How flight attendants have drawn on feminist and LGBTQ activist legacies to challenge big business's rise to power after 1970
Flight Attendant Activism, Family Politics, and Workplace Justice
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Ryan Patrick Murphy
The Organization of American Historians' David Montgomery Award
In 1975, National Airlines was shut down for 127 days when flight attendants went on strike to protest long hours and low pay. Activists at National and many other U.S. airlines sought to win political power and material resources for people who live beyond the boundary of the traditional family. In Deregulating Desire, Ryan Patrick Murphy, a former flight attendant himself, chronicles the efforts of single women, unmarried parents, lesbians and gay men, as well as same-sex couples to make the airline industry a crucible for social change in the decades after 1970.
Murphy situates the flight attendant union movement in the history of debates about family and work. Each chapter offers an economic and a cultural analysis to show how the workplace has been the primary venue to enact feminist and LGBTQ politics.
From the political economic consequences of activism to the dynamics that facilitated the rise of what Murphy calls the "family values economy" to the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, Deregulating Desire emphasizes the enduring importance of social justice for flight attendants in the twenty-first century.
"Bravo! Murphy's pioneering study captures the exuberance and courage of post-1960s flight attendants as they struggle for sexual equity and economic justice. By embracing the diverse desires and intimate relations of all workers, Deregulating Desire models a new affective labor history, as attentive to feelings as to economic self-interest."
"Ryan Patrick Murphy crafts a wholly innovative, interdisciplinary approach to the study of post-1970s trade unionism, placing the history of flight attendant activism alongside that of the women's movement and LGBT politics. Murphy's queer analytic lens smartly demonstrates both how big business interests capitalized on ideals of the normative family and domesticity and how activists challenged these ideas to fight for the rights of not only women and LGBT people but also single people. Deregulating Desire is an important and original contribution."
"Murphy's efforts tend to focus on the battles between airlines and flight attendants over wages, work rules, and perceptions of family life and sexuality. However, there is much more here. Reading Deregulating Desire brings back to academic discussion not just the politics of airline labor markets but also the larger discussion of the politics and economics of the deregulation fervor of the late 1970s and early 1980s.... Summing Up: Highly recommended."
Ryan Patrick Murphy—a former San Francisco-based flight attendant for United Airlines and Council Representative for Association of Flight Attendants-CWA Council 11—is Assistant Professor of History and Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana.
In the Series
Sexuality Studies, edited by Janice Irvine and Regina Kunzel, features work in sexuality studies broadly construed, in its social, cultural, and political dimensions, and in both historical and contemporary formations. The series includes titles located within disciplinary and interdisciplinary frames that combine theoretical methodologies with empirical research.