Some centuries back, the thought of a woman training for major warfare was unthinkable. Society considered women to be inferior beings and were only left to take care of families. Never was a woman recruited into an army to fight in major battles like the first World War. They mainly served as nurses, taking care of wounded soldiers returning from combat.
Although women didn’t serve directly in the Army, they gave their sons, husbands, fathers, and brothers to the military. Some even sacrificed their lives to supply the materials needed for war.
However, things changed during the Second World War, where women got the opportunity to be part of the Army for the first time. There was an unmatched need for soldiers during this time, so to have more men on the front lines, the Army recruited women for non-fighting positions, like weather forecasters, telephone operators, and linguistics.
In the beginning, the armed forces hired women provisionally through the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WACC). But as warfare changed over time, recruiting became more cumbersome. The disproportionate benefits with men coupled with the degrading attitude in a male-dominated institution discouraged women from taking positions in the Army.
To motivate more women to join the armed forces, Congress enlisted most of them in the United States Army. In 1943, the Women’s Army Corps was created, allowing women to attain military ranks and perform duties overseas. The women corps were entitled to the same benefits and pay as their male counterparts.
Even then, the women didn’t gain a foothold in the Army, and they faced many challenges in the course of the journey.
The Bravery of Women on the Battlefield
Even though women were finally accepted into the Army, their service was often dishonored and mocked. Most of them faced sexual harassment from their male counterparts and sometimes exchanged sexual favors for military ranks. In some cases, male soldiers resented having to serve together with their female counterparts.
Despite the appalling challenges, women demonstrated unmatched bravery during the Second World War. Some of them became prisoners, while others who made it to the front line lost their lives. Those who obtained their pilot license before the recruitment were among the first females to fly the United States military aircraft through the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots.
They flew airplanes from factories to the military stations, ferried cargo, and took part in simulation bombing and targeting expeditions. The women pilots went as far as 60 million miles, relieving their male counterparts to participate in the war actively. At least 1,000 women served in the United States Air Force, out of whom 38 died during the war.
Nevertheless, since these women were regarded as civil service workers, the fallen pilots didn’t receive military tribute or appreciation for having done an exemplary job. For the first time, in 1977, the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots were granted complete military ranking. Later in 2010, during a ceremony held at the Capitol, it was awarded a Congressional Gold Medal, which is a top civilian honor. At least 200 ex-World War II pilots graced the occasion in the uniforms they wore at that time.
Working Conditions for Women During World War II
With most fathers out in the battle, it became difficult for women to strike a balance between childcare and work. Overwhelmed by feminine responsibilities, most of them didn’t make it to work daily. The situation became so severe that the American government chipped in to address the issue.
Through the Lanham Act of 1940, the government issued war-related allowances for childcare aid in areas with the most significant defense workforce. Two years later, Eleanor Roosevelt pushed for the establishment of the first childcare center funded by the government in the United States through the Community Facilities Act. She also pushed for changes such as revised working hours to allow women to pass by the grocery stores before closing.
Even so, women in the workforce didn’t receive equal treatment. The white women occupied lucrative positions at the workplace and received higher pay than their black counterparts. The black women also complained that white women mistreated them at work.
It’s worth noting that women were able to access more roles at the workplace by this time than before. However, they received less pay than their male counterparts. Most of the times, they were paid half the amount the male workers received. Worse of all, the majority of them were forced to surrender their positions to the male officers at the end of the war.
But having participated actively in the workforce during the Second World War, women got empowered to push their way back into the workforce and advocate for equal benefits years later.
The Role of Women in the Revolutionary War
Apart from assuming significant positions in the Second World War, women also played an essential role in the Revolutionary war. While most of them took up traditional roles, their centrality in the fight for America’s independence can’t go unnoticed.
While most of them served as nurses, cooks, and maids, some became secret soldiers and spies. They didn’t participate actively in the fight but alerted the soldiers on enemy movements, conveyed messages, and transported smuggled goods.
At that time, women weren’t allowed to join the armed forces, so they cut their hair and tied their breasts with bandages to disguise themselves as men. They also used male names to hide their identity. Most of them were young, unmarried, and poor, so they joined the military to fend for their families.
Nevertheless, a few brave women neither used masculine names nor changed their feminine appearance to disguise themselves as men. Instead, they armed themselves and thronged the streets, recruiting more women into the group to capture invaders. They didn’t join the military but instead fought independently.
Women in Military Today
It took centuries before the women fully accessed the military. It was only until 2013 that they were allowed to take part in direct combat. They can serve as pilots, drivers, and infantry officers.
Although they finally got a breakthrough into the Army, the gender disparities are still evident. While we currently have the highest number of female soldiers in history, they only account for a small percentage of the entire force. Over the years, the numbers have doubled, with more women joining different military forces. But even then, women’s representation remains low.
It’s even worse when it comes to top military positions. So far, there are only a few women who’ve managed to reach the four-star rank out of the group of predominantly male generals. None of the female officers are a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or have ever been nominated for top roles like secretary of defense.
Apart from having a small share in the military, women are subjected to similar challenges they faced when they first joined the armed forces. Most of them continue to suffer sexual harassment from male soldiers.
A report revealed that female officers are at a higher risk of being raped than civilians. While they should report to their commander in case of an assault, only a few instances get through. Some female soldiers say the process of reporting inflicts more pain than the crime itself. In most cases, little is done, and you can also be dismissed.
Knowing that the commanders may not pay attention to the case, most women officers opt to remain silent after the incident. Instead, they’ve devised ways of protecting themselves from assaults. To minimize violence exposure during military operations, women soldiers wear clothes that mask their femininity.
The Future of Women in Military
After a long struggle, all combat positions are now open to female soldiers, which means a lot to the female race. In a world where gender disparity is the norm, it’s promising to see more women join the armed forces. People who were once considered inferior can take up the front lines and fight in significant battles.
Although female soldiers still account for a small fraction of the defense forces, the numbers are expected to soar higher in the coming years. Almost every year, the number of women joining Service Academies grows, and it only means we will have more female soldiers in the coming years.
The future is bright for women in the military, as they continue to prove to the world that they’re strong enough to survive dangerous combats. We look forward to women occupying those top positions dominated by their male counterparts. Even as the quest for equality in the military landscape continues, female soldiers should expect strong resistance. But it’s been a journey full of bumps, and they’re not going to give up. They’ve got every reason to keep fighting after achieving significant milestones over the years.