Stepping out of the Victorian era shadows

Tennyson who wrote of women staying by the hearth with their needles whilst men wielded their swords highlighted the attitude of men toward women in the Victorian age.

A lot has changed since the Victorian era.  Or has it? Raised as a woman in the 21st century, I learned that life isn’t going to wait for you or your dreams.  At the age of 22, I entered the United States Air Force looking to do something “excited” in my life.

I took the ASVAB and passed.  Although I didn’t receive the career I wanted – pilot.  I still took the offer that Uncle Sam presented to me and ran with it.  Fifteen years later in the military, I later learned that majority of men in the military still saw a woman’s place indeed is in the home.

In the beginning of my career, I didn’t “struggle” at all in a male chivalry profession.  At least I thought I didn’t.  Not until 2007 I met two male peers who were of African-American.  They were very intelligent men belonging in the military with ease.  They became my very good friends.

These two men opened my little eyes to see what was behind the veil of the altar: women struggling to find their place in the United States military without losing their femininity.

To make a long story short, the hierarchy of women was easily seen in the ranks of the military.  There were far and few female senior leadership.  Although we women progressed in rank due to Uncle Sam’s tight regulations on promotions, “everyone,” male and female is given equal opportunity to excel in their careers.

To be considered for promotion you needed a few things.  Date in rank, training in your career field with passing scores, a passing physical fitness test of 75 percent or higher, and a promotional board interview – panel format.  This is when an airman is reaching for the rank of Staff Sergeant or higher.  The higher in rank you go, the rigorous the academic levels are and meeting certain requirements get a bit tighter.

It wasn’t until my then boss asked me if I wanted to win the Airmen of the Year Award (AOYA).  I humbly answered, “Sir, if I deserve it, I would love to go up against the men and women of my rank who are fighting for this country down range in Afghanistan, Iraq, and so forth.”

His answer back to me, “All you have to do is coordinate the officer’s spouse activities.”

What?  Did my boss just tell me I could win the Airmen of the Year Award if I just do what all women should do and “coordinate” a “society activity” for the officer’s wives?

Remember my two wise friends who opened my eyes to women in the military?  We had lunch that day and I confided in them my talk I had with my boss.  They sat in their chairs eating their meals and shaking their heads.  They both eased their thoughts over lunch and made me realize that I was just another woman trying to fit in this male dominated career.

September came around for the annual awards presentation and the winners and runner-ups were flown in from each Pacific Rim – Guam, Japan, Korea, so forth.

When they presented the AOYA, they called my name.  Shouts filled the auditorium, everyone stood up in ovation to honor the AOY – me.  I stepped up to the stage, received the award from my African-American male friend who then whispered into my ear – congratulations.  With a hug and mere nudge of acknowledgment of our lunch discussion we had months ago, the three of us knew why I was standing on that stage with an award.

It was then I knew I needed to establish myself as a women in this profession.  I made rank, trained harder physically to surpass my male counterparts and took on projects that were out of my trained career field and all the while maintaining my femininity and raising three children (at that time, I became a single parent).

Today, women are still struggling in the military to make their statement and mark without losing their femininity.  It’s no different with women in journalism.

Although women in journalism are much accepted now, in my opinion, the lingering Victorian shadows are still overcasting us as we strive to drive the stakes deeper in the roots of journalism.  Or any career field that’s male dominated.

I don’t shy away from the Victorian era woman.  In fact, I embrace that woman if she has a child.  To be home and raise her child.

I understand in today’s society, economically it’s challenging to live on one income.  I believe it can be done.  With financial discipline and commitment to stick to a budget, women can still raise their children while having a part-time career.

It’s all about priorities and commitment.  For those of us women who don’t have children, more power to you in your career endeavors!

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