‘I’m not a pilot, I’m a pilot’s wife,’ says 3 yr old girl

Yesterday, a teacher at my daughter’s preschool told me that she saw two boys and a girl spinning the knobs of a play oven. Boy #1 says: “I’m a pilot! I’m flying a plane.’ Boy #2 says: “Me too!” The girl is quiet, so the teacher says to her: “What about you, are you a pilot?” The 3 year old girl replies: “I can’t be a pilot. I’m a pilot’s wife.”

So what do you think has happened in this little girl’s short life to make her believe it’s more likely that she would be a pilot’s wife than a pilot?

Could it be that in her world, those are the gender roles she sees? While books, movies, and TV shows for children are full of images of boys riding magical creatures into the sky– from “ET” to “How to Train Your Dragon” to Harry Potter — girls are stuck in the passenger seat if they get to soar at all. Here are three images repeated endlessly in the media.




I’m always on the look out for images in children’s media of girls flying, and they are few and far between. If I seek them out, I can find them, but these pictures rarely cross my children’s path, not in movies, or posters for those movies, or on most of the book covers they come across when we’re shopping at a local store. Here’s a picture from The Witch Who Was Afraid of Witches that I photographed a while ago, because it’s so rare.


Today, on Facebook feed I saw that Toward the Stars is celebrating Female Flying Daredevils week, posting “We wave enthusiastically to all our girls and boys that aspire to travel above the clouds.”

Toward the Stars recommends You Can’t Do That, Amelia, Yankee Doodle Gals: Women Pilots of World War II, Fly High, the Story of Bessie Coleman, Zephyr Takes Flight, and Violet the Pilot.




We also have Angela’s Airplane which my 4 year old daughter loves.


You may not have seen these books around. They may not have been made into major motion pictures for kids or toys or LEGO sets, but, please click on the links. Stock your libraries. Read these books to your kids, and that includes your sons. All children need to see far more female daredevils.

Keep watching Toward the Stars all week for more recommendations of fearless females flying the skies.

Update: So right after I post this, I see on Facebook info about the documentary:”We Served Too: The Story of Women Air Force Pilots of World War II.” You’ve got to watch this trailer.

These women flew over 60 million miles within a 2 year period…However, after a nasty and aggressive campaign by male pilots who wanted the WASPs jobs, they were the only wartime unit that was denied military status by congress…For many years the WASPs kept their achievements quiet. Their service in World War II would only be known by a few. They are not mentioned in our history books, nor is their story taught in schools.Their accomplishments of being the first women to fly in the military would even be forgotten.

One pilot says, “Such a shame that when we disbanded, they took all of our records and they sealed them, and they were stamped either classified or secret and filed away in the government archives.”


Sealed records! I am so mad about this. Again, women’s stories are repressed and hidden, affecting a new generation of kids. I haven’t seen the film yet, so don’t know if it’s good for young kids. Wouldn’t it be great to make a children’s version? A book to go along with it? A computer game? App? A LEGO set? What do you think the chances are we’ll see any of that? They’re low, because in 2013, we still live in a world where women’s stories go missing.


13 thoughts on “‘I’m not a pilot, I’m a pilot’s wife,’ says 3 yr old girl

  1. Not to be rude, but did you consider that maybe the girl actually wanted to be the pilot’s wife? I get the point you’re making about women and minorities needing a solid place in fiction and based on the examples you’ve given I’m damn happy that it’s bigger than I assumed, but context is really important when you talk about these issues, otherwise you can come off as preachy or short-sighted and that could damage your whole argument.

    Also, this is more of a personal point but you can’t really force a creator to make a choice that they don’t want to when it comes to character creation; if they want to write about a boy, they want to write about a boy. If they want to write about a girl, they want to write about a girl e.t.c. It’s a better idea to encourage more people to write about women or minorities than to force your opinion on them, or you could lead by example and make a book yourself.

    Don’t think this means I don’t support you, by the by, I just want to see this movement gain traction in a way that makes everyone happy.

    • “Not to be rude, but did you consider that maybe the girl actually wanted to be the pilot’s wife?”

      Not to be rude, but did you consider the fact that this particular little girl was 3 years of age, and that her total life experience had likely included more than 1,000 close daily contacts with an individual “wife,” i.e., her mother?

