Women in a Man’s World

Working Women

(Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

by Breanna Scott

Policemen. Firemen. Army men. One three letter word can be found in each of these words: men. Even language reinforces stereotypes and gender inequality. We’ve made significant strides to end inequality between men and women, but we still have ways to go.

Women in the 40s and 50s were thought of as housewives, people who stayed at home to watch the children, clean the house, and cook the dinner so that their husbands didn’t have to do a thing when they came home from work. After being stereotyped as housewives for years, women were allowed to obtain real jobs and attend college without being frowned upon. Yet, jobs for women were stereotyped as well; for example, women were expected to become nurses or secretaries.

Today, women are becoming police officers, firefighters, and soldiers in combat, but some people still look down upon women when they take on these roles. People think women are incapable of doing what men can do. Well, think again.

In an article from the New York Times, Tanya Domi, a former Army captain, explains how civilian women have served as test pilots since World War II by trying out aircrafts that could be flown in combat only by male aviators. Many women have died in risky, yet unofficial, missions. Women make up 14 percent of our armed forces. More than 800 women have been wounded in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and more than 150 have been killed. Are women still not tough enough? Former Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta doesn’t think so and neither does Joint Chief of Staff General Martin Dempsey nor Senator John McCain.

In an article from Fox News, Justin Fishel and The Associated Press informed us that U.S. military leaders formally lifted the ban on women serving in combat positions in Jan. 2013. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said that women have become an “integral part” of the military and have already demonstrated their willingness to fight in wars during the last decade. Though the lift of the ban will not be in effect until 2016, some people are still not for this movement.

On the opposing side, people have argued that “women’s bodies are built differently than men” and that “they couldn’t handle the front line mentally or physically.” But couldn’t we use this to our advantage though? Physically, thanks to their smaller bone structures, women could help in a mission by fitting easily into the tight spaces that men could not. Mentally, women are more nurturing than men, so they could bring a maternal, comforting side to her fellow soldiers suffering from PTSD.

Not only can women be effective in the battlefront, but they can be helpful on the home front as well, by serving as police officers and firefighters. In an article by Peter Horne, Ph.D., from Police Chief Magazine, he discussed the growth rate of women police officers. In 1971, women made up only 1.4 percent of all police officers. Today, policewomen account for more than 13 percent of police officers, and serve in all types and sizes of police agencies, in all ranks, in all kinds of work assignments, and in all parts of the country.

Though the occupation is growing, there are still fewer policewomen than policemen. Female officers still face bias from male officers, and sexual harassment still occurs in many departments. In the Village of Highland Falls Police Department in New York, there is only one full-time female officer, Officer Jennifer Brandt, according to Department Chief Kenneth Scott. When it comes to biases, female officers sometimes face gender discrimination and a so-called “brass ceiling” that inhibits promotion.

Though female officers have been outnumbered and discriminated against because of media, policewomen have put a positive spin on the portrayal of themselves in the last 15 years. The media attention has helped promote favorable attitudes toward female officers among the general public, prospective police candidates, and even police officers themselves. This can be seen in shows such as Chicago PD on NBC and Hawaii Five-0 on CBS.

Television series have not only influenced the image of female police officers, but the image of women as firefighters as well. This is shown in the NBC drama Chicago Fire, in which one of the female characters, Dawson, a former EMT, works toward becoming a firefighter. Unfortunately, Dawson failed the physical assessment. She then was at a school function where a girl approached her and asked if she was a firefighter, and she said, “not yet.”

Stefanie Valdez of Chicago, a female interviewed in an Chicago Tribune article by Rachael Levy, shared a similar situation when taking the physical assessment portion of the exam. According to Larry Langford, a spokesman for the Chicago Fire Department, statistics in the article showed that there are 115 female firefighters in the department, less than 3 percent of the total force of about 4,100. After many lawsuits, a new test has been in place for the firefighter exam in Chicago. “The test is now fair, and it’s fair for men and women,” said Dooley, another women retaking the exam. “It’s about having a fair test and a fair chance.”

Dating back to the Women’s Rights Movement and continuing today, women still fight for their equality. There have been strides, such as allowing women to fight on the frontlines of battle and gaining a better respect of female police officers and firefighters, but we still have a long way to go.