On Nov. 10, the Federal Aviation Administration held a virtual summit on making language used in agency governance and oversight more inclusive. The impetus came from the drone industry; companies felt gendered terms such as “unmanned” aircraft system were outdated and hindered recruitment. The FAA asked its Drone Advisory Committee for recommendations on gender-neutral language, and the summit was part of the public outreach and comment process, which runs through Nov. 30.

The suggestions include substitutions such as “aircrew” or “pilot/aviator” for “airman,” “uncrewed” for “unmanned” and “flight deck” for “cockpit.”

Responses in the chat section of the FAA’s YouTube channel dismissed the effort as unnecessary at best and, at worst, a farce designed to exclude men. Sadly, this is not surprising even in 2021. Sexism and misogyny have marked aviation since its earliest days, its very language a lexicon of exclusion.

As early as 1910, the year the first woman in the world earned her pilot’s license, debate arose over what to call “fair fliers.” One suggestion: “aeroines,” for, as one newspaper writer posited, “Perhaps it is well to suggest a relationship between ‘heroine’ and ‘aeroine,’ since … [a]t this stage of the flying game any woman who accomplishes a flight is surely a heroine.”

In an age of marvels such as the automobile and the flying machine, women, like men, were drawn to the freedom and thrill of speeding ever faster and soaring ever higher. Racing — of cars, bicycles, aircraft — was all the rage. But one of 1910’s premier competitions, the International Aviation Tournament at Belmont Park, reported the New-York Daily Tribune, would be “an exclusively masculine affair, and the heroism of those women who have begun to mount up with wings like eagles occasions a good deal of surprise, though it is hard to see why it should be so.”

Women did race against men in 1911 — leading to fretting headlines such as “Will Woman Drive Man Out of the Sky?” That story featured a debate between a (male) “leading English aviator” who argued that “women lack qualities which make for safety in aviation” and a (male) Viennese professor claiming women had better vision than men for flying because they use their “full retina” — a practice honed by “enforced modesty and flirting.”

While male pilots were celebrated for aerial prowess and daring, coverage of women emphasized their appearance as much their skill in the air. A 1915 profile of the first female airborne military scout, Hélène Dutrieu, who spied on German troop movements for the French army, described the Legion of Honor winner as a “Girl Hawk” full of “vivacity and enthusiasms,” with a mouth “tilted in an adorable childish fashion.”

At the end of World War I, obsolete surplus wooden military biplanes became more widely available, opening the skies to adventurous young men and women. They performed as stunt pilots, barnstormers and wing walkers, even playing tennis or dancing in midair, before awestruck crowds that had never seen an airplane before.

Charles Lindbergh and Roscoe Turner — flying with his pet lion, Gilmore — started this way and built lucrative careers. But the business of aviation was far less welcoming to women. Stunt pilot Bessie Coleman, who in 1921 became the first African American woman to earn a pilot’s license, had to learn to fly in France because no one in the United States would teach her. She refused to perform for segregated crowds, flying only before integrated audiences.

Women set altitude, endurance and speed records, equaling the skill of men. Yet when some of America’s most skilled female fliers, including Amelia Earhart and movie stunt pilot Pancho Barnes, sought to compete in the premiere aviation event, the 1929 National Air Races, organizers shunted them into their own Women’s Air Derby — and tried to insist they bring a man along. Louise Thaden, a women’s aviation record-holder, won. When women were finally allowed to compete against men, in the 1936 Bendix Transcontinental Race, Thaden won that, too.

Still, the nation’s first female airline pilot, Helen Richey, hired in 1934, was drummed out of the business in less than a year. Her male colleagues threatened to strike rather than fly with her. Her pilots union refused to approve her membership. And the federal government forced the airline to ground her during bad weather and limit her flight time because of her gender. Not until 1973 was another woman, Emily Howell-Warner, hired to fly for a U.S. airline.

On the military side, war opened more opportunities for female fliers.

Gen. Henry “Hap” Arnold, who wrote in 1941 that “the use of women pilots serves no military purpose,” came to see the logic in letting women ferry planes from factories to air bases, act as test pilots and teach men to fly, freeing male pilots for service overseas. By 1944, he had nothing but praise for the 1,074 members of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), who flew every warplane the United States produced during World War II.

Still, while some men recognized that women could be skilled military pilots, others believed women had no business flying Army aircraft. Women were told to go home and knit socks for the troops, denied places to sleep at the air bases where they delivered planes and discovered rags in their engines and slashes in their rudder cables to sabotage them. This, even as they were teaching men to fly notoriously challenging aircraft such as the B-29.

The same lessons had to be learned again three decades later, during the Vietnam War, when the Navy recruited the first women for military flight training in 1972. The first female naval aviators were greeted with resistance, including silent treatment and open hostility. As with the “Girl Hawk,” media coverage focused on their physical appearances rather than their skills. One disgruntled naval aviator published a screed against what he called “waviators.” A trainee “pranked” a member of the second group of female student naval aviators by throwing a live firecracker into her quarters. (He apologized decades later, when both were flying for a major U.S. airline.)

Even as women made greater inroads and official restrictions on female aviators fell by the wayside — or because of it — the masculine air culture resisted embracing them as equals.

Take, for example, the 1991 convention of the Tailhook association of naval aviators in Las Vegas. At a panel discussion, a question about when the Navy would allow female aviators to fly tactical combat missions off aircraft carriers was greeted not with a well-reasoned response about federal law and Navy tradition but with hisses, jeers and catcalls. The nine admirals on the dais did nothing to quell the outburst. Later, the sexual assaults on dozens of women by officers at the convention became a national scandal that critics said reflected a broader culture of misogyny. Restrictions on women flying in combat were finally dropped in 1993.

Today, women routinely fly into space and hold jobs in nearly every aviation occupation. But the proportion of female pilots in the United States hovers around 8 percent, a number that has barely moved in decades. With formal restrictions no longer in place, something unbudging remains in aviation culture that discourages women from seeking the best-paying, most prestigious positions, which not only diminishes their dreams of spreading their wings and soaring above the clouds — but, as the drone industry is discovering, shuts out some of the potentially best and brightest candidates.

Terms such as “airman” continue to do that critical work of exclusion.