      Did you also consider the fact that it’s impossible for any of us — even seasoned adults — to express a desire for something whose existence we haven’t even guessed at?

      As to your point about writers being incapable of writing “to order,” rubbish. Writers — at least those who hope to get published and paid — do this all the time. Clearly, you have not had much experience with editors.

  2. Hayao Miyazaki’s films are filled with female protagonists who are heavily involved in flight and leadership. Porto Rosso features a female engineer who is initially distrusted by the male protagonist but she proves her worth with the quality of her work and her bravery. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind feature a female pilot who saves humanity from destruction and helps to restore balance with nature. Another person has mentioned Kiki. He has more wonderful movies, and many of them focus on an element of flight. I highly recommend viewing them. Ponyo and My Neighbor Totoro are appropriate for pre-schoolers.

  3. I kind of think that your comments about Harry Potter are a bit unfair. He’s the protagonist (which I know relates back to a whole bigger discussion, but anyways), plus, in the story, HES the one who knows the hippogriff that they’re riding. Hermione is one of the few females in the story who is presented as actually hating flying (maybe because she’s reportedly based on the author? idk).

    There are plenty of examples of women “soaring” and “flying” in the Potter universe. The Quidditch captain after Oliver Wood (and before Harry) is Angelina Johnson – female AND minority. Not to mention Ginny, who wins the Quidditch Cup in the 6th book for Gryffindor when Harry is an idiot and gets detention. Ginny eventually becomes a Quidditch star after leaving Hogwarts and plays for the all female Quidditch team, the Holyhead Harpies, which is talked about further in one of Rowlings’ companion books.

    Unfortunately, those examples are not as salient in the movies because Quidditch scenes were expensive and took time away from moving the story forward, so there is not a cute screen capture.

    In the fifth movie, however, I believe Hermione, Ginny AND Luna all ride on brooms (in the books it was thestrals) to the Ministry of Magic. So that is an example that was captured on screen.

    Sorry to be so nitpicky, but it just makes me sad when people harp on Harry Potter because its a big target. Yes, it is not perfect, but please know a little bit more about it before you criticize so that when you do find something it really can pack a punch.

    • I don’t think it’s unfair because it’s about the proliferation of these images. The most common image is Harry, a boy, flying. That’s the point. The girls might visibly fly on screen, but that’s part of a much larger narrative where (again) Harry still dominates… Harry’s the big name in Quidditch, right?

    • Also don’t forget that Hermione is the main brains behind so much that leads up to Harry’s success in general. Not to mention in the movie she punched Draco in the face for being an asshole.

  4. Bubble Guppies is a kids show my 1.5 y/o son loves and it does everything right. The Mayor, Doctor, Pilot and Space Scientist that the Guppies meet are all women in the show, and the main character is Molly, who in addition to being awesome, has darker skin than the obviously “white” Guppies.

    Also, the songs are amazing. Would recommend.

  5. Hazel Lee is one of my heroine aviatrices: http://www.asianweek.com/2009/08/28/chinese-american-heroine-hazel-ying-lee/

    I learned about her on a PBS special; there was a crazy anecdote about how, on one of her missions (transporting planes from assembly-line to battlefields), she crash-landed in a middle-American field and was held at gunpoint by a farmer who was too blinded by prejudice to realize that she was flying an American plane in an American uniform, and not spearheading a second Pearl Harbor… (the reason she joined the WASPs was because the Chinese Air Force wouldn’t admit women, and she wanted to fight against the Japanese who had attacked both of her homelands!)

  6. Also two comic books skewing older but still child-friendly are

    Captain Marvel: In Pursuit of Flight, which is about a woman superhero who is also a pilot. In this particular story, she travels back in time and has an adventure with a female squadron of WWII pilots.

    Atomic Robo and the Flying She-Devils of the Pacific has a male protagonist, but this volume the spotlight is on a team of women pilots in the post-war era.

    I recommend both.

  7. Not a book but 2 wonderful films: Kiki’s Delivery Service, (an apprentice witch who flies solo on her broomstick) and Fly Away Home, about a 14 year old girl who flies a plane to lead a flock of orphaned Canada Geese south.

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