The ‘Bag is full!

First, more letters on my plaints about surly U.S. airplane service by ancient, haggard flight attendants who would have been retired long ago were it not for unions and militant feminism (See my “Why Are Airline ‘Flight Attendants’ So Awful–and So Ugly?,” June 27, and this column by Mark Steyn making the same point). By the way, I do not think that all old ladies, even old feminist ladies, are ugly–click here for my description of Gloria Steinem as “fetching“).

Inky reader K.H. wrote last week to speculate that I myself might be a fat, bald, 40-something man (see the Mailbag for June 30). I assured her that I’m neither bald nor a man, and that I’m not too fat.

So now K.H. is back, assuring me that she was thinking about Mark, not me:

“I had a picture of Mr. Steyn in my head since you linked to him, and he is definately on the heavier side and certainly older than 40. I don’t recall him being balding, though. Rest assured, that I do believe you are female, even though for now I have to take your word for it since there are no pictures to go with the names.

“Again to reiterate, as long as a person is well-groomed and polite, I don’t see why attractveness is a requirement for the job of flight attendant. In fact, one of the best plane rides I took was to Las Vegas, on Southwest. One of the attendants was definately over 40, a big blowsy bleached blonde with lots of red lipstick. She was extremely funny and personable and made the trip fun. She did a fantastic imitation (verbal!) of Marilyn Monroe. She also gave us great service and deftly handled a rowdy group of drunks. Should she not have the job she did so well because she wouldn’t look good in a mini?

“The other problem with your remarks is that if there are not enough ‘executive’ jobs to move older women out of the attendant job, what would the airlines do with them? If they create ‘executive’ positions for every attendant than the airline will become bloated and top heavy and require the assistance of the bankruptcy laws to remain afloat. Are you suggesting that firing someone based on their age as the way to go? If the attendant is doing the job well, I don’t see too many people in the public agreeing with you here. Again, here you are giving the rad fems (whom you usually rightly deride) a lot of ammo….

“I do not have any nostalgia for how the airlines used to be run….[A]irfare was ridiculously priced so that only businessmen with expense accounts and the wealthy could afford it and not because the ride itself was wonderful…. When that was the case, many young women took the job in hopes of becoming some executive’s Mrs. Nowadays, I doubt the pretty young things would like to bother with the (hopefully not unwashed) masses…. Too bad they had to let all of us plebian slobs travel at reasonable cost and ruin everything!”

Ah, K.H., I’m sure that many flight attendants who don’t look like Angelina Jolie do a great job–and I would have written less grumpily had the attendants on my last transcontinental flight been among them. Your bleached blonde sounds like a heroine, and I look forward to having her in attendance the next time I fly Southwest.

Yes,  times have changed. Back in the old days, being young and glamorous was in the stewardess job description–it was right in the contract when you signed up for the job. When age 40 rolled around, you knew that if you hadn’t been promoted, it was time to think about a second career, just as showgirls, fashion models, actresses, and athletes do nowadays at even earlier ages. Then, thanks to feminism and unionization, the rules changed, and we’ve got what we have now. Some older flight attendants have such great personalities and offer such professional service that we wouldn’t trade them for Jolie herself in a uniform. Others, many others, just aren’t so great. And yes, this is the price we plebes pay for getting to fly at rock-bottom prices. The airplane in econo-class is the new Greyhound bus. But mightn’t I be allowed to hanker every now and then for the glamorous days of yore when even coach passengers donned their best suits for traveling and were waited on hand and foot by beautiful, smartly dressed people?

Reader B.D. likes my style but not my substance:

“It’s nice to read a very tart and very well-expressed opinion in the midst of the Internet wasteland. Unfortunately, you are just complaining about what adds up to a luxury anyway. If you want to write about poor service, crummy surroundings, and hassle, write about something the average woman in this country actually gets to experience: the laundromat, not international air travel. Five stars for execution but zero stars for relevance!”

Ewww, the laundromat! Takes me back to my student days sitting in the plastic armchair watching the clothes go ’round and ’round and ’round–and to the couple of times I left the ‘mat for a cup of coffee, only to return and find my towels stolen. Beg to differ with you, B.D., but we’re lucky enough to live in a country where the “average woman” gets to own a washer and drier, and also to fly on an airplane every now and then.
Now for reader “Redneck Feminist” who argues that I am so ugly myself that I have no right to complain about ugly flight attendants.

On  her eponymous blog, Redneck has taken this color thumbnail of me (or this one–scroll down past Dom Bettinelli to my name) as a guest-blogger on the religious website Beliefnet (K.H., take note!) and doctored it into this bloated, fuzzy black-and-white that turns a line on my neck into a double chin. “A picture is worth a thousand words,” chortles Redneck.

