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Miss Runway, Miss Cockpit and Miss Hostess: Critics Accuse Ryanair of Sexism for Charity Calendar

Thirteen flight attendents at a European budget airline have stripped off their uniforms for the company's annual charity calendar, but feminist groups say Ryanair has gone too far this time and that it is perpetuating sexist stereotypes about stewardesses.

The applicants, at least, didn't seem to have too much of a problem with it. More than 700 female employees of the budget airline reportedly applied to be part of the 2009 "Girls of Ryanair" calendar. Besides, it was for a good cause -- at least €100,000 of the proceeds from the €10 cabin crew charity calendar are to be donated to the Dublin-based homeless organization the Simon Community.

But the calendar, which features scantily clad flight attendants posing in front of jet engines, fuel pumps and tool kits, has many crying "sexism." The Institute for Women in Spain, a womens rights organization based in the country where the calendar was shot, has complained to both Irish and European authorities about what it is describing as sexist portrayals of women. It is also seeking to take legal action against the airline.

"It is significant that only women are used, in a sector in which there is a considerable percentage of men," the group said in a statement quoted by Britain's Daily Mail. Spokesperson Maria Jesus Ortiz said the images presented the women as "sexual objects." "We're not talking about morals or nudity here, it's simply how women are portrayed," she said.

The charity calendar produced by Ryanair in 2008 also sparked anger. Spanish consumer group FACUA accused Ryanair of perpetuating stereotypes about flight attendants that women in the profession have been fighting for years.

It's not the first time the airline has come in for criticism in recent weeks. In Sweden, the company was rebuked in October by the country's advertising regulatory authority for featuring an ad with a young women in a short skirt and the headline, "hottest school prices," to tout its budget flights.

Defending the 'Right of Girls to Take their Clothes Off'

According to the Daily Telegraph, Ryanair has said it will send free copies of the calendar to FACUA as well as Brigitta Ohlsson, a member of the Swedish parliament who has been outspoken in her criticism of the earlier advertisement.

According to the paper, the airline has reacted to the brouhaha by stating: "Ryanair will continue to defend the right of girls to take their clothes off, particularly when it is for charity."

The tone set by the company starts at the very top. Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary has been infamous for his machismo in the past. At a press conference in Düsseldorf earlier this year, his local spokeswoman choked on her glass of water as her boss announced that his company's planned trans-Atlantic flights would include €10 economy class seats and a business class complete with "beds and blowjobs." To avoid a PR meltdown, the company's marketing department later clarified that "beds and blowjobs" was just English slang for luxury service.

Back in Ireland, where Ryanair has its headquarters, the calendar doesn't appear to be catching on so well. Only four Irish flight attendants applied to pose for the calendar, and none were ultimately selected. And even some male passengers have expressed disappointment. "I never see stewardesses who look like that when I fly Ryanair," one customer wrote on the Daily Mail's online forum.

dsl/sto

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