Christine Fox, ‘Top Gun,’ and the Casual Sexism of 1985
Christine Fox, the real-life inspiration for Charlie of "Top Gun," and the casual sexism of 1985.
Erin Simpson, who earned the nickname “Charlie” as a civilian professor teaching Marines, passes on an article from way back in 1985 on Christine Fox, the real-life woman was was the inspiration for the “Charlie” character in “Top Gun.” Aside from the interesting back story, the casual sexism is comical.
When the fighter pilots at Miramar Naval Air Station in San Diego hear the sound, they snap to full alert. Click. Radar operators close their eyes and just listen, knowing precisely what is coming their way. Click. Click.
High heels in the hallway. Softer than a sonic boom, less penetrating than an F-14 afterburner, the footsteps of 6′ Christine Fox, 30, nevertheless carry the impact of a preemptive strike. “They always know when I’m coming,” she says with a sigh, “because I’m one of the few people around here whose heels click.”
To Navy aviators—described by one of their own as “chauvinistic, macho, self-centered, overzealous, close-minded, hardheaded, egotistical and highly capable”—the sight of Fox striding through headquarters is as enjoyable as a scared MiG pilot running for home.
It gets better:
Fox is a civilian employee of the Center for Naval Analyses (CNA), a Navy think tank. In 1983 she was dispatched to the West Coast to serve on the staff of the admiral who commands airborne early-warning and fighter aircraft for the U.S. Pacific fleet. Says Capt. Monroe Smith, until recently the operations officer for the wing: “She’s the smartest woman I’ve ever met. I like women for a lot of things and being smart isn’t usually one of them.”
And then there’s this:
In fact, the unmarried Fox has never become involved with an aviator, a state of affairs that has not gone unnoticed by the aviators. Captain Smith figures that “she’s a genuine straight arrow.” Comdr. Harry Hunter, who works in the same office, says “She’s so professional that her looks don’t become a point of interest. When she walks in you say ‘wow,’ but 30 seconds later you’re talking business.”
And, well, sigh:
Lt. Linda Speed, an administrative officer at the TOPGUN school, has another theory on sex and the single pilot. “These guys compartmentalize their lives,” she says. “Flying is in one box. Women and dating are in another. Sometimes it’s hard for them to put work and women in one box.” The atmosphere at TOPGUN is so masculine that when Fox walks over on business, the guards sometimes ask whether she’s there to pick up her husband’s check.
Oh, and this:
Fox is in the final days of her tour at Miramar; this week she returns to CNA headquarters in Alexandria, Va., where she will work as a research study director. When she arrived two years ago, says Commander Hunter, the attitude in operations was, “God, we’re going to get stuck with a girl.” Now that she’s being replaced, he says, the attitude is, “God, we’re going to get stuck with a guy.”
What ever became of Fox, call sign “Legs”? She went on to become president of CNA and has, since November 2009, served as Director, Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation at the Pentagon. She’s stepping down later this year. No word on her next assignment.
It’s very useful for people to remember that the language that makes is cringe now was defended by the male power structure, denied by many men and some women, but clearly audible to a lot of women.
The discriminated-against have better antennae for these things up than does the majority. Conservatives might want to remember that reality when they’re claiming that racism no longer exists. When black people start telling me that racism is dead, I’ll believe them. Ditto sexism and women.
@michael reynolds: I think that’s right. Ten years ago, I doubt any of this would have taken me aback. Indeed, I’m pretty sure the quoted males fully intended to be complimentary.
There’s a lot of eye-roll-worthy stuff in that article, but the above made me actually cringe. What a stupid thing to say.
@Mikey: Yeah, that’s the one that prompted the post. But several of the lines were pretty bad.
Damn, dude, check your comment before posting. And you’re supposed to be a professional writer? That’s like three errors in a single graf.
@James Joyner: That kind of thing wasn’t uncommon at all, unfortunately.
And it wasn’t just the Navy–for the first nine years of my Air Force career, the only officers I worked for were fighter pilots, in the days before women were allowed to fly fighters. A quote from one of those guys has stuck with me for over 20 years: “I’m glad cracks can’t fly jets.”
Probably a good thing they never interviewed him for People Magazine…
I’ve always thought Top-Gun was some kind of homo-erotic phantasy.
Seriously…the shower scenes…the volley-ball scene…Tom Cruise sitting on his Ninja staring into the sunset.
If that’s not gay porn…
We’ve come a long way, baby.
A long way right to the graveyard
In the 1960s and 1970s, the themes of feminism and women’s liberation, with the slogan “You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby” were often used in the ads, (for Virginia Slims cigarettes) and often featured anecdotes about women in the early 20th century who were punished for being caught smoking, usually by their husbands or other men, as compared to the time of the ads when more women had equal rights, usually comparing smoking to things like the right to vote. 
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in women, killing more women each year than breast cancer, uterine cancer, and ovarian cancer combined.
Thank you for pressing to earworm. I was raised by a TV set.
You’ve come a long way, baby To get where you got to, today. You’ve got your own cigarette now baby. You’ve come a long, long way.
I was the first scholarship female athletic trainer in the late 1970’s at a then big conference school. Aside from multiple attempted rapes, I was subjected to crude comments on a daily basis, given a too small and too tight uniform and was the only trainer who did not have an officially issued rain jacket, because my wet tight t-shirt was amusing. After AP published a photo of me on the sidelines, many of the players’ families and coaches’ wives protested the very idea that I was allowed to be in and around the players’ locker room.
I lasted one year. Many of my co-trainers went on to become respected surgeons. I dropped out of school and although I have gone on to be reasonably successful in life, I have lots of thoughts about what might have been. I feel a lot of guilt that I wasn’t tough enough to stick it out.
Given the recent news about sexual assault and harassment in the military, I think we still have a long way to go before women will ever be treated as equals in traditionally male-dominated fields.
Cue Tarantino’s monologue in the long-forgotten Sleep with Me:
Ah yes. I remember it well. Fortunately, I seemed to intimidate a lot of my male peers. They didn’t say much to me, though other women had more trouble.
In the mid-80s, a submarine captain said, quite confidently, that women would never be allowed to serve on subs because … something something something. I was a midshipman at the time and kept my mouth shut and didn’t roll my eyes, but I still regret not giving in to my initial impulse and saying ‘Want to bet, sir?”
@michael reynolds: Read more Walter Williams.
For an even more jarrng contrast, M*A*S*H was on cable this weekend. I hadn’t see it in well more than a decade. It was painful to watch because of the misogyny and sexism.
@SKI: At least it was ostensibly portraying the Army of the early 1950s. Then again, it was regarded at the time as a lefty show, with Alan Alda right up their with Phil Donahue as symbols of bleeding heart liberalism.