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The topic of equality has been at the center of the American culture since the nation’s creation. Although the United States has been focused on building itself as a nation where everyone can enjoy liberty, not all of its citizens have enjoyed it equally. One group of people who has been consistently subjected to inequality is women. It has been an uphill battle for women to achieve equality, even now in such a progressive day in age, we see how the standard of equality fails to accommodate them.
An overall trend of inequality still effects women in the modern workplace and even within the ranks of our nation’s armed forces.
Sojourner Truth was a freed slave and prominent advocate for equal rights for women and black Americans in the 1800s, a time in American history in which both groups suffered from a disparaging lack of equality to their white male counterparts. It was a time in which the culture of America was thriving on white male bigotry and Truth was one to address the overarching inequality in her speech entitled “Ain’t I a Woman?” given at the Women’s Convention in Akron, Ohio, in 1851 (Truth 627).
During her speech, Truth indirectly defines equality by comparing the events of her life and her own capabilities to that of a group that, at the time, were considered her social superiors: white men. She first compares her abilities to the capabilities of men by recalling her rough life by stating: “Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman” (Truth 628)?
Her recollection of how she was able to perform such vigorous tasks, that at the time were considered to be manly endeavors, clearly defines for her audience what she believes equality is.
That is equality is to be granted to those who are capable, not to those who are entitled. By her personal example she shows that women are not inherently inferior to men because of physicality and should be regarded as equals because they are capable of performing the same tasks as men. Truth’s vision of equality, especially as it pertains to women in American society, is unquestionably relevant to today.
Capability as a deciding factor for equality in the workplace seems to have been neglected, even as our country has become more progressive. It is true that women serving in all echelons of industry and commerce has become commonplace in the decades following the granting of women’s suffrage. The startling fact remains that women, no matter what professional role they fill, earn less money than males in identical roles (Hill 3). The idea that half of the population (women) is being undermined by the wholesome American society is inconvenient, and can be easily dismissed as speculation. The hard data, however is a much more concrete indicator of the current level of gender inequality in the American workplace.
The truth about gender inequality is a primary focus of the American Association of University Women, a non-profit organization that advances the equality of women. They, much like Sojourner Truth herself, seek to educate people about the ongoing subordination of women. In their recent publication The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap, the group reveals the statistics of wage separation of men versus women. According to the report, the average full time female worker earns a mere 79 percent of the average full time male worker’s salary (Hill 5). This statistic does show a trend of inequality but it does not show a clear separation of wage based on capability. From this statistic alone it can be argued that women may earn less than men because there are simply not as many qualified female workers to work the higher paying jobs. Another startling statistic from the AAUW’s report suggests otherwise. In 2014 the average women holding a bachelor’s degree earned only 75 percent of what her male counterpart did, and the average woman holding a doctoral degree earned a shocking 79 percent of what her male counterpart did. Similarly, this trend was present in the wages of women of all education levels (Hill 13). Women in America are just as educated, capable, and willing to work, so why is it that they earn so much less?
The answer, it seems, must not be rooted in logic. In a perfect, logical world women with the same capabilities and education would earn the same as men in the same position. In America, women earn the same degrees and assume the same jobs as men, but earn significantly less money for no reason than being women (Hill 8). The existence of such a trend reveals that there is still a mainstream ideal of female inequality, at least amongst those who have enough power to effect the wages of female employees. In a way, it is no different than the common belief about women during Sojourner Truth’s life. In her time, bigotry was not as inconspicuous as it is today. In her speech, Truth explained the logical fallacy that shaped many men’s opinions of women as “…women can’t have as much rights as men ’cause Christ wasn’t a woman” (628)! Although such a blunt explanation as to why women are not treated as equals in the modern American workplace is never publicly defined, it is obvious that many still see their female peers as incapable, and therefore, unequal. A belief in the inadequacy of female capability has also surfaced in a more sinister environment, within the units of our armed forces.
