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  • MURPHY LAW BREAKER

Frequently asked questions of a chick in the cockpit...

All Chick Crew "Women have earned the right to be in the captain’s seat – no matter what industry you work in."

How has aviation changed for women over the last generation?

 

Women have the ability to fly, they always have, but the majority of us don’t even consider it because it doesn’t resonate with what inspires us, or what we think we can even achieve.  Women make up about 6% of the professional pilot population, which is better than it was, but still not great. We’ve proven we can do it and that we can be very good at it. Captaining a commercial airliner requires skills that certain men and women have so being able to fly an airplane has nothing to do with gender and everything to do with skill and desire. The airplane doesn’t care if the pilot is male or female – only that they know how to understand how it flies, fails and reacts to each input you give it. Airplanes used to be designed where brute force was required at times, but most women in good physical shape can handle even the heaviest aircraft in their worst, non-hydraulic condition.

Is the proper term the “flight deck” or the “cockpit”?

 

Good pilots don’t care if it’s called a cockpit or a flight deck, they just want to fly. I still call it the cockpit to remind myself I earned the right to be where only men once worked. I used to fly with a woman who put “Flight Deck” on a sticky note and stuck it to the cockpit door. Someone else took it down and wrote “Box Office” over the top of it. I guess my view is that it was a cockpit before and a cockpit after, even though she flew in it. We can’t be so sensitive to labels. Who has the time and energy to get so easily offended?

 

What are some of the reasons women aren’t drawn to aviation?

I can’t speak for all women, I can only go by my own observations, but I think there are several concrete reasons why aviation doesn’t draw a lot of women. Most simply, learning to fly is extraordinarily expensive! It’s a simple reason and the biggest hurdle for all student pilots – men and women. I see students coming out of aviation schools with only 200 flight hours and $100,000 in student loans – that’s a bad ratio. You need at least 1500 hours to sit in the copilot seat of a commuter and you’ll start by earning about $17/hour.  

Now, think about the most famous woman pilot icon. Amelia Earhart, right? She’s at the bottom of the ocean. How can that inspire women to fly? We need successful, humble women pilots in the spotlight to show the next generation of women how it’s done. We need women pilots to inspire and mentor and always be up front with the difficulty of family life in the aviation world. It hurts the profession to falsify the fact that any pilot, man or woman, has to have a well-informed partner about how much they will have to rely on them if they decide to raise a family. Don’t give us false icons, show us the real life of women pilots and then support them if they decide to go for it. Successful pilots have strong, reliable partners – so the success of a woman pilot, if she wants a family, is still dependent on a man!

 Another reason why the number of women pilots is so low is actually a misunderstanding of the numbers. There is a large, uncounted percentage of women who were pilots but have left the industry for various reason - mostly to raise their children. Once our culture has a true appreciation for the ability of having a parent raise their children, then maybe there will be more support for the men that stay home to care for the kids. Right now, it’s still an anomaly, but over time, I think our society will learn not to judge anyone, man or woman, on their decision to stay at home with the kids. After that shift of thought, there will be more and higher quality options of childcare that is affordable.

 There are millions of women who have what it takes to be a pilot but it’s not something that is on their radar screen. It too often provides career happiness while taking from family happiness and it’s just the nature of the job. I’m sad to say that for now, it will continue to be rare to see a chick in the cockpit.

Is sexual harassment an issue in the aviation industry?

Sure. Anytime you put men and women in close quarters for thousands of hours, there are bound to be some issues. Maybe I have thicker skin, but the harassment was always something I could handle and it was a personal challenge to overcome it and yes, there was lots of it. If a woman is sensitive to blunt language or Type A personalities then she shouldn’t be in the cockpit. There are millions of women who should be in the cockpit because they’re technically good and they have a good sense of humor and perspective. You have to have it.  I’m sure many people would say that the men have to change their behavior, but I think in the world of aviation, women will have to observe and learn how to deal with it unless it goes beyond what would be expected to tolerate of another male pilot. In that case, the hammer should come down hard and the harassing pilot should be gone and out of the industry. 

For the most part, the gents I flew with were good souls that loved to fly, just like I did. I always acknowledged that it was uncomfortable for them the first time they flew with me because often I was the first woman they’d ever flown with. I made sure I was professional and made them feel at ease about it. 

