During the Revolutionary War women acted as nurses, water bearers, cooks, laundresses and even saboteurs , but were banned from actual combat positions. During the Civil War, women who desired to be in combat had to disguise themselves as men and convince everyone they came in contact with that they were indeed men, just like Mulan did in the Disney movie, Mulan.
Women didn't have an actual voice to fight for military equal rights until the 1940s when the United States considered fully integrating women, blacks and other ethnic minorities. This debate yielded interracial military structures, but did not provide enough opportunity for women and only yielded a couple non-combat positions.
Although women still weren't treated as equals, it was a good start to the long journey ahead. In 2013 the U.S. Defense Secretary, Leon Panetta, announced that the 1994 rule, that banned women from front-line combat positions, was lifted.
This gave women a chance to serve the nation in a combat role. This change over 200,000 active military women's careers. Women were now allowed to compete for combat jobs in the Navy SEALS and Delta Force among other special units.
Lifting the 1994 ban was a great step forward, but women were still not seen as equals. When deployed women were labeled as "attachments" to units instead of "assigned personnel" which caused them to receive inadequate credit for their combat experiences.
The physical testing and training requirements was one major aspect of the ban being lifted because women's bodies operate much differently than men’s bodies. People felt that the physical tests should be adjusted for women. The military refuses, to this day, to change any physical requirements. General Dempsey stated, "I think we all believe that there are women out there who can meet these standards."
Indeed there are women who can meet this current standards, but at what cost?
This standard has caused some women who participate in active combat roles to come out the other end with spinal injuries, infertility issues, as well as many other injuries. Some of these women have filed lawsuits in hopes that the military will change its physical requirements to allow a fair chance for women.
Although women are still not completely treated as equals in the military, the strive to make a fair, equal opportunity military is better than ever before. The journey still has many miles ahead, but one day women and men will, be able to obtain the same positions, be fully recognized for their service experiences and much more.
To help support equal rights for women in the military please visit the American Civil Liberties Union.
Women and men have been working side-by-side in the military since the Revolutionary War in 1783, but roles and recognition have never been equal between the sexes.