The capability of women in combat has become a hot topic of contention for the United States military. Historically, the military is a strict patriarchal system, allowing women to participate in support roles but not as primary combatants such as infantry soldiers. One could argue that the restriction on females in direct combat roles is entirely against Truth’s definition of equality because women have never had an opportunity to prove themselves capable. They are excluded simply because of the belief that none could meet the rigorous standards for combat readiness. The modern female soldier’s options for a career in the military are limited just because of her gender. It was not until this year that any hard evidence existed to suggest that women were not capable of meeting the demands in combat.
The United States Marine Corps has just concluded a yearlong study meant to measure the effectiveness of mixed gender units. The study took 100 female marines and 300 male marines and separated them into all-male and mixed-gender units. The individual units were tested on a series of combat specific tasks and the results showed that the all-male units performed better than the mixed gender units. The results are now being used by military officials as backing for upholding the restrictions on females in combat (Bowman). The results do not seem promising for the future of women in combat, but they are not an entirely accurate representation of the larger issue. A single study that utilizes a tiny percentage of females is not representative of all female military members. To assume that the results of a single study suggests that all women are not fit for combat is an obvious hasty generalization of women as a whole. It is my opinion that this study is an attempt to preserve the obsolete idea that women are inferior as military members. I have seen too many examples of bigotry during my Army career to think otherwise. I have also seen too many exceptions to this unfair generalization to have any belief in it.
Sojourner Truth’s definition of equality remains extremely valid in my eyes, especially in regards to women in the military. I say this because I have encountered so many women in the military who have proven that they are capable of exceling in the military, even under the most strenuous of circumstances. It is a fact that women do not serve in direct combat roles but that does not mean that women do not see combat. Traditional battle lines do not exist in our modern campaigns and because of this many women have been engaged in direct combat. Many of these brave women have received awards for their actions under fire (Migdal 1). I have had the privilege of meeting several of these individuals and even see them undergo rigorous, combat based training as cadre members of basic combat training and combat medic training, where they exceeded the standards of both basic soldiering and battlefield medicine. Women have continuously proven their capability for combat, but the patriarchal culture of the military continues to abandon the definition of equality based on capability in favor of traditional bigotry. Even after two women emerged as champions from the toughest gauntlet the Army has to offer, Ranger School, their military capability is still a topic of contention.
History was made on August 21st, 2015 when Captain Kristen Griest and 1st Lieutenant Shaye Haver became the first female graduates of Ranger school (Tan 1). Ranger school is an intense Army training course that pushes participants to the limits and requires incredible levels of physical and mental toughness and military skill. Most candidates fail the course and those who do graduate are regarded as elite soldiers and skilled warriors. Many saw Haver and Griest’s graduation as a pivotal moment in the establishment of females as equals in the military. There were individuals, such as Congressman Steve Russell (a retired Army infantry officer), who saw it as a possible mistake. Russell is now requesting to review the training records of both Haver and Griest to ensure no preferential treatment was given during their time at Ranger school (Tan 1).
Russel’s request shows a blatant disbelief in the female Ranger’s capabilities. By requesting their records he is not only questioning the integrity of one of our military’s most prestigious training schools, but also denying the capability and equality of Captain Griest, 1st Lieutenant Haver, and all women as warriors and members of the profession of arms. Such a high profile attack on arguably the most important moment in military history for women just goes to show that Truth’s definition equality is not shared by everyone.
Women are extremely important. They bring life into the world and without women humanity would cease to exist. They are far more important to our nation and our world than their ability to create life. Time has shown that even against great odds and continuous bigotry, women have prevailed as masters of the home, workplace, military, and society. Although women stand as equals to men in the eyes of the law, there remain those who cling to a belief from a bygone era that labels them as inferiors and incapable of equality. It is those individuals who are the enemy of progression and our nation’s goal of liberty. Such an enemy cannot be defeated by violence, but they can be silenced if more people invest in the true meaning of equality. That is, the meaning of equality defined by brilliant people such as Sojourner Truth.
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