There will always be that misogynist that is socially unable to keep it together and those are the unstable ones that should be out of the industry. It takes emotional intelligence to handle the job and if they can’t handle their own inability to work with others, they don’t deserve to be a pilot. 

How have women’s roles changed over the last generation?

Reflexively you’d think that our roles have dramatically changed, yet the majority of them have stayed the same. We’ve just added more. We are still expected to run the household and all the chores associated with it, raise the children, and now we’re expected to work full-time. Where did our balance go? Somewhere along the way, we have decided that we have overcome instinct and that women and men are equal at childrearing. I’m sure this will offend many to say this, but generally, women are better caregivers. We’re designed that way and to rear up and say that’s a sexist statement is just being naive. It doesn’t mean I can’t also be the captain of a commercial airliner – it doesn’t negate that, and it doesn’t mean that men can’t be just as good or better at raising children. I’m just acknowledging that men and women are men and women to create a balance in our world. Now that more women are in leadership roles, are more educated, and have traveled a generation through feminism, we’re at the point in history for another revolution. We overshot our goal during the last era so we’re oscillating back to basics again. We need to continue placing and mentoring women to take the lead and the women currently in leadership roles have an obligation to honor what makes our world thrive, rather than just blend into the establishment. That means doing business with a conscience, integrity, respecting the world from which we take, and realize that a happy employee will pay you back tenfold. It’s a fabulous era to be a woman so be bold with your choices and respect each other’s decision about it.

In the beginning of the book, you briefly mention being adopted and how external forces shape how you view the world. Nature vs nurture – which do you prefer? 

You can’t have one not affect the other so the answer is always both.  I believe when we enter this world, we already have a blueprint hardwired into our brains that determine our strengths and weaknesses. For each choice in our lives, the outcome will determine the direction of a thousand future choices. At any point, we can get on and off the wrong path. Excuses will put you on the wrong path and acceptance will steer you onto good paths. There are millions of variables, but core character will lead. Life experience will push you through the barriers on your path if you let it.  I often wonder how different my life would be if I wasn’t put up for adoption. I just thank the stars that I was because I wouldn’t have had the life experiences, good and bad, that have lead me to this point.

 

Is flying an airplane difficult?

Hahaha, compared to what? Yes, it's kind of hard, but if you take each area and learn it in chunks, you’ll eventually put it all together! Learning to fly is simply focus and passionate attention to detail combined with the thrill of moving metal at a high rate of speed through the air. Weird combination and you’ve got to love it. It’s also a slow, self-disciplined journey that if you have common sense, the rest you can learn. It’s not like in school where if you don’t understand a topic, you move on anyways. In aviation, you have to have an entire understanding of one topic before you can move onto the rest. You have to be able to take concept and apply it to a sequence. So, if you flip a switch, you know everything that will happen when you do. And, after earning all your knowledge, in the end, Mother Nature is still in charge. You’ll have to learn how to read and understand her and honor her power. Many pilots think they’re smarter than she is, but she always nods her head, shrugs, and wins.  She has taken many lives as proof.

It’s ironic that the biggest sexual discriminator in your flying career was a woman. Do you think this occurs more often than we know?

Since the beginning of civilization, women have had to compete for husbands. Over the last generation, women have had to not only compete for husbands, but they are now competing in sports, education, jobs, careers, management and leadership. Women are now defined by their careers and this is new for women. There is good reason to compete. Feminism has turned on us and I think we’re reaching the precipice and realizing it has to stop. Now that we’ve won the right to be leading, we’re at our point in history where women need to turn around and realize that our society needs us to support each other. I think we’ve come so far that we’re now doing what men do – which means we overshot the destination. Women are the fabric that holds this world together and we’ve torn a lot of seams over the last generation.

This book’s storyline takes a turn that is completed unexpected. Did you purposely put the reader at ease and then fly them through turbulence without their seatbelts fastened?

Of course, because that’s how it happened to me! I was flying along, happy as can be on top of the world thinking that there was nothing that could take that away from me.  I was so wrong. I hope I was able to shake the reader and trigger some emotions that I felt falling to another dimension. I grew up in the Midwest with a family that had strong ethics and morals, but they didn’t talk about it – they lived by it. Of course, we had our black sheep, alcoholics, divorces and chronically unemployed, but any man that hit a woman was of the lowest caste, shunned from everyone in our family as well as society. I knew nothing of domestic abuse and to think that I could ever fall into this type of relationship was so impossible that the thought could never have entered my mind. Domestic abuse looks like low education, white tank tops, pickup trucks, cigarettes and trailer parks. I thought domestic abuse was just punching and hitting. My story shows the new methods of modern day abuse and the truth was beyond what I could have ever imagined.

