The Vagenda

Virgin’s Flying In The Face of Progress

Richard Branson

I have never particularly liked Richard Branson, but I have watched his efforts to turn into Mufasa from the Lion King with some degree of interest. I have also recently developed a morbid fear of finding myself on holiday on the island of Necker with Branson and his coterie of ‘eclectic’ companions, having to listen to someone play acoustic guitar over breakfast, someone else accompany them on the bongos, and Branson give me motivational lectures about how there’s nothing to stop me going for my dreams. There is, Richard – there’s my inherent laziness, fear of personal responsibility, and love of binge drinking for starters. 
Anyhow, I digress. The latest Virgin Atlantic advert has rattled my cage, and I must come forth to trample Mufasa-Branson like a herd of angry feminist bison. I don’t know why I expected better from a company whose promotional efforts thus far have brought us such delights as this: 
And this, which somehow reminds me of that bit in Of Mice and Men where Lennie kills Curley’s wife: 
But when their latest ad promised something about ‘flying in the face of ordinary’ I thought I’d give it a spin. If you’re inclined towards masochism, you can watch it here.
Here’s what happens. Apparently, people who work for Virgin Atlantic are born with ‘very special gifts’. If you’re a lad, this means that you get to have top drawer lolz time designing and catapulting yourself about in a small aircraft, throwing paper planes about, catching fish with your bare hands, or at the very least fiddling about with hi-tech design programmes on computers while annoying mum shouts at you to go to bed (women! Always trying to halt progress with their tedious domestic rituals.)
If you’re a girl, what makes you very special is that you have an ability to prevent the males of the species from getting wet. I did feel moderately hopeful that one little girl appeared to be telekinetic, but wait, no, her true superpower is that she can sniff out red shoes like a shark can detect blood in water. Much better.
So when you grow up, this means that the boys get to be pilots and engineers and things like that. If you’re a woman, you get to hand tickets and tissues to a man who can’t even be bothered speaking to you, and then smile with the glowing satisfaction of a job well done as he captures his snot globules in the handkerchief you just gave him! Amazers! Or, you can smear your mouth in red lipstick, set your facial expression autopilot to ‘sassy’, and coquettishly ask ‘how may I service you?’ (slight artistic license here, but I bet that’s what she’s taught in training). 
Upshot? Women who are special are so because they have a lovely smile, like red shoes or know how to look after men so they don’t get unnecessarily damp or covered in their own bodily fluids. Men who are special are talented, intelligent and skilled. Challenging the status quo? More like dishing up the same tired old stereotypes.
Don’t fly Virgin Atlantic, ladies. All the actual telekinetic women have obviously defected to BA.

8 thoughts on “Virgin’s Flying In The Face of Progress

  1. I went to train to be one of their stewardesses after graduating in the mid-90′s and passed various stages including the helping people part, the working as part of a team part and the quite tough maths based foreign exchange part (you couldn’t go to the next stage without passing the previous stages). Finally I was told that I was in the last 12 out of 6000 applicants and I reached the final stage, what could it possibly be? How to parachute passengers from 2000 feet? How to wrestle a hijaker to the ground? The aviation version of Blockbuster’s Gold Run?
    I had to go into a room with two women who then pressed cloth swatches the Virgin shade of red to my cheeks and forearms, put lipstick on me and thereby decided I didn’t have the colouring for the Virgin red and so I had ‘failed’ the interview.
    Richard did write to me afterwards stating that sometimes the best people don’t get a job with him (no shit Dick, why’s that?) and he also gave me £100 off my next flight with Virgin for getting so far but still, to have missed out on a job because of my colouring was somewhat galling and amazing! I never bought any Virgin product again, vetoed their record stores whilst they were on the High Street and never used those vouchers as I didn’t HAVE A JOB AND HAD NO MONEY with which to afford a holiday! Ah the irony!.
    Thing is he seems to look after his staff and has good intentions – they are just massively out of date and misplaced. Maybe a change of marketing company would help too…?

  2. The total irony of them walking under the slogan ‘flying in the face of ordinary’ whilst perpetuating gender stereotypes is faintly hilarious, this is why little girls grow up with the ambition of becoming nurses not doctors. Why aren’t the women designing ‘kick-ass comfortable seats’, if that is their dream of course(and getting involved in some accidental workplace sexual harassment ‘bed-time’ anyone?)? Not to mention the token male-steward who is clearly not ‘pretty enough’ to appear in the final shot. Good job Virgin, making little girls aim not to fly planes, but to look pretty on them and prevent general spillage or discomfort…

  3. The British Airways ads are just as bad. I complained to ASA about one a few years back, on the grounds that the pilots were all male, and the women were all airhostesses and supportive wives. ASA didn’t think this was sexist, and also no one else had complained. We need better-organised feminist protest against advertising.

  4. This is totally astonishing and yet I can easily believe it. Did you ever go to the papers about it? They’d have an absolute field day. It’s beyond shocking that anybody’s ability to wear a shade of red effectively could have a say in whether or not they get a job. I’d love to hear from somebody who has been through the same process in recent years to learn whether or not such offensive policies remain in play today.

  5. It was not even subtle. It was plain patronising, racist, sexist – a real Branson wet dream. Being a flying waitress who might be lucky enough to be the pilot’s FB for a week is what the next generation of females should be aspiring to. The pilot may as well spank dat ass and get lil miss stewardess to fetch him a napkin. I thought advertising was meant to be one of the creative industries?

  6. I emailed them at the time to complain about the sexism and racism and just got a response:

    Dear Rebecca

    It’s much appreciated that you have taken the time to write to us.

    I was saddened to read that you were disappointed with our new advertisement.

    Here at Virgin Atlantic, we have always been proud of the diversity of our staff. The people that make Virgin Atlantic what it is today, come from all walks of life and from all over the world.

    We are hugely proud of our award-winning staff and they are a key audience for us in developing advertising communications.

    In addition to showcasing our offering to potential passengers, our ads are also intended to make all our incredibly hardworking staff, crew and ground staff, feel good about working for Virgin Atlantic.

    We have already received literally hundreds of letters from passengers and staff commenting on how fantastic this ad has made them feel, with many crew members saying that they now ‘walk a little taller’ and that it made them feel more proud to work for us.

    I note your concerns about the perception of women in the workplace, as well as the positions they hold here with us. Virgin Atlantic Airways is an equal opportunities employer, and we have an amazing array of employees, again, from various different backgrounds.

    We have many key positions that are occupied by women, including pilots and senior first officers.

    We do not believe, nor would we suggest, that an individual’s race, age, ethnicity or gender has any restraint as to their abilities or position in the workplace.

    In fact, we feel that our ad delivers an entertaining and cinematic dramatization of the service provided by Virgin Atlantic, rather than any social comment.

    In closing, I can assure you that your comments have been taken on board, and we hope that this will not deter you from choosing to fly with Virgin Atlantic in the future.

    Kind regards

    Jennifer Harvey
    Customer Liaison Manager

    …Just because its a ‘cinematic dramatisation’ doesn’t make it any less sexist/racist.

  7. Most engineers are white guys, I suspect it’s the same for pilots. Is it wrong to portray things the way they actually are, or do they have to reverse it to a universe where black women do all the professional jobs?