I feel honored and very humble to be writing this article that is dedicated to the observance of Women’s History Month. It is based on the presentation I gave in Washington D. C. in 2005, when I was asked to be the guest speaker for The White House Communications Agency. The women who read this article, have all taken on a role to make a change in this world, as have many women before you. Today I wish to begin by honoring the women who have played a role in the making of this country, and in defending it.
One of these women was Deborah Sampson, a woman who disguised herself as a man in order to fight for her country. She served in the Revolutionary Army for nearly three years before being discovered. When she was wounded, she even treated herself in order to avert detection. It wasn’t until she became so ill with a severe fever and had to be treated by a doctor that her identity as a female was discovered. Other names such as Molly Pitcher and Margaret Corbin can be recalled as names of notable women our country’s past.
And then there were others such as Rachel and Grace Martin who disguised themselves as men, and assailed a British courier and his guards. They took his important dispatches, and speedily forwarded them on to General Greene. They released their prisoners, and sent them on their way without their identities as women being detected.
These are only a few of the women who lived during the infancy days of our country, and gave their time, energy and their lives to create this great nation we have today. They did it on their own, they were not officially recognized, and their deeds were not recorded in our history books. However, they had more at stake than recognition or being recorded in history; they were investing themselves in the future of their descendents.
It wasn’t until WW I that women were finally allowed to enlist. Over 12,000 of them served stateside. And, although the reports never seem to reflect all the contributions of women during that war, 230 bilingual women served overseas as telephone operators with the United States Signal Corps. Later, during WW II, 400,000 American military women served stateside and overseas. It wasn’t until decades later that these women were honored.
Finally, on Oct. 18, 1997 at Arlington National Cemetery, a memorial was erected, and it was the first public honor commemorating the contributions of women in the U.S. military. President Bill Clinton stated in a speech at the Women's Memorial Dedication, "Despite this history of bravery and accomplishments. For far too long women were treated as second class soldiers. They could give their lives for liberty, but they couldn't give orders to men. They could heal the wounded and hold the dying, but they could not dream of holding the highest ranks. They could take on the toughest assignments, but they could not take up arms. Still they volunteered, fighting for freedom all around the world, but also fighting for the right to serve to the fullest of their potential."
And, serve they did, throughout our country’s history, women served during the wars in Korea, and in Vietnam. Finally, when the end of the draft went into effect in 1970 many doors opened for women's military service.
The all-volunteer force lifted many barriers for women. By 1976, military academies began to admit women. Prior to that, in 1969, the Reserve Officers Training Corps went co-educational. The first women general officers were promoted in 1970.
In 1978, 770 women were deployed to Panama in Operation Just Cause. Operation Desert Storm saw the largest deployment of women in U.S. military history. Women represented 41,000, and 7 percent of the U.S. armed forces which served in the Gulf.
Combat aviation opened up to women, and by 1995, Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Eileen Collins was deployed as the first female pilot of a space shuttle. In 1996, Patricia Tracey, U.S. Navy, and Carol Mutter, U.S. Marine Corps, became the first women promoted to the three-star rank. Later, the Army added Claudia Kennedy to the rank in that same capacity. More recently women have served in Somalia, and Bosnia. Today, they are serving in the Middle East and around the world risking their lives to do their duty, and serve their country just like their sisters before them.
Women in the civilian world have, also, made great strides over the years. From the colonial era until today, women have worked inside and outside the home helping to create this great country. Over the years, they have made some progress in gaining recognition for their contributions. However, despite this progress, much remains the same for women as it was many years ago, and we are a long way off from achieving equity, not only in fact, but also in people’s perceptions and attitudes. We have all heard the term… gender equality. According to the dictionary, equality refers to being “identical” or the same. We know that women are not the same as men, nor would we want to be. Recently, people have started using the term “equity” which means “fairness, impartiality, and justice”. Gender equity should mean that we all have choices, and our roles are not set in stone.
So when I say equality, I mean equity in the treatment of both genders. In other words, equal opportunities, and equal pay for equal work. This is an area where equity has not yet been accomplished; women who work full-time still only make about 80% of what men make. It has not been too many years ago that this difference was considerably more, and we may have made strides in changing this, but there is still a distance to go before equity in this area is reached. One of the reasons for this is that women and men are different, and we tend to choose different roles in society. It doesn’t mean that we can’t have interchangeable roles, but most of the time, we like being who we are.
As women we can’t change the fact that we are still the ones who bring the next generation into the world, and being mothers, influences the way we see the world. The role of motherhood gives us the responsibility for future generations, and having a child can certainly change our perspective on life. As mothers, we have a strong investment in the future of our children, and in our descendants.
Many of us who have chosen to be career women, and I am sure many of you are aware that career women of this generation realize the importance of family, and many are turning to part-time work, or actually putting their careers on hold because they simply cannot justify leaving their children at home with someone else to teach the values they feel are important.
Women are entering college in increasingly larger numbers to get a degree in a profession, and… although women today are graduating in record numbers, much of the workplace, still tends to treat women like “men in skirts”. Because of this, we have more and more women starting their own businesses. Businesses run by women and staffed by women. This is true because women want to live in an equitable society. However, I believe, if women want to live in an equitable society, we need to be prepared to take on an equal amount of responsibility as do the men.
Both men and women have to be willing to assume responsibilities that may not have been their traditional roles. They must share responsibilities on the home front, as well as the work front. My own two sons will tell you that men can be as good, as or better at child-rearing than women. Perceptions of male and female roles need to change, and we who are mothers are responsible for many of these perceptions.
I find it interesting that some of my friends, and some of their daughters, believe that women can have equality, but without the responsibility that goes with it. Such as in a marriage situation, they think that what is yours is 50% mine, and what is mine, is mine. And then, there are those women who think that, because they are women, they are supposed to be supported by their men, and that it is their God-given right to act spoilt, offering little in terms of responsibility. It is in cases like these that men react negatively to women’s quest for equality, and I would agree with them. These women retard the progress of equity between the sexes. To me, gender equality means both genders should be treated with equal respect.
In order for women to gain equity with men, we have the added responsibility to make that change happen. We need to realize that we are part of a community, and we owe it to ourselves not only to do our best to be successful in our lives, but also to reach out a helping hand to those who follow in our footsteps.
And one of the most important responsibilities is mentoring other women. Women who do well in politics, in academia, in business, or in any other professions, have a responsibility to help other women by encouraging and educating them. We should give those who follow opportunities to move forward. We need to recognize that…traditionally, women have been …more involved in the life of the community than men. Women tend to do more volunteer work, in hospitals and clubs, and engage in more diverse community service activities.
This work that many women do is extremely valuable, but receives little recognition. So, for those of you who volunteer, you are to be commended for your contributions. You are carrying great responsibilities on your shoulders, because you are the backbone of our civil society, and your importance cannot be underestimated.
We are certainly fortunate… to be living in the United States. Yes, it is true, women have made a great deal of progress in recent years, and this month we have the privilege of honoring all the contributions that have enriched our culture, strengthened our Nation, and furthered our forefather’s vision for a free and just Republic.
The history of American women is an expansive story that covers all walks of life, and of individuals who sacrificed much, who worked hard in pursuit of a better world. Today’s women are furthering our forefather’s vision by working to advance freedom, increase equality, and administer justice in every corner of our world through their everyday work in homes, communities, board rooms, hospitals, courtrooms, and schoolrooms.
We, the women of America are determined to solve problems, achieve goals, and we will find no real satisfaction or happiness in life without obstacles to conquer and goals to achieve …and move forward we will. We are not only living in a changing world, we women are here to change the world and we are changing it on every level.