14 February 2013

When Women Fight, They Gain More Rights

by Judy Hale Reed, Staff Writer

          American women attained a new level of citizenship in January 2013, a long 93 years after gaining the right to vote.
          To learn more about this change, I spoke with two female career military officers. They insisted that their names not be published for privacy reasons, so I will call one "Karen," a US Army lieutenant colonel (retired). The second, "Rachel," is a West Pointer lieutenant colonel.

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“Women have already been earning Purple Hearts,” as Karen said, and “neither IEDs nor Purple Hearts pay much attention to your job title.”

While women will now be eligible to try to qualify for any military job, the benefits do not affect veteran’s preference for civilian jobs or post-service benefits. This goes for any kind of military service, including combat zones, regardless of job title.

          “Women already receive veterans’ preference, so it mostly improves rights in the military,” said Rachel. Women will still “have to pass the qualifying training and do the job, but should no longer be held back due solely to their gender,” Karen explained.

          “I think it is great, but for people like me, it is way too late. It opens fields that in my youth, I wanted to go into, but now I am too far down a career path to switch, and too old,” said Rachel. 

          “I am already irritated by the guys posting about reducing standards and saying people will die because women will be there." Rachel said. "When I was a Lieutenant, I wanted to be a tanker, when I was a Captain, I wanted to be Special Forces. I couldn't because I lacked a key piece of anatomy.  I could have done it and done it well.”

          “Training and performance standards should be equal across the board, even unto the dreaded Physical Fitness Test.” Karen said.

          Women will continue to expand their participation in the military despite commonplace discrimination, harassment, and attempts to drive women out of newly-opened posts. “Women have slowly gained access to various ship and combat flight specialties, and have served well,” remarked Karen.
          Many duty positions that were considered to be more likely to be engaged in combat were long barred to women, but women have been able to enter more positions through the years. Much of this change occurred gradually and without any great policy debate, “simply due to the demographics of how many people could be assigned to the medical, logistics, and communications positions that were needed in the brigade support structures,” Karen explained.
          The link between combat service and leadership is strong; according to a complaint filed by the ACLU, 80% of army generals have combat experience. Banning women from combat often prevented them from accessing higher ranks of military leadership.

          What will women’s officially sanctioned entry into combat mean for our military and civilian workforce, and American culture? Will it reduce the already slightly faded stereotypes of women's perceived passivity and delicacy? Will the military culture shift, so that we see less military abuse and less military rape when more women are in leadership positions? Will more women enlist now that the ceiling for their employment and promotion is removed? Will this change lead to more women in veteran-dominated and highly visible professions, such as police and firefighter?
          Not all people want to, or could be, a combat soldier. But now women have a chance to try. And some of them will do it very well.

Judy Hale Reed is a second year student at Duquesne. She had a pre-law career in international human rights focused on gender equality and anti-trafficking in persons, speaks Romanian, and sometimes bikes to school. She holds a BA in Sociology and Women’s Studies from Ohio University and an MPA from Seattle University.