Sex roles still rule in the air

Bad Hair (or Air) days or moments of self-pity are not allowed
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The Independent Online
The man looked as if he might cry. "This is the worst day of my life. I just want to go into the loo and close the door and not come out," he said. He wasn't the only one feeling desperate. We were all stuck on an aircraft that was going nowhere - an engine was acting up and hundreds of us were marooned on the tarmac at Gatwick.

I expressed sympathy and he continued in a voice that was dangerously close to a whine: "Everyone keeps complaining. I just can't face them anymore."

My sympathy waned: this man was a steward and was being paid to be on board. The rest of uswere paying for the privilege.

I began to wonder whether men are cut out to be "stewardesses". To be a good stewardess, you must love the "S" word. Sorry is not the hardest word at 30,000ft - still less so at ground level. Bad Hair (or Air) Days or moments of self-pity are not allowed.

More men are entering traditionally female occupations,and 50 per cent of equal opportunity complaints on recruitment now come from men. About one-quarter to one-third of "cabin crew" ("steward" and "stewardess" are now considered politically incorrect) are men.

Earlier this year Reed Employment did a survey on what employers thought of male secretaries. Men were viewed as "not emotional - able to get on with things" and "more confident and assertive". They saw themselves as "more executive secretary as opposed to girlie PA". Women were seen to be to be more flexible. Sometimes this meant better able to cope with boring tasks. It could also mean not being hindered by the male "in-built assumption of superiority".

In-built superiority can make for in-flight inferiority. This job requires empathy but there is a rumour that the e-gene is not available on the NHS for boy babies. Daniel Goleman's new bestseller, Emotional Intelligence, insists this is more important than IQ, but the world at large has not caught up with his idea.

Take, for instance, the humble greeting card. It was revealed this week how Hallmark cards can differ for new big brothers and sisters. Here are two such greetings (your mission is to insert the correct word):

"Your new baby will look up to you to see how things are done/Wow! being a big --- should be lots and lots of fun."

Or, there is this one:

"Your new little baby can't do very much/So you'll need to help out more and more/You're bound to take care/And always be there/For that's what big --- are for."

Sexist, yes. Stereotypical, yes. But the emotionally intelligent should be able to figure out which one is more likely to have a clue when it comes to cabin crew.

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