BERLIN - It would have been better if she had dark circles under her eyes. Maybe a little bit of flab around the middle. At the very least a stain on her blouse – anything. Instead, in her first public appearance since the birth of her son, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer was as slim and blonde as ever, beaming at the cameras.
"The baby's been easy," she said – no problem at all. How shocking!
Women all over America and the world followed Mayer’s appointment as head of the Internet giant Yahoo, and then early this fall the birth of her first child. Remembering their own tough first few months with a new baby, many young mothers wondered how she would manage. Very well, thank you, as it turns out. And that did not go down well at all.
In fact Mayer’s first post-natal interview sent storm waves crashing through the Internet. Couldn’t she just have kept her mouth shut, feminists, mothers, even childless-by-choice women, asked. Little seems to polarize other women so much as successful women. Or women who have lives very different from the ones they have more or less chosen for themselves.
Ursula von der Leyen? Germany’s Minister of Labor and Social Affairs is the mother of seven children, and then on top of it she always seems to be smiling. Well of course if you have loads of help the way she does… Julia Jäkel? The first woman on the board of a major German publishing house, married to a TV personality, mother of young twins … okay, but what has she herself actually accomplished? Maria Furtwängler may be an actress, beauty, mother, doctor, wife of big-time publisher Hubert Burda… but there’s something about the way she behaves … And does Hillary Clinton actually have any feelings, or is it all about power for the U.S. Secretary of State, wife of a former president, and potential presidential candidate in 2016. And the list goes on.
American author and journalism professor Katie Roiphe, who wrote an essay entitled Elect Sister Frigidaire about the strange antipathy so many women feel for Hillary Clinton, suggests that we may like to imagine strong women but that we don’t actually like them. As much as women complain about the differences in salaries, support quotas, pay lip service to breaking the glass ceiling – when a woman actually makes it big, for many the reaction is not joy – far from it in fact – many women are downright miffed.
Instead of being inspired and motivated by the success of other women, it seems to be perceived as a direct attack on their own life and to provoke comments that cut the successful woman down to size.
The phenomenon is that much stronger if the standout woman is not only successful in her career, but is also a mother – and God forbid attractive as well! Any mother working full time who makes an effort with a group of full-time moms – maybe even brings a cake she baked – knows the feeling, and how hard it is to smile through the dire looks all the moms are exchanging about her.
Sisters doing it for themselves
But successful women also produce the opposite reaction: women who have "made it" are admired by other women simply because they are women. A bit the way Barack Obama can count on the votes of many non-white Americans simply because of his skin color, many women in Germany vote for Angela Merkel – even if they belong to another party – because they are so impressed that she, a woman, has "made it."
Men and women behave very differently when it comes to recognizing status and hierarchy. Gender researchers say that men have no problem with pecking orders, whether it’s on the soccer field on in the boardroom. They recognize the top dog, who occupies second and third place, without envy (mostly) and everything about their seating and speaking order at meetings, body language, status symbols, bear witness to this. That doesn’t mean of course that they won’t compete for better positions. And they usually do this by emulating the top man and copying his strategies. And when they make it to the top, they see no reason to play that down.
Research has revealed that females react very differently. They do tend to play themselves down to bring everybody together: their goal is integration, not competition. Among little girls, any girl who stands out because she is smarter, funnier or prettier is anything but admired by the others. Grown women in professional life have learned that hiding their qualities just so other women will like them damages them, but the net result is: they are not liked. Solidarity ends there.
How much further would women be today if they hadn’t been asking the wrong questions. Instead of fighting for equal pay, day care, fairer distribution of household chores, for years the women’s movement was hung up on issues like whether or not feminists could like men, wear plunging necklines, or choose to stay home with the kids. And such debates continue. France’s former first lady Carla Bruni found herself in the middle of a controversy on the Internet because she said in a recent interview that she wasn’t a feminist because she enjoyed family life too much.
We women need to learn to speak well of other women and support each other. Instead of getting worked up about Marissa Mayer, we need to acknowledge the differing contributions of all women. The super women aren’t spared the sleepless nights, the secret worries, and all the rest of it – they’re probably just be better at not letting such things overwhelm them – at facing life with a certain amount of composure.
More composure with regard to ourselves and other women would do us a world of good.
Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.
It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.
More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.
But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:
Cleaner aviation fuel
The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.
While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.
Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.
In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.
Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.
High-flying ambitions for the sector
Hydrogen and electrification
Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.
One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.
Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.
New aircraft designs
Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.
International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.
The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.
Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airportcommons.wikimedia.org
Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.
The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.
Data privacy issues
However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.
Auckland Airport, New Zealand
The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?
At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.
Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.
40% of Swedes intend to travel less
According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.
But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.
At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.
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