Gendering the Skies
ManAir exclusively featured women and children as the human subjects of its covers. The frequent representation of women and children in the magazine beginning in the late 1930s contrasts sharply with the reality that men primarily worked at the Manchuria Aviation Company and fought in the Pacific War. From occupying its desks and piloting its planes to developing its photographs and fixing its machinery, the business of aviation was a decidedly masculine space.
Why do you think ManAir focused so heavily on images of women and children, when the aviation industry primarily consisted of men?
What did the ideal Japanese woman or Japanese child look like from the perspective of ManAir? Did these images conflict with each other?
What kind of message did these gendered ideals communicate to its readers?
The covers of ManAir sought to sell a different story than the “boy's club” at the office, first by constructing the image of the modern Japanese woman, one who works and travels. A few women did serve as flight attendants (“air girls”) and company secretaries, but they became models of an aspirational lifestyle marketed by the Manchuria Aviation Company. Attired in chic, Western clothing, women posed as secretaries diligently taking notes at the office and as tourists leisurely descending the airstair or waiting on the tarmac. These photographs cast the company as a modern, commercial enterprise.
At the same time, however, ManAir appropriated images of children for adult reasons: to legitimize, naturalize, and humanize war. As Sabine Frühstück has written more broadly, depictions of babies and children innocently playing “war games” suggest the company's attempt to take part in the state mobilization of the Japanese population, beginning with its youngest subjects, for war effort (Frühstück 2017). In this way, ManAir gendered its covers to balance its commercial interests, through the modern Japanese woman, with its political responsibilities, through the militarized child.