The Jet Sex: Airline Stewardesses and the Making of an American Icon [NOOK Book]

Overview

In the years after World War II, the airline stewardess became one of the most celebrated symbols of American womanhood. Stewardesses appeared on magazine covers, on lecture circuits, and in ad campaigns for everything from milk to cigarettes. Airlines enlisted them to pose for publicity shots, mingle with international dignitaries, and even serve (in sequined minidresses) as the official hostesses at Richard Nixon's inaugural ball. Embodying mainstream America's perfect woman, the stewardess was an ambassador of...

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The Jet Sex: Airline Stewardesses and the Making of an American Icon

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Overview

In the years after World War II, the airline stewardess became one of the most celebrated symbols of American womanhood. Stewardesses appeared on magazine covers, on lecture circuits, and in ad campaigns for everything from milk to cigarettes. Airlines enlisted them to pose for publicity shots, mingle with international dignitaries, and even serve (in sequined minidresses) as the official hostesses at Richard Nixon's inaugural ball. Embodying mainstream America's perfect woman, the stewardess was an ambassador of femininity and the American way both at home and abroad. Young, beautiful, unmarried, intelligent, charming, and nurturing, she inspired young girls everywhere to set their sights on the sky.

In The Jet Sex, Victoria Vantoch explores in rich detail how multiple forces—business strategy, advertising, race, sexuality, and Cold War politics—cultivated an image of the stewardess that reflected America's vision of itself, from the wholesome girl-next-door of the 1940s to the cosmopolitan glamour girl of the Jet Age to the sexy playmate of the 1960s. Though airlines marketed her as the consummate hostess—an expert at pampering her mostly male passengers, while mixing martinis and allaying their fears of flying—she bridged the gap between the idealized 1950s housewife and the emerging "working woman." On the international stage, this select cadre of women served as ambassadors of their nation in the propaganda clashes of the Cold War. The stylish Pucci-clad American stewardess represented the United States as middle class and consumer oriented—hallmarks of capitalism's success and a stark contrast to her counterpart at Aeroflot, the Soviet national airline. As the apotheosis of feminine charm and American careerism, the stewardess subtly bucked traditional gender roles and paved the way for the women's movement. Drawing on industry archives and hundreds of interviews, this vibrant cultural history offers a fresh perspective on the sweeping changes in twentieth-century American life.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In what is likely the first book to fully explore the legacy of airline stewardesses—and, yes, the profession's pioneers still prefer that term over the more contemporary "flight attendant"—Vantoch in this surprisingly dull book, presents a cultural history of a bygone era that defined and later redefined the American woman, focusing on the "golden years" between the 1930s and 1960s, when the stewardess represented "the quintessential wife to be" and was considered a "national heroine". Subject to strict beauty and age requirements, plus rampant sexism that mandated retirement upon marriage, the industry gradually evolved to include African-Americans. The image of the stewardess, meanwhile, carefully cultivated by elaborate marketing and advertising campaigns,morphed from the "respectable virgin" into a glamorous, seductive sky stripper. The women became symbols of the American way during the Cold War and unionized to fight industry discrimination. Vantoch (The Threesome Handbook), whose mother was an Eastern Airlines stewardess, spent eight years researching this book and interviewed hundreds of former stewardesses. But she somehow manages to turn this colorful and juicy swirl of sex, social politics, and international intrigue (complete with a sassy pink cover) into a narrative as dry as a textbook. (Apr.)
From the Publisher
"The Jet Sex is an impressive study of the stewardess as an American icon and a real human being. Those of us who came of age in the 1950s and 1960s can't help but remember her appeal as a model of beauty and of service in the magical realm of flying. Written in sprightly and compelling prose, the book should appeal both to scholars and to the general public."—Lois Banner, author of Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox

