Sunday, February 7, 2021

Molly Merryman's "Clipped Wings"

Molly Merryman is the founding director of Kent State University’s Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality and an associate professor of Sociology. She is also a documentary filmmaker and the Historic Research Producer for the WASP documentary Coming Home (2020). Merryman is the research director for Queer Britain, the UK's national LGBTQ+ Museum.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her classic book, Clipped Wings: the Rise and Fall of the Women Airforce Service Pilots of World War II, and reported the following:
Page 99 includes part of my written discussion about the Congressional hearings held in order to extend militarized status to the Women Airforce Service Pilots of World War II. Because military service was segregated to only include white men, each branch of the military had to request an extension of militarization to include women. As each of these bills came forward, Congress debated larger cultural expectations of women. This was particularly pronounced with the bill for militarizing the WASP, because flying military planes was regarding as a masculine endeavor.

This page focuses on remarks made on June 21, 1944 made by Minnesota Representative Joseph O’Hara, in opposition to the bill that would have extended to Women Airforce Service Pilots the militarized status that they were promised and that the War Department needed to maintain the important war work these pilots were engaged in. The bill was opposed by a lobbying group of civilian male pilots and men who were awaiting military pilot training stateside, in part because these men did not want to serve in combat.

As I write on this page, Representative O’Hara condemned the WASP bill, describing it as a piece of social legislation and referred to skilled military pilots as “very attractive lady pilot(s).”
By constructing the WASP militarization bill as “social legislation,” O’Hara shifted the focus of the bill from legislation that was developed to further the American war efforts to legislation that was shaped as governmental sponsorship of leisurely activities of a privileged group. The assumptions of members of Congress about the intentions and abilities of women pilots specifically and women generally clouded their abilities to recognize the resolution as it was submitted—as enabling legislation sponsored by the Army Air Forces and the War Department.
While most of Clipped Wings addresses the program itself—how it was formed, who the pilots were and what they accomplished—page 99 does get at the pulse of a key struggle related to the program—that of militarization. For sadly, despite the significant accomplishments made by the WASP and the support that the Army Air Forces and War Department had for the program, Congress denied them militarization and disbanded them before the war was won. And they did this because of sexist assumptions, not because of facts. They did it because they and lobbying groups believed that women should not have the right to fly military planes. As a consequence, these women were denied pay, participation in the GI Bill, and many other rights, rewards and privileges that had been promised them when they volunteered to serve.

So while page 99 is not the heart of Clipped Wings, it is the book’s jugular vein—and on this page we begin to see the jugular being torn, an act which effectively killed the participation of women as military pilots for the next 30 years and destroyed the careers of these military pilots permanently.
Learn more about Clipped Wings at the NYU Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue