“I got a girl in the war man, I wonder what it is we done…” Singer-songwriter Josh Ritter’s lyrics pierce my heart. How far we’ve come and yet how far we have not come. Women were fighting for equality in the workforce when my generation was cannon fodder-age. Now women are fighting alongside their brethren in Iraq and Afghanistan.
From the 60’s through the 80’s, women banged on doors and bumped their heads on ceilings to prove that we are capable of achieving anything a man can achieve. Fortified by civil rights legislation of 1964, women thrust themselves into work environments that were traditionally male domains. The US government led the new paradigm of equal opportunity employment. During the 60’s and 70’s over a third of the government’s work force consisted of uniformed armed services, thus the armed services became a litmus test for equal opportunity employment.
American women have always supported the military, but until the civil rights act, they stayed mostly in support duties behind the lines. During nearly 20 years of conflict, seven women died on the fields of Vietnam. In 1976, women were finally allowed to enter military service academies, thereby gaining access to the higher paid officer’s ranks.
Yea, baby, we’ve come a long way. Fourteen years later, nearly 41,000 women served in the Persian Gulf theater. During that six-month conflict, 13 women were killed and two were taken as prisoners-of-war. Ten percent of the forces serving in our current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are women. Death and injury statistics are available, but deeply buried in layers and layers of obfuscation.
Looking around the workforce today, I smile and recognize that women have made giant strides. The glass ceiling still exists, but the ceiling is higher than it was and it no longer blankets the entire workforce. However, we’ve all paid an enormous price for equality. Choice got lost as our economy absorbed all that nubile energy. Today, women —mothers— aren’t just welcome to work outside the home, it is expected of them and in most cases it is necessary to provide the family lifestyle we’ve come to expect. Now, mothers are super women who juggle the SUV, the smart phone, the play dates, power lunches, grocery carts, and after school activities alongside 40 – 50 hour work weeks.
Lt. Dawn Halfaker
Tim Dillon, USA Today