Level the Playing Field

Women have had the right to join the military since 1917. But that was only the last two years of World War I, and women were only allowed to join as nurses and support staff. Last week NPR’s Here and Now segment reported on a story about Arlington National Cemetery burial rights.

The first women flying military aircrafts were in a group called the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). Until the Army changed their policy last year, these war veterans had full rights to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery but now, they face an uphill battle that 94-year-old former WASP Nell Stevenson Bright doesn’t quite understand.

“It’s a great honor to be buried at Arlington, and course as you know we fought for 30 years to get our veteran’s status and also had status to be buried in Arlington in 2002 it was granted. Why it was taken away? I don’t know. But I think the WASPs deserve to have that honor.”

“Why it was taken away? I don’t know. But I think the WASPs deserve to have that honor.” –Nell Stevenson Bright

Arizona Congresswoman, Martha McSally is trying to command the Army’s attention. She is pushing for them to reverse a decision prohibiting female pilots from WWII from being buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

“It is ridiculous that at the time the Pentagon talking about finally opening all positions to women, they’re closing the gates of Arlington to the pioneers who went before us to make it happen.”

“It is ridiculous that at the time the Pentagon talking about finally opening all positions to women, they’re closing the gates of Arlington to the pioneers who went before us to make it happen.” –Martha McSally

Although shocking and a frustrating, this might seem a little unrelated for those of us who weren’t WASPs. But these female aviators are just one example of the unfairness women still face today in the 21st Century.

Women still are unlikely to be chosen for a CEO position in the corporate world, we still make less than men in many jobs and they still give us a hard time for even thinking about taking maternity leave. What’s the deal?

In her book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, Sheryl Sandberg makes a point that women who feel slighted should consider. “Women need to shift from thinking “I’m not ready to do that” to thinking “I want to do that- and I’ll learn by doing it.”

Sitting still is not really an option as the WASPs clearly proved when they fought for their veteran status and earned it in 1977. Not to mention the Army’s behind-the-scenes quiet pull of the WASP’s right to be buried at Arlington. As much as we’d like to think the playing field is level, we’ve still got a long way to go and it’s the women in the workforce now who need to take a stand and get moving.

Listen to NPR’s story Women Pilots Fight For Arlington Burial Rights.

Cover Photo features 94-year-old former WASP Nell Stevenson Bright in 1994.

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