Beliefs Ethics Opinion

COMMENTARY: Getting rid of the women

c. 1997 Religion News Service

(Andrew M. Greeley is a Roman Catholic priest, best-selling novelist and a sociologist at the University of Chicago National Opinion Research Center. Check out his home page at or contact him via e-mail at agreel(at)

UNDATED _ First Lt. Kelly Jean Flinn was lucky. She escaped from the Air Force with her life. She accepted a general discharge rather than face a court martial on charges including adultery, disobeying an order and lying.

Yes, she left humiliated, disgraced, her career ruined, her reputation in tatters. She was the first woman B-52 pilot, so that kind of fate was inevitable. But at least she’s still alive.

Kara Hultgreen, the first woman pilot to land a jet on an aircraft carrier, is dead. Exactly what happened to her is a matter of speculation. The Navy has leaked word she never should have been qualified for carrier landings, but was pushed ahead for public-relations purposes.

Hultgreen’s family claims that is not true and even has a piece of paper from the Navy saying she was not to blame for the crash. Journalists who listen to Navy rumors suggest her fellow officers _ particularly the landing signal officers _ hassled and harassed her so much her self-confidence was destroyed.

Certainly women pilots complain that their male colleagues freeze them out of discussions and hence prevent them from learning from informal dialogue and conversations, putting their lives at greater risk.

Kelly Flinn, like I say, is still alive.

Perhaps another secretary of the Air Force will have more courage than current Secretary Sheila Widnall and permit Flinn to fly again in the National Guard. In any event, Flinn will doubtless write a book and will probably end up flying commercial airliners.

That’s a lot better than being dead.

If anyone believes Flinn was not signaled out for special treatment by the Air Force brass because she is a woman, they will also believe in the tooth fairy and that the Chicago Cubs will win the World Series.

Of all the thousands of B-52 pilots, she is the only one who has committed adultery? Gimme a break!

If the Air Force wanted to, it could easily have handled the matter far more tactfully. But the brass chose their route precisely because they wanted to force her out. One only has to read the angry outbursts of top officials to see there was ill will against a woman pilot.

For a male officer, the brass would have cut corners a bit, found another way to handle the matter, given the man another chance. But the much publicized first woman to fly a B-52? Get rid of her as quickly as we can!

The pious spin-doctoring by Widnall that adultery isn’t the issue, lying is, is unbelievable.

It’s hard to figure out what the Air Force hopes to accomplish by drumming Flinn out of the service. Women will keep coming. Society will become increasingly intolerant of macho brass who try to get rid of them. Congress will not forget.

I don’t know why a young woman would want to fly a B-52 or an F-18 Hornet. But then I don’t understand why a young man would want to fly such aircraft, either. It is dull and dangerous work, and often your superiors are idiots.

But if young men are permitted to seek such work, then young women should be permitted to seek it, too _ with absolute equality of opportunity.

Clearly the military services are not ready to do that yet. Congress and the people must continue to demand such equality.

One of the more disgusting aspects of the Flinn case are the hypocritical columns, often written by conservative Roman Catholics, about the sinfulness of adultery.

Flinn’s moral guilt should be more appropriately left to God. Do these folks want the nation to return to the practices of Massachusetts in the time of Hester Pryne? Do they really want adultery to again become a criminal offense?

If they do, alas, we’ll need a lot more jails.

Or is it only women they want to be punished for adultery?