Amplify Women Veterans
by Cynthia Cline, A Faithful Step
Week after week I scroll across posts on social media of military women venting about being misidentified as a military spouse rather than a service member or veteran. This may seem like an innocent mistake, but when it happens to a woman while she’s wearing the uniform…. well, that is simply infuriating (and a true story from a fellow female servicemember).
It’s 2021 and the general public still doesn’t understand that women can and do serve in the military in more than traditional roles. This is one reason it’s important to amplify women in the military and female veterans.
“Telling our stories is not an end in itself, but an attempt to release ourselves from them, to evolve and grow beyond them. We tell our stories to transform ourselves, to learn about our history and tell our experiences to transcend them, to use our stories to make a difference in our world, to broaden our perspective to see further than normal, to act beyond a story that may have imprisoned or enslaved us, to live more of our spiritual and earthly potential.” – Rachael Freed
Amplify Women Veterans
How can we change the perception of women in the military? We change it by amplifying the stories of women who have served, past and present, along with vocalizing our own stories. Our goal is twofold: to change the perception of women service members to ensure it is no longer a surprise to see a military woman serving in non-traditional roles and to empower and equip the women who will follow us by sharing our stories.
By sharing our stories, we begin a transformation. Not only within ourselves but among the future generations of women to follow our footsteps. The VA predicts that, by 2045, the female veteran population will almost double, to approximately 18%. This means that although more women are volunteering to serve our country, we are separating at faster rates than our male counterparts. And, despite the growing numbers, society still doesn’t understand nor effectively support women who have served. As we put away our uniforms, we put away so much more. We put away a piece of ourselves that no one acknowledges or notices.
When a neighbor looks at us, they won’t see us as a veteran.
When we partake in Veterans Day meals, the servers will dismiss us as military spouses instead. And when we ask about a military discount, we are told that discounts are for veterans or active-duty members only. The voice inside of us wants to shout that we are American Veterans! That we have served in combat. That we have sacrificed for our nation. But after a while, that fire within us begins to dwindle.
Instead, we question the validity of our service. If society doesn’t see me as a veteran, am I a veteran? Is it even worth the fight? Then, we come across someone who has also experienced what we have. Whether it’s an article, a podcast, or news segment, or a random stranger at the grocery store, comfort overwhelms us as we feel less alone in this gigantic world. We may represent a small number in society, but our contributions and service to our nation are not small, and we are not alone.
“Friendship arises out of mere Companionship when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden). The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, “What? You too? I thought I was the only one.” – C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
The life of a female warrior is not “normal”. It does not fit into a stereotypical box. Regardless of what profession we chose outside of the military, our experiences shape who we are, what we think, and how we behave. Because of this, our service, regardless of all the amazing opportunities and experiences it has provided, still creates unique challenges. Challenges that only those who have lived it can understand.
Leaving the Military is Harder for Women
A Military Time’s article published in 2019 stated that although women and men share many of the same challenges, cultural stereotypes and gender pay gap compounds the challenges for female vets.
On top of the typical challenges, female veterans experience a lack of community of fellow female veterans. With women making up 10% of the veteran population, it’s no surprise it’s difficult to find other women Veterans. Thankfully, social media has made it easier to find support, but virtual communities can only go so far.
Next, society commonly fails to recognize us as Veterans. From being mistaken as a military spouse while wearing the uniform to being told we are too pretty to serve in the military, to being ignored because we didn’t “really” serve in the military. Society struggles to accept that a woman’s service can go beyond the historical role of nurse or secretary and on to the front lines of battle.
Although women in the military leave at a higher rate than men, we still fear separation and/or retirement, perhaps because we anticipate the significant and unique challenges we will face. One study that surveyed women veterans discovered that only 37% of women vets felt “recognized, respected and valued as veterans in civilian life”. That means that 63% of women veterans felt unseen, unheard, without value.
In 2007, a 16-year-old came across a newspaper article covering a 19-year-old female Army medic who ran through insurgent gunfire to save the lives of her fellow soldiers. She would become the first woman who served in Afghanistan and only the second woman since World War II to receive the Silver Star (the nation’s third-highest medal for valor).
Her name is Army Spc. Monica Lin Brown and she inspired 16-year-old me to dream bigger than I ever had before. I clipped the newspaper article and put it away for safekeeping. Reading her story showed me how much potential women had. How much potential I had.
Stories matter. Our stories matter. Your story matters.
Not only can our stories inspire and equip our sisters, but they also provide many positive healing benefits for ourselves. Psychology Today exclaims that storytelling has a significant impact on our psychological and physical health.
Stories can strengthen our resilience when we recognize that others can learn from what we have to say. We discover our voice and our values through storytelling, and we can also find peace and hope
Words are powerful, whether written or spoken and can transform the lives of so many of us. If you’re a woman in the military or a veteran, never stop telling your story. The world needs it. Our sisters need it. You need it, so never stop.
Cynthia Cline is a veteran of the U.S. Military, a Military Spouse, and a momma to two. She has a passion for books, coffee, and Jesus, and a desire to share her story to encourage women. You can read more from her on her blog, A Faithful Step, where she encourages and equips women in the area of Motherhood, Relationships, Military life, and Christian Spirituality. You can also connect with Cynthia on Facebook or Instagram.