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In-Depth: Women still experience male hostility in male-dominated military years after women served in WWII

Women’s Airforce Service Pilots started flying in the 40s. Not recognized as military until 1977.
Military Draft Women
Posted at 5:58 PM, Mar 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-15 18:58:01-04

Gender gaps still persist in the U.S. armed forces. Culture, Gender, and Women in the Military: Implications for International Humanitarian Law Compliance, examines gender inequality in the U.S.

In 2021 women made up only 16.5 percent of overall military personnel. In 2013 women were allowed to apply for combat positions. The Department of Defense issued policies to increase women’s participation in the armed forces—its “Strategic Framework and Implementation Plan” to fulfill the equality mandates of the Women, Peace and Security Act passed by Congress in 2017.

In recent years, reports say women suffer from high rates of sexual assaults, with one in ten enlisted soldiers experiencing sexual assault in the past year.

Fort Hood had been at the center of attention when it came to sexual assault cases. U.S. Army officials unveiled a new resource and training center at Fort Hood.

Women have been fighting years for equal rights in the military

Women’s Airforce Service Pilots started flying in the 40s, they were not recognized as military until 1977. Eleanor Brown a former WASP wrote a letter to Jimmy Carter asking for the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots to be considered military. Her wish was granted years after serving.

"By 1939, there was the first organization of women pilots called the 99. And Amelia Earhart was one of those pilots," said Lisa Taylor, executive director of the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots museum in Sweetwater.

During those days many thought the women were not up to flying and couldn't handle the job.

"When WWII came, there was a shortage of male pilots. And it took a lot of convincing. But finally, Jacqueline Cochran and Nancy love convinced them that the women were up to the task," said Taylor.

Women still experience male hostility in male-dominated military years after women served in WWII

These women would make their way to Sweetwater on their own dime. They would fly planes within the U.S. so the men could fight in the war.

"One of the things that Henry Arnold, the commander of the Army Air Corps, had his doubts, he said, Well, of course, you know, they could fly smaller, lighter planes," said Taylor.

But the women said they could fly all of the planes.

"They kept knocking on those doors. And once Jacqueline Cochran convinced her Barnell to begin the program, 25,000 women applied," said Taylor.

Jacqueline Cochran paved the way for women to fly in the armed forces.

First lady Eleanor Roosevelt, well ahead of her time. She had a column and said it was time to put the women in. Jacqueline would be in charge.

"Jackie Cochran transferred all the boys out. No men were allowed except for instructors and that kind of personnel," said Taylor.

Cochran also ahead of her time had a way of getting the job done that was once meant for a man.

"She was a real rags to riches story. You know, she was born into a family that had very little as best we can tell. She had no formal education. She went maybe up through second or third grade," said Taylor.

Women would come from all over the country. But they weren't classified military. That meant they didn't have the pay, insurance, or housing.

"I heard one of the wasps was one say, you know, Jackie, might not be the woman you'd want as the next-door neighbor, but, but she was the one that could get the work done. She was the best woman to get the program completed," said Taylor.

Hazel Ying Lee was the first Chinese American woman to join the WASP (Women Air force Service Pilots) during World War II.

In the early 1900s, life in the United States, especially on the West Coast, was not easy for Chinese Americans like the Lee family in Portland, Oregon.

A leader in her training class, Lee was well-liked and known as a fast-talking, hilarious woman. She would teach the women about Chinese culture, often taking other pilots to Chinese restaurants.

"So she had a crash landing in this farmer's field. And about that time, the farmer and his family rolled up in their car. And he looks at her and he says, you know, Are you Japanese? Or are you a Chinese girl?" said Taylor.

During those days Japanese were considered 'The enemy' the farmer had some fear and thought the U.S. might have been invaded.

"She had to do some talking but she convinced him that she was an American Chinese American who was at Avenger field training and that that's where she belonged. And so he actually took her back to his home," said Taylor.

A few years later Lee was killed in a plane crash and never received a military funeral.

Breaking the Gender Gap

The report suggests that the Department of Defense should conduct a review of physical fitness requirements and occupational standards. De-emphasizing physical fitness would help address the “culture of toxic masculinity rooted in beliefs of physical superiority.”

Women pay more than men for their uniforms. A bill seeks to end 'Pink Tax' for women buying uniforms.

The bill, introduced in the fall of 2021 by Sens. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., and Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, aims to eliminate the higher costs of female uniforms compared to male uniforms.

Progress has been made in the years. Women continue to break the barriers.