By Patricia O’Gorman, Ph.D.

Author of

The Resilient Woman:  Mastering the 7 Steps to Personal Power
(Publication date 3.5.13) 

 

As women we know that within us is a warrior.  We may joke about being tiger moms but that’s not far from the truth.  And part of our power comes from our being attuned to our own inner opinions, inner voices, if you will.  This has allowed us to know when we feel something is right, or should be right, and when it is not. Translating that into action isn’t always as easy, but with using our strengths individually, and as a group we have accomplished many things such as when our great-grandmothers fought for the vote, and obtained this right.  We have achieved this again in the military by being recognized for what we are already doing, serving in combat.

Here women have been advocating to be recognized for what they have already been doing – serving in combat.   As of 1-24-13 women are able to “officially” serve in the front line, something we’ve been doing, without this being recognized, officially.  And guess what, being able to “officially” be in combat puts women in line for promotions that were previously not open to them. Interestingly this action opens up an additional 7.3 percent of positions in the military for women to advance, as combat experience is a big plus for promotion. Read: the possibility of more equal pay.  Now women will have the same opportunities for advancement as their male peers. As they will be able to list “combat” experience just as their male counterparts are able to do, a key requisite for advancement (2).

But there is more to this “official acknowledgment” than just the career and financial implications, doing this, changes the culture of the military, for the better.  Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Dempsey, saw the similarities between women and men in the military: we all take the same oath, we all where the same uniform.  And in this one action he also sees the possibility of a reduction in sexual assaults in the military. How does he connect the two?  He understands the implicit message sent to our military personnel when you have one part of the population that is designated as ‘warriors’ and one part that is designated as something else, that disparity begins to establish a psychology that — in some cases — led to that environment. I have to believe the more we treat people equally, the more likely they are to treat each other equally. (1)

In this he is utilizing what research has found, that people tend to form impressions of others based upon how respected they are within their group.  So it stands to reason that if you are in a “warrior” group where others (women) are seen as “non-warriors,” then you have set up a situation where there are two classes.  And this was the case in the military where women were seen as “less than” than their male counterparts.

Circumstances in which one group has more importance than other, sets the stage for the group in “higher position” to potentially take advantage of the group in the “lesser” position by asserting their power.  One disgusting way that this played out in the military is through sexual assaults on women, which we know have nothing to do with sex, and are all about power and dominance. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has acknowledged sexual assault is vastly under-counted in official records (2).  But the numbers we do have are mind-boggling; approximately one in three military women have been sexually assaulted, about 33.3%, double the rate of those in civilian life (1), an outrageous number!

What to do?

Women have fought for equal status and we will continue to do so. Yes, when we give ourselves the gift of own power, when we listen and take to heart what our inner voice, the voice of our own personal hard-fought battles, our resilience, tells us, we too can achieve incredible things.   In giving themselves a voice, in pushing for their rights, women in the military are creating a safer environment for themselves to not only do their job, but also to thrive. Now that’s a lesson we can all learn from.   For more inspiration, listen to Alicia Keys’ ode to giving ourselves a voice and relishing in our personal power –

(1)  http://thinkprogress.org/security/2013/01/24/1492731/dempsey-women-combat-reduce-sexual-assault/?mobile=nc

(2)  http://thinkprogress.org/alyssa/2012/11/13/1180731/why-we-should-hear-more-about-brig-gen-jeffrey-sinclair-and-less-about-paula-broadwell/