On September 5, 1986, Pan Am Flight 73 flying from Mumbai to the United States was hijacked by four armed men at an airport in Karachi, Pakistan. 22-year-old Neerja Bhanot, the senior flight pursor, was able to alert the cockpit crew as soon as the hijackers boarded the plane, allowing the three-member crew to escape through an overhead hatch. For 17 hours, Bhanot took charge of the situation on the plane. Her acts of courage and compassion included hiding the passports of the American citizens the hijackers were targeting, opening the airplane doors and helping passengers escape when the hijackers opened fire, and ultimately sacrificing her life whileshielding three unaccompanied American children from a hail of bullets. For her bravery, which helped saved the lives of 359 passengers, Bhanot was posthumously awarded the Ashok Chakra Award, India’s highest award for bravery in the face of the enemy during peace time.
We’ve been taught that women need to be flawless even when our flawlessness is wildly implausible, sexy even when our sexiness is a break from plot. We’re sprinting through Jurassic Park in heels, fighting supervillains in strapless corsets, being stranded on deserted islands for days without a hint of stubble. Real female bodies are so taboo that hair-removal-cream ads show hairless legs even before the cream is applied.