Southwest Airlines pilot Tammie Jo Shults did more for women's rights than a thousand Betty Friedans could ever do.
As most know by now, the former Navy fighter pilot, at the controls of a Southwest flight from New York to Dallas, brought a badly damaged and violently shaking jetliner down from 32,000 feet to a safe emergency landing, saving 180 lives in the process.
Passenger Marty Martinez said, "We owe her our lives."
Frequent fliers know that no one person is responsible for such heroics. The first officer and flight attendants, as well as the ground controllers, play important roles. But Captain Shults was where the buck stopped. It was her plane, her responsibility. And she did what most of us could never imagine -- controlling and landing a bucking multi-ton beast and allowing all but one unfortunate passenger, who was killed by flying debris, to walk away unharmed.
A man's job? Not that day.
No brassiere burner, Captain Shults, a married mother with two children, was a trailblazer for women in flight, one of the first to pilot Navy fighter jets. We'll be hearing a lot more about her. Just imagine the TV interviews and books to come, and maybe a movie or two.
Shults's heroics come during a period of swirling controversy about the role and stature of women. For example, failed presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said she lost the election because women voted the way their husbands told them to. Apparently not strong or bright enough to think for themselves, our female populace knuckled under to domineering, misogynistic males.
I don't see that, but maybe my situation is unique. I'm surrounded by strong women -- an artistic wife and MBA daughter who think and certainly vote for themselves, and an attorney and university teacher for daughters-in-law, both of whom are blissfully independent. Then there are five granddaughters who, unfortunately, take orders from nobody. But maybe Hillary's would-be supporters are different.
Another female-centric issue has been the recent revelations about sexual harassment -- dormant for years after the Bill Clinton days. Movie moguls, gymnast trainers, TV hosts and a clutch of politicians are among the high-profile abusers, headliners for what seems to be a national epidemic.
Things have also heated up on the sports front. For example, the Williams sisters are leading the fight for equal tournament prize money for male and female tennis players. While coming late to tennis, equal recognition and endorsement money have long been the norm for track and field athletes. Doping, as well, has been available to both (think Marion Jones at the Sydney Olympics and the cold-war East Germans everywhere).
U.S. women have had the upper hand, if not equal recognition, in basketball and soccer for many years. The greatest sports dynasty in history is UConn women's basketball, a program of transcendent excellence. (Those of us from Connecticut are inconsolable because the ladies failed to win the national championship the last two years, an impossibility equivalent to pigs flying.)
The same applies to soccer, where the U.S. women's national team is head and shoulders above the men's on the global stage. I remember a cartoon after the women won the World Cup some years ago. A new father, holding a soccer ball, said to another at a maternity ward window, "You lucky dog. It's a girl."
Rumblings about femininity extend to the Broadway stage. I was astonished to hear conductor Jack Everly apologize to the audience at a recent Naples Philharmonic concert for the Rodgers & Hammerstein song "I Enjoy Being a Girl." It seems the saucy lyrics celebrating womanhood ("I'm strictly a female female...") were not politically correct.
But you know what? To hell with political correctness. Let's celebrate womanhood (vive la difference), female accomplishments and women's rights in all forms. And by all means let's celebrate Tammie Jo Shults, the right person with the right stuff at the right time.