 The outcome of the police calls in the beginning of the story where you were arrested, versus the incident at the end were so different. Why?

 

I’ve thought about this question so often and wish I could give a definite answer. All I can surmise is that through my research, I’ve learned that domestic violence calls are one of the most dangerous calls for the police. People go out of their heads with emotion and at moments, don’t care if they live or die. The police officers job is to diffuse the situation and they are required to remove a participant from the situation if they feel there could be further danger.

Don’t forget that Brad waited about a half hour after the incident to call the police. He sat in his office with growing anger thoughtfully pulling together a story and setting the scene. It’s why he had to have his baby girl in his arms when he met the police at the door. He needed appearance of innocence. It was methodically thought out while I was turned into a zombie from the shock of it all. I couldn’t pull two thoughts together so from the outside looking in, it looked like I was crazy while my husband had his wits about him. I don’t blame them even though it was a mistake of epic proportions. I’ve had to slough off the anger towards the police officers and remind myself it was actually two other police officers in the end that turned my life right side up. Life is a balance; it just sometimes takes time to even the keel. But one lesson to take away is that one person/officer’s erroneous decision, without him even knowing it, took from me my career, which was my identity and at the time what I thought was my life. One person’s decision can change the life of another in astronomical ways – and they’ll never know it.  Be the person that can change the life of another for the better in astronomical ways.

How Does Society Treat Women in Domestic Violence Situations?

Well, we just don’t talk about it, even though 4 million women experience it every year. It’s humiliating and embarrassing and I still have trouble talking about it. I’ll be honest, if it hadn’t happened to me, I would think that a woman who stayed in an abusive situation was pathetic. I had no empathy. Just leave. I’ve been sitting next to women who gossip about another woman who they heard was in an abusive relationship and it was the women who was viewed at pathetic, not the man. Ugh. I don’t know how to change this ideology except by giving you a story that shows the reader how someone can be trapped without bars.

 

 

Do we put too much reliance on therapists/marriage counselors to help us?

There are too many variables to answer this. About 40% of couples who receive marriage therapy get divorced within four years on completing therapy. So the glass half full view says 60% benefit. If nothing else, therapy helps you to see the world through another perspective. It’s a challenge to yourself to allow information to come in, but it’s extremely important that you caveat the advice with the reality that it’s a human being giving you guidance and even psychologists are fallible. Shrinks don’t know what it feels like to be abused unless they’ve been abused – no matter how many books they read about it! They give guidance based on what they’ve read, but in your heart, you’ll know if what they’re saying is right or wrong. I knew that the therapy I was receiving was wrong, but I didn’t want to be the bad guy to say so. It would just reinforce that it was my behavior that was faulty if I didn’t agree with the counselor. It’s a viscous cycle that we put ourselves into and it’s okay to say that therapy isn’t working. Find someone else, or go to book club.

What happened to all the women in your diversion program group?

There are thousands of women, just like you, humiliatingly getting into their cars and heading to their diversion program, but we as a society don’t know anything about it. I’d wager that 90% were put there by their domestic abusing husbands and the other 10% are the abusers. These voices will never be heard because it’s part of the cycle of violence. For my lovely group of ladies, we all agreed that if we ever saw each other out in public, we would never say where we met! We carried the scarlet letters DV over our hearts and were ashamed to know each other, but so grateful that we did. It was a dichotomy that I suppose people in AA or any other support group might feel.  I hope they all gently found their own rock bottom and climbed out into the daylight. If not, I hope they call me…I’ll help pull them out.

You're saying that women need to find what makes them content, but it appears that Dave is what finally made you happy – a man.

