Pilot Versus Ballerina

Sometimes, if you are not a cis white dude, life will up and smack you in the face for not being a cis white dude.

Even if all you are doing is sitting around typing crappy prose on your laptop.

I was doing just that when the love of my life started scrolling through the updated avatar clothing selections on Xbox Live. “Hey!” he said. “They have a cool jobs section!” And for a moment we delighted in the stereotypical avatar costumes: astronaut, farmer, doctor, pilot, professor.

They were so stereotypical that I was suddenly worried. “Switch to my account,” I directed. “I bet you can’t be an astronaut if you’re female.”

“Why would they be different?” he responded. “I bet they are the same.”

We checked. They were not.

Astronaut was the same. Professor had been switched to scientist — in a pencil skirt and lab coat with sassy red flats, rather than a tweed suit and black dress shoes. That raised an eyebrow slightly.

And then, we found ballerina. Ballerina, it seems, had replaced pilot.

You tell me what that plane looks like. Amirite?

You tell me what that plane looks like. Amirite?

And not just one pilot: a male avatar allows you to be either a commercial pilot (spiffy navy blue uniform) or a private pilot (spiffy brown leather bomber and khaki pants).

A female avatar means you can be a ballerina, but not a pilot.

Is this reflective of real life? Maybe if you are a girl and also five years old. But I kind of wanted to be a pilot at age five, so clearly the omgballerina desire is not innate to five-year-old girls.

Let us visit the website for the US Department of Labor! That’s where they keep the statistics.

The number of dancers, male and female, employed in the US in 2008 was approximately 13,000. And this is without knowing how many dancers are specifically ballerinas (as opposed to modern dancers, belly dancers, nightclub dancers, etc.), which is undoubtedly a smaller number still.

The number of pilots and flight engineers, male and female, employed in the US in 2008 was approximately 116,000. That figure is higher almost by a factor of ten.

Exaggerated scenario one: if we assume both professions split evenly on gender lines, then you still have nearly nine times more female pilots than female dancers. It is much more likely that you are a female pilot than that you are a female dancer.

This is not a thing just anyone can do to their spine without years of expensive training.

This is not a thing just anyone can do to their spine without years of expensive training.

Exaggerated scanario two: assume all dancers are ballerinas, which is clearly ridiculous, but bear with me. Where is the statistical point where you have a better chance of being a ballerina than a female pilot? In short, plug 13,000 into 116,000 and see what percentage comes out.

11. Eleven percent. You have a better chance of being a ballerina if less than eleven percent of pilots are female.

Of course, these statistics are just an illustration, because the avatar costumes are not about reality. They are about social norms, and policing gender boundaries. Girls should want to be ballerinas, because ballerinas are super feminine. They shouldn’t want to be pilots (and boys should want to be) because pilots are super masculine.

Feminine, in this case, means: cultured, graceful, thin, and sexually unobtainable.

Masculine, in this case, means: gruff, rational, arrogant, and aggressively sexual.

In addition, as the love of my life pointed out, pilots make a significantly higher amount of money than ballerinas, with a significantly lower chance of on-the-job injury. (According to the BLS, professional dancers have one of the highest chances of being injured nonfatally at work.) So women are expected/encouraged to choose a profession in which they must conform to an impossibly high physical standard, with very little monetary recompense.

I have flown planes. I have taken ballet. Flying is much more fun. I would love to dress my avatar in a bomber jacket and black boots — like I dress in real life.

But apparently that’s not very feminine.

Epilogue

Some facts we learned in the course of tonight’s research:

  • Googling “female pilot uniform” brings up quite a bit more porn than you would expect. Yes, even more than that.
  • Googling “male pilot” brings up a lot of whales (oh, I get it) and no porn. At least, not before I got tired of scrolling down.
  • Googling “manly pilot” introduces you to early aviation pioneer Charles Manly. So that’s pretty neat. No porn, though you do get a cartoon of shirtless anime guys kissing.
  • Googling “man” does not bring up Don Draper in the first three pages. We kinda thought it would.
  • Googling “men” gets three images of Don Draper on the first page alone.

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