Men and women gathered at the Airmen and Family Readiness Center Aug. 27 to celebrate Women’s Equality Day and their right to vote. The event started with a continental breakfast and a viewing of the “Votes for Women” video, which outlines the historical fight for women’s equality.
Col. Robert Weaver, 412th Maintenance Group commander, offered opening remarks about the importance of women’s equality in the Air Force.
“Women’s equality means that somewhere, somebody thinks that men have clawed their way back up into at least a tie,” joked Weaver.
He went on to say that it is hard for him to imagine an Air Force without women because they have been some of the most influential leaders he has known. “The person I respect and admire more than anybody else on the planet is [his wife] Susan Weaver,” Said Weaver.
For Weaver, the event had two purposes, to celebrate the progress that has been made towards equal rights for women and as a “call to arms” for the work that has yet to be done.
ìI’m still hoping to serve under a female commander in chief someday,” he remarked.
The first guest speaker, retired Air Force Col. Mary Parker, has spent more than 30 years in aircraft maintenance and logistics.
“I consider myself an ordinary woman,” said Parker. “Due to the training in my Air Force career I was able to be very successful in what had traditionally been a male-oriented career field.”
She was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1980 after receiving her degree in general biology. She was sent to Edwards AFB and made the officer in charge of the support section of the 6515th Organizational Maintenance Squadron. She was responsible for 50 crew chiefs that serviced and maintained T-38 Talons and OA-37 Dragonfly trainer aircraft. Parker attributes her ability to succeed in her field to the Air Force officers, senior non-commissioned officers and civilians that taught her the mechanical and technical details of the aircraft. She is also grateful to the women who worked in her field before her who served as “trailblazers” towards equality in her field.
“The Air Force taught me how to do [my job] and I consider that a testament to women being able to do any kind of job when provided the appropriate training,” said Parker.
She went on to pursue jobs in acquisitions and logistics which even included a tour of duty as director of logistics at Yakota Air Base, Japan. She recalled her time on the flightline, where she was responsible for the launch and recovery of jets, as the “most exhilarating” in her career. She stated that because of her experience, it was a “seamless” transition from her Air Force career into her current civilian job as deputy for logistics in the F-35 Integrated Test Force at Edwards.
“If my actions are not seen as extraordinary then we are one step closer to universal acceptance of women in untraditional roles,” said Parker.
The next featured guest, Julie Swayze, works as a capital campaign fundraiser for Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy, an all-girls boarding school in the La Canada, Calif., foothills. She is also a board member for the Edwards AFB Civilian-Military support group and her husband is an engineer at Northrop Grumman.
Swayze was raised in San Francisco, Calif., by two activist parents. Her father was the first man in her family to vote and in 1980, she voted for the first time.
“Voting was important to me because it signaled to me that I was now an adult and that I had power and that I could make my own choices as to whom I wanted to be in office,” said Swayze. “Even 20 years after the passage of the Voting Rights Act [my family] did not exercise their right to vote.”
She remembers being surprised that they had not voted and learned that it was because of the “intimidation” they experienced in their small towns. But, even more shocking, was that people were continuing to ignore their right to vote today.
Swayze sought out answers to the question, “Why aren’t people voting?” She found a California survey that showed the number one reason people do not vote is that they are simply too busy. The next reason on that list was that the candidates did not appeal to the voter which Swayze attributes to the fact that the majority of voters are under the age of 30 and unmarried.
“It seems a shame to take for granted what those in the past fought so hard for,” said Swayze. “That’s why I vote every chance I get.”
She also addressed what is, in her opinion, unequal treatment towards women in various aspects of life such as the workplace. The “solution” she said, is to create a “critical mass” of representation for women in the country.
“The hope is that once women have reached the critical mass in an organization people will stop seeing them as women and start evaluating their work as managers and leaders. In short they will be regarded as equals,” said Swayze.
The final speaker that morning, Candance Clements, is a key spouse lead and the faculty and student coordinator for NASA Dryden Flight Research Center. Clements quoted 18th century British advocate for women’s rights Mary Wollstonecraft stating, “I do not wish women to have power over men, but over themselves.”
She went on to explain that the key to equality is education.
“Women are not naturally inferior to men, but have appeared to be because they lacked education,” said Clements.
She went on to explain that she subscribed to the philosophy of Wollstonecraft that “educated women will be good wives, mothers and ultimately contribute positively to our nation.”
“That doesn’t mean everyone needs a formal education,” said Clements. “But we need to be diligent in educating ourselves in the topics we’re interested in.”
Master Sgt. Eric Jackson, 412th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, who was in attendance, has two daughters age five and three. Jackson came to the event in hopes that it would help him “be a better parent.” He walked away feeling “enlightened” and hopeful for his daughters’ future.
“I want to see them have the same opportunities I’ve had and to be the best that they can be,” said Jackson. “I want to rest assured that when I’m gone, my girls are in good hands and have a career that they want, not one that was chosen for them.”
Tech. Sgt. Tiffany Hutchins, 412th Aerospace Medicine Squadron, also walked away from the event thinking about the impacts of women’s equality on her daughter.
“I’m making sure that I let [my daughter] know by all means that she can do anything,” said Hutchins. “It starts at home. If she knows from her parents that she can do anything then she won’t have a complex when she comes up against those challenges in the workforce and she can go for it anyway.”
The value of equality has not been lost on Hutchins. “As a black woman, to know that I have every opportunity because someone else fought for us, it means a lot,” said Hutchins.
The event came to a close with the reading of the presidential proclamation by 2nd Lt. Nichole Moore, Air Force Research Laboratory Detachment 7, and the presentation of a plaque and NASA’s “Flights of Discovery” book to each of the speakers.