I’m so vain that I think I look good in both photos, but what is Redneck’s point? My husband thinks I’m beautiful, but I’ve never deemed myself stewardess material, even when I was 22. And I’m certainly not working as a flight attendant now, nor do I claim any “right” to do so.

At least I don’t look like this, this, this, or (!) this. Furthermore, Redneck, many proponents of “anti-feminism,” as you call it, look like this, this, this, and this.

Remember–for every Charlotte Allen there’s an Ann Coulter!

Reader T.C. comments on “This Week’s Silliest Anti-Bush Magazine Cover,” June 29, the New Yorker’s Fourth of July cover depicting George W. Bush as a sad Uncle Sam looking down his birthday-party table to find no other countries celebrating with him. The idea was, of course, the manifestly false one that America is all alone in Iraq. One of the little flags at an empty place-setting at the table belonged to the Netherlands, which I identified as an Iraq no-show, like France and Germany (whose flags were also at empty place-settings). So T.C. writes:

“This…assertion is entirely untrue– the Netherlands did in fact send troops to Iraq (although I believe they have recently withdrawn them)–and if I recall correctly, they supported the coalition forces from the very beginning of the assault. As for the second point, it should be remebered that among other things, the Netherlands recently rejected the proposed European constitution, which [French Prime Minister Jacques] Chirac, for example, vigorously supported.

“Nor can France be said to be entirely pro-Islamist– recall the recent ban against religious tokens or clothing which many saw to be directed at headscarves–whereas the Dutch are attempting to assimilate their various communities into mainstream Dutch life. I do understand
the point of your entry and agree that the cover is ridiculous, but using inaccurate information is not the best way to get the point across.”

I agree, and I stand corrected. But illustrator Barry Blitt’s inclusion of the flag of the Netherlands at the empty table on the cover, like his inclusion of the flag of Italy at the same table, just proves my point: If you’re trying to poke fun at Bush for supposedly having no allies in Iraq, you ought to include actual non-allies.

Reader D.S. e-mails about “The Hillary Book,” June 23:

“You have a very thoughtful and deeply analyzed opinion on [Ed Klein’s] ‘The Truth About Hillary.’ This is remarkable, because, by your own admission, you haven’t read the book. Why not form an opinion for yourself, instead of sifting through the opinions of others and matching them with your ideology?”

No, I haven’t read the book and I don’t intend to. Nor did I express any “very thoughtful” or “deeply analyzed” opinion about it. What I do have opinions about are people like Tina Brown who reflexively assume that whenever a man opines that a woman is a lesbian, he is actually expressing his unconscious fear of her as a powerful woman.

Finally, W.D. e-mails concerning my June 26 op-ed article for the Los Angeles Times criticizing–as I’ve done on this blog–the demonization of infant-formula manufacturers by breast-feeding fanatics. Says W.D.:  

“I was so sorry to see your mean-spirited writing about La Leche League. Have you ever attended a LLL meeting or spoken with the mothers that are involved with the group?…The mothers in LLL that I know are mothers seeking one another for support during a very difficult time in a mother’s life. They usually hold meetings at houses, churches and parks. Many, if not most, are gentle and deeply religious people in committed relationships with their husbands….LLL provides information, discussion and advice on breastfeeding, which helps many young mothers and infants….I don’t get the sense that breast-feeding mothers are out to ruin everybody’s choice to bottle-feed, but I think they are fiercely independent, and that they want their choices to be accepted by society.

“The last thing I wanted to comment upon was your comment on 2-year-olds breast-feeding. I think you stated that this only happens in hippie communes. (Do hippie communes still exist?:) Families might not be very public about it, and writers might not be aware of it, but there’s probably many more breast-fed 2-year-olds out there in the world than people realize.”

Yes, La Leche League does many good things for new mothers, and I’ve met some very nice women connected to La Leche League. It is also, however, a relentless peddler of anti-formula ideology. Here is a quotation from the La Leche League website:

“This widespread use of formula means that worldwide, 1.5 million babies die every year because they were not breastfed. And this does not only happen in developing countries. One study estimates that four out of every 100 babies born in the US each year die because they are not breastfed.”

Those statistics are absurd. The League counts every death of a non-breast-fed infant in the world as a death due to bottle-feeding. And 4 percent of all non-breast-fed U.S. infants die because their moms give them bottles? That’s 4 percent of all U.S. infants, because most American mothers switch to bottles (or pumps) by the time the baby is six months old. C’mon! And I’m sure that many 2-year-olds breast-feed teeth and all–in the privacy of homes, I hope. That’s no argument for making it a matter of public policy.