As we observe the official federal holiday of Veteran's Day today, when you thank these individuals (either in person or on your Facebook page) for their service to our country, don't overlook the nearly 2 million women who played vital roles as service personnel.
While World War II was the first conflict in which women appeared in uniform in every branch of the armed services, it wasn't the first time women had been out in the battlefield. That had been going on for centuries, albeit surreptitiously.
Writer Bonnie Tsui says evidence exists that indicates women fought in the Revolutionary War. Her book She Went to the Field: Women Soldiers in the Civil War, looks at the 400 or so women who pretended to be men in order to fight in the war between the states. "Honestly, the lore is that the physical exams were not rigorous at all. If you had enough teeth in your head and could hold a musket, you were fine," she told Smithsonian Magazine in a 2011 interview. "The funny thing is, in this scenario, a lot of women didn't seem any less manly than, for example, the teenage boys who were enlisting."
What drove these women, according to Tsui, were the same motivations as males who enlisted:" [They] would range from patriotism, to supporting their respective causes, for adventure, to be able to leave home, and to earn money." Not that different from the reasons given today.
While women who fought in disguise had to bind their breasts, wear loose clothing, and keep to themselves, today's female veterans face their own set of challenges. One former Army sergeant reported that women returning from Iraq didn't get the same sort of reception men got -- no congratulations or offers to "buy you a beer" because most thought the women were the wives or girlfriends of military men.
Our default thinking is that soldiers are male.
While female soldiers are technically barred from the battle front, many have been there and been engaged in active combat. When they seek health care, there is less recognition that these women may be battling PTSD. Female vets who show up at VA facilities often screen positive for military sexual trauma (rape and/or sexual assault) and are at greater risk for homelessness. Unlike their male counterparts, many are single heads of households and homeless with kids.
It's important to recognize those who've served on Veteran's Day. But we also need to recognize the unique situations of servicewomen and develop programs that address their specific issues. When Jenny comes marching home, she needs to know that the hearty welcome awaiting her is one that celebrates and supports her service as well as the men alongside her.
- Military Women and Women Veterans in the U.S.: Facts and Figures
- When Jenny Comes Marching Home: Few Care About Female Vets
- Number of Homeless Female Veterans is Growing...and Many Have Kids
- Rape in the Military: Estimated 1 in 3 Military Women Assaulted
- Women of Color and the Military - Vets Tell Their Stories
- Rape in the Marines: One Woman's Story