My grandmother lived through World War II and the era of Rosie the Riveter, owned and ran her own business for nearly two decades, raised two daughters, and is the best candy and dessert maker in three counties. If you asked her what “Women’s Work” is, she would probably still say it is keeping a nice home and caring for a husband and family…but I’d like to think she would add bucking rivets to that list!
You see, I am an aircraft mechanic. A literal, if not so glamorous, Rosie the Riveter. After WWII, the men came back from the war, and most women left their jobs in factories and hangars and went back home to their more traditional duties as wives and mothers. Even today, in 2017, less than 3% of all aircraft mechanics are women.
There are so few of us that most companies do not even offer uniforms in women’s sizes. They call a 36”x32” unisex and send us on our way in boxy shirts and ill-fitting pants. It is ingrained in our cultural presumptions that mechanics are male. Time and again, flight crews are surprised and sometimes confused when they call for maintenance and I show up, but always interested to see that I know what I’m doing!
The key is changing the conversation. It’s not that girls CAN grow up to be mechanics, engineers, firefighters, or programmers. It’s that we DO, and we are really, really good at it! Aviation maintenance is what I love. Every day is different, every plane is different. There is always something going on that challenges my brain and body and there is always the satisfaction of a job well done when that aircraft takes off. The guys are still skeptical when a woman walks in the hangar - we have to be twice as good to get half the credit - but one by one, mechanic by mechanic, we are changing their minds.
I have a 3 year old daughter who loves airplanes and robots, and intends to be a firefighter when she grows up. Let’s just say I have had to do plenty of shopping in the boys department, because even though things have come a long way in including little girls in STEM fields (Here’s looking at you Doc McStuffins!) you still can’t find many cool helicopter shirts in pink. And in my house, pink is a big deal. So Princess Awesome is very near to our hearts! Pink rockets and a twirly dress with fire engines all over it are the exception to the norm, for now. But just as my generation views women’s work much differently than my grandmother’s, I have every expectation that by the time I have grandkids, the little girls' section will have plenty of purple planes and tool kits beside baby dolls.
I teach my daughter and son, nieces and nephews, all how to use tools and work with their hands, and so should you! Lots of hardware stores offer free or inexpensive kid’s workshops and even just letting your kids hang their own pictures in their room can teach them all about measuring and using a hammer and a level. They are great skills for all children (and adults) to have.
And if you are interested in a career in Aviation Maintenance or have questions about women in the industry, check out the Association for Women in Aviation Maintenance for information and scholarship opportunities, and don’t hesitate to reach out to me via email.
Stacey Rudser is an aviation mechanic, an awesome mom, and takes fabulous photos with wickedly funny captions that she shares on her Instagram account, @ostrichairlines.
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