Ah, Dave would love to hear this! What one man takes, another can give back. Dave didn’t make me happy; it was because I was happy that I found Dave. I want women to know that it’s okay to open their hearts again even if they’ve been pulverized.  The point is, don’t just jump onto the next man hoping that he’ll find your happiness for you. That’s your job, not his. I see so many women go from one relationship to another, expecting the man to make them happy. It’s just not going to happen. What happens when you leap before healing is that both people are happy during the rush of newness and learning the nuances of a new person. New sex, new love, new interests, etc. She’ll attribute contentment with the feeling of being with the new man and he’ll get credit for her happiness. Then after a few months, the rush of young love fades and her own dissatisfaction with herself will burble to the surface and project onto the partner. Since he got the credit in the beginning, he’ll get the blame at the end. Men do it all the time too. We’re unfortunately equal in many ways.

What needs to change about divorce?

 Ah, I could write a whole book on this! The question should really be - What do we need to change about marriage! It is too complex to answer here, but an overview is this: divorce is so rampant; it will take a major cultural overhaul to slow it down. We live in a society where if we don’t like something, we move on. We have the right to pursue happiness, not to be happy, and we forget it takes work to get there. There are legitimate reasons for getting divorced, as I think I’ve proven. It has to be easy to get divorced because there are too many people like me. The result is that it’s easy to decide you want a divorce because everyone does it and you’re not happy. We celebrate books about discovering yourself, even though they’ve left their husbands (any maybe destroyed their lives) over a general malaise. It doesn’t get better with the next guy, so let’s go way back to the beginning to stop the cycle in the first place. A good marriage is the result of a lifetime of learning. We need to teach girls and boys to communicate with each other starting in Kindergarten. On the daily agenda should be lessons about kindness, respect, agreeing to disagree, the concept of marriage, how to raise children, how to argue, how to deal with anger and how to share. Sure, your own religion may decide this for you, but generally, we’ve pulled away from guidance strictly from religion. Colleges should be full of mandatory classes called Marriage 101 – can you imagine having to tell your boyfriend or girlfriend that you got a D in the class? More radically, I think that couples who request and receive a tax discount for getting married via a marriage license, should be required to file a general dispersal plan (okay, a prenuptial) in case the marriage doesn’t last (and renew it every five years). Work out a parenting plan now, before you have kids. Couples should face the questions now while they’re in love rather than when they’re in the throes of emotional turmoil and anger. I know lawyers would hate this because they are thriving under the current plan, but let’s try something completely different. As far as the current divorce laws go, the intent is good but the execution is atrocious. Truly, there really isn’t a lot our huge judicial system can do except putting the matter in front of the marriage rather than trying to clean it up after a divorce.

Do you still go to book club?

I look forward to each meeting, even if I haven’t read the book. You don’t have to have read the book to come to my book club! Each topic we discuss in the book leads us to our own lives so you always get to participate. The books are just the platform to contrast and compare our own experiences with the lives and stories of others. It’s an intimate relationship to read a book. Readers are voyeurs into another life. It’s thrilling and I’m always honored by an author that allows me to enter their heart to poke around.

 Will you fly again?

That is the most asked question and the short answer is, I don’t know. I hope so, but it’s been so long now. I would never go back to the airlines, but I loved flying in the corporate world so once my kids get older, I might turn my sights back on the sky. I’m feeling quite grounded at the moment! Once my youngest is out of elementary school, I'll have a conversation with myself.

For the most part, there wasn’t affirmative action in your pursuit of flying and you still made it to the captain’s seat. Do you think we still need affirmative action programs?

This is a touchy subject! It’s also called positive discrimination and we’re asking someone to highlight their differences when what they really want to do is to demonstrate they are the same with same skills. If Champion Air didn’t have contracts with the Department of Defense that required a certain minority employment, I don’t know if I would have ever had the chance for an interview. I was the token female. In the same breath, I don’t want a pilot flying with me that got there only because they were a minority. I don’t want to overlook weakness; this should only be a program to demonstrate strength. All I wanted was a chance to interview and too often, minorities are not even given this opportunity. I was blessed enough to earn many of my early flight hours with the Red Cross’s Minnesota 99’s program which was only open for women so I think these types of programs are more effective than trying to pass laws. NGOs have a lot of power to change the world for the better and they’re often more effective than government programs. I think affirmative action needs to be there on the ground floor. It should be there for education assistance, job training assistance and child care support. We should reach out and equalize the opportunities for education and from there, let everyone rest on their own laurels. The caveat is that companies have to give everyone who is qualified a chance.

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