"An original, evocative, and informative work that explores provocative questions about the place of the stewardess in American culture. With a flair for storytelling and for capturing the experiences of individual stewardesses, Victoria Vantoch also gives us a rich description of the development of a profession, the development of an industry, and the curious ways in which gender factored in at every turn."—Jennifer Scanlon, author of Bad Girls Go Everywhere: The Life of Helen Gurley Brown

Kirkus Reviews
A historian chronicles the stewardess' trajectory from friendly nurse to sultry sex symbol during the "golden age" of flying, 1945–1970. In our era of flight delays, overcrowded planes and pretzel packets, it's easy to forget that air travel once held the promise of allure and sophistication, and that the attendants who staffed the aisles acted as role models for women who craved more than just suburban domesticity. Using archival materials and interviews with former stewardesses, Vantoch (The Threesome Handbook, 2007) demonstrates that these women strived to literally soar beyond the confines of the roles allotted to them in midcentury America. Aside from a brief, giddy phase in the 1920s when "lady pilots" performed at air shows, aviation was a man's world--until airlines began promoting in-flight service as a way to woo travelers away from automobiles and trains. Who better to assist first-time fliers and businessmen than docile young women with medical training? With the 1940s came improvements to the airplanes (pressurized cabins, more headroom), resulting in less turbulence, and airlines dropped the nursing requirement for prospective stewardesses. By this time, the stewardess as icon embodied a dichotomy dear to the heart of Cold War–era Americans: the plucky, attractive woman who lived to serve even as she professed independence. Vantoch's research illuminates the strict rules that airlines imposed to keep stewardesses in line, monitoring their weight, inspecting their hair and makeup, and insisting that they retire upon marriage, pregnancy or the age of 32. The revolutionary spirit of the 1960s, however, led many stewardesses to protest these increasingly irrelevant rules, as well as to challenge racial stereotyping in hiring policies and to rebel against sexualized ad campaigns. At a time when women weren't supposed to want to travel beyond their fenced yards, stewardesses set their sights on the sky; this book lovingly salutes them.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780812207743
  • Publisher: University of Pennsylvania Press, Inc.
  • Publication date: 3/5/2013
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 296
  • Sales rank: 922,328
  • File size: 4 MB

Meet the Author

Victoria Vantoch is a journalist and historian whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, U.S. News and World Report, and the Los Angeles Times. She is the author of The Threesome Handbook and has a doctorate in history from the University of Southern California.
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Table of Contents

Introduction
Chapter 1. Flying Nurses, Lady Pilots, and the Rise of Commercial Aviation
Chapter 2. The Rise of the Stewardess
Chapter 3. Breaking the Race Barrier
Chapter 4. A New Jet-Winged World
Chapter 5. Vodka, Tea, or Me?
Chapter 6. From Warm-Hearted Hostesses to In-Flight Strippers
Chapter 7. Beautiful Beehives and Feminist Consciousness

Notes
Index
Note on Sources
Acknowledgments

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 27, 2013

    What a wonderful creation of a book! I also used to be a fligh

    What a wonderful creation of a book! I also used to be a flight attendant. Victoria absolutely nailed it! The deep dedication and passion we "stewardesses" have for flying. Also, she researched for 10 years the historical changes that took place in the role of the stewardess between World War II and up to the early seventies. She captured the soul of the "Jet Sex (gender)" role in society and the leader of the Women's Equal Right's Movement. Exciting comprehensive view of this American icon! I crid when I read it....it was so moving.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 25, 2013

    This book was a fabulous read.  It brought back the not so good

    This book was a fabulous read.  It brought back the not so good old days re women's rights, 
    also the great memories of so much.  In no other profession in those days could a 22 year old female recent 
    college graduate have gone so many places, met so many people, and had such a great time, while earning what
     (at that time) was a decent salary.  

    We weren't the sex objects the airlines tried to portray us, and were certainly on the forefront of the women's 
    movement.  Some of the first suits under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act were brought by "stewardesses" and their
    union.   

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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