m not sure she’d be such a disaster.  Gut instinct is worth a lot more than book learnin’.  She could store the necessary knowledge in her advisers.

And Ron wrote back:

let’s say that happens….and she has a successful presidency.  Boy…that will mess with a lot of heads.  Though it shouldn’t.  Isn’t Palin the kind of figure Dems used to be proud came from America? (a la the screwball comedy?)

Bingo.  It feels so good to put your finger on something.  Even when it’s somebody else’s finger.

That’s exactly what Palin is.  She is the first female president out of a screwball comedy:  warmhearted, ditzy and clueless like a fox, a character out of the American folk tradition by way of classic Hollywood.

cross-posted at Ambiance

Published in: on November 1, 2010 at 1:07 am  Leave a Comment  

Dirty Harry Days

I think it’s The Enforcer — the one where Clint Eastwood’s character is forced by political correctness to accept a female partner (played by a young Tyne Daly), only to grow a grudging respect for her guts before she dies in his arms. Her oh so feminine last words: “Get ’em.”

That crossed my mind when I read about a tribute luncheon in Los Angeles attended by “women wearing pearl earrings and police uniforms, carrying Gucci bags and holstered guns.”  The elderly woman who haltingly made her way up to the podium to cheers and applause was Fanchon Blake, whose 1973 lawsuit broke multiple glass ceilings in the LAPD (including a 5’6″ lowest height limit) and undoubtedly provoked that Dirty Harry movie.

[A] flood of female recruits [was] hired as Blake’s discrimination suit pushed the department into a court-monitored consent decree.

Before Blake sued, women couldn’t be promoted beyond the rank of sergeant, were allowed to supervise only other women and had to be at least 5 feet, 6 inches tall.

[Lt. Cindy] Benes is 5 feet tall, a lieutenant in the tough Northeast Division, supervising 24 gang and narcotics officers, all but one of them men. […]

Until the 1970s, women were trained separately, wore skirts and heels and weren’t allowed in patrol cars.

Oh yes, I remember those days.  Your proper role was announced and enforced by your clothing — try to run and shoot in a skirt and heels, outside of a Hollywood movie.  At Harvard/Radcliffe in the mid-1960s we were educated with the men, but lived in our own separate chaperoned enclave almost a mile away.  Our numbers were far fewer.  If it was cold in winter and we wanted to wear pants to class to keep warm, we had to wear a skirt over the pants.  Really!  When I graduated in 1967 we received Harvard diplomas, but had a separate graduation ceremony, as if quarantined lest we contaminate the university’s traditional grandeur.  All that broke down within two years of my graduation.

These questions were not then and still aren’t simple and straightforward.  Should the force of women’s desire for inclusion and equality overwhelm, say, the strength requirements of a firefighter’s job?  Why do women want to be boxers and get their faces bashed in?  Is equality the same as equivalency?  Is (or I should say “was”) the male-bonding atmosphere of high-risk, protective occupations like police work and war something more than just a desire to shut girls out of the clubhouse?  Undoubtedly there have been both gains and losses as a result of women’s inclusion in even those occupations that seemed intrinsically masculine.

I certainly remember having the sense that exclusion was inseparable from second-rateness, and protection was entwined with condescension.  Men got to do the exciting, important stuff that the culture really honored and esteemed.  (Surprise!  Women have egos, too, and ours were collectively wounded for, oh, millennia.)  Women were the support staff, lumped together with children, churning out and servicing bodies while men cultivated spirits.  Tribute was paid to our humble but vital role, but we knew it was lip service.  Orthodox Jews weren’t the only males who woke up and thanked God every morning for not making them women.

Over time I came to my own resolution and reconciliation of the difference/equality conundrum.  It struck me that the spiritual virtues humanity has held highest — including courage and justice, reason and art and Einstein’s “divine curiosity” — had become melded with maleness by their long restriction to men, and that it was our exclusion from that essentially genderless core of the human legacy that women were righfully indignant about.  We, too, confused them with maleness, so that we thought the way to claim courage was, say, to get in the boxing ring and bust each other’s noses.  But the real differences are unyielding; in our style of karate, for example, women now fight full contact (face punching is a foul for either sex) and it is indeed a valuable cultivation of courage and antidote to fear, but women fight each other, and it’s just not the same as men fighting.  The spiritual component is arguably the same; the physical and psychological pieces are very different.  As a result, almost everyone’s at peace with it.

Maybe it’s like that in police departments and the military, too.  Women have won respect for their courage without either turning into or unmanning men.  Or do you disagree?