In 1968, a woman by the name of Shirley Chisholm became the first African-American female to serve in the U.S. Congress. And a few years later, Chisholm broke ground again when she ran for President. Fast forward to the 2012 election, and women made historic gains in the Senate – they now hold 20 seats. But is that enough to say we made true change and progress? This past week, four female war vets filed suit against the Defense Department because of the military’s policy barring women from ground combat. And who can forget the latest shocking attacks against UN Ambassador Susan Rice (pictured below). The vile criticism she has received is not only unwarranted, but it is clearly full of sexist and racist language. Looks like we still need to break a hell of a lot more cracks in that glass ceiling.
While trying to demonize Ambassador Rice, her critics have failed to recognize this leader’s tremendous accomplishments. Even back in high school, she was class president, valedictorian, and a great athlete. Rice went on to attend school at Stanford, where she graduated as a Truman Scholar and junior Phi Beta Kappa, and Ambassador Rice was also a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford.
Those early achievements and her stellar career afterward speak volumes as to what barriers she broke through both personally and professionally. Instead of painting an accurate picture of her, those criticizing her want to continually insult a Black woman serving in an esteemed position within the Administration.
It is truly tragic to hear and read these continual attacks.
When it comes to the U.S. military, women make up more than 14 percent, but the current policy against official ground combat engagement excludes them from at least 238,000 positions according to the American Civil Liberties Union. It is again insulting to suggest that women cannot handle military combat, but it is also an outright lie because they are already doing it in many ways – they just haven’t been getting the recognition.
Maj. Mary Jennings Hegar is one of the individuals involved in this suit against the military. When she was serving in Afghanistan, at one point her rescue helicopter was shot down and she was forced to engage in combat. She suffered injuries (including from shrapnel wounds), but was successful. Despite that kind of bravery, not only is Maj. Hegar still excluded from “officially” participating in ground combat, but she’s also prevented from seeking certain combat leadership positions.
Many females in the army routinely fight in combat situations because of the nature of war and because of real things that are happening on the ground. So while they’re literally fighting for their country, their country doesn’t recognize their sacrifice. They miss out on opportunities to move up in the military or other sorts of promotions that are open to men in combat. While serving in heroic ways that many of us can’t even imagine, it is reprehensible that they are not appropriately recognized, rewarded, or promoted.
If their literal blood, sweat, and tears can be shed to protect us, then their courage, valor, and leadership must be acknowledged.
Back in the ’60s and ’70s, women like the great Shirley Chisholm blazed a trail for females of all races. Today, folks like Ambassador Rice, the women leading this lawsuit against the military, and those who fight every day in battle on all levels are paving the way for the rest of us. We have made extraordinary gains throughout the years, but let’s keep on pushing forward; the challenges aren’t over.