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Women are not sales baitwomen are not sales bait

I could’ve written 10 different headlines for this. “Stop doing this.” “Dear Southwestern flight school.” (you should know by now that when I use that kind of headline, a doozy is coming your way). But I’m opting for the core message. 

Women have been used for years as sales tactics for cars, boats, alcohol, and many other industries associated with male consumers. Advertisers have been happily roping consumers in with the subliminal message that “fancy car + you = success.”

But we don’t have to indulge in it, not at a time when the aviation industry is struggling to attract new pilots.

A woman flight instructor said her boss wanted her to participate in a sport pilot night at the airport. She couldn’t fit it into her schedule, so he asked her to put together a slide-show presentation. All well and good.

“He then asked me for a photo of me on the slide show so the prospective students would know that I’m one of the instructors.”

OK. It’s good to see women in aviation presentations and advertisements because it shows women that they belong here, too.

Except: “I was specifically told that they are using me to attract male customers. They like to fly with ‘pretty female flight instructors.’”

Well, you can’t get much more blatant than that. Plus, it opens up the realm of workplace sexual harassment—which is a topic for another column of much greater detail.

Back to my original headline: Women are not sales bait. Perhaps it should read, “Women should not be sales bait.”

Years ago, I worked at an association for trash haulers (this is the absolute truth). A company sent our magazine an advertisement for a trash container—possibly one of the least interesting objects on the planet. The photo in the ad featured a young woman in a bikini standing next to the trash container.

We didn’t run the ad. We asked the company to send us a new photo. They did—of the same young woman, now wearing a T-shirt and underwear but no pants, next to the trash container.

Again, we rejected the ad. The company grumbled and fussed—ultimately they sent us a third photo of the same young woman, fully clothed, standing next to the trash bin. We accepted their money and the advertisement. This was in 1986.

Here we are 31 years later and I’m still having this conversation. Aviation needs pilots and customers and income, but not at the expense of anyone’s dignity. 

Jill W. Tallman

Jill W. Tallman

AOPA Technical Editor
AOPA Technical Editor Jill W. Tallman is an instrument-rated private pilot who owns a Piper Cherokee 140.

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