Women Can Lead in Times of Conflict — Elected Officials Like Senator Duckworth Prove It!
By Elizabeth Triece
This post is not an endorsement of any political candidates or parties.
In 1917, only a handful of states allowed women to vote, but it was also the year the first woman was elected to the United States House of Representatives. Jeannette Rankin of Montana was a women’s rights advocate. Shortly after assuming office, Congresswoman Rankin introduced legislation that would become the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, granting women in all states the right to vote. It was not ratified until 1920, three years after she first won her seat in the House of Representatives, but that major move towards suffrage still wasn’t fully inclusive. Native American women didn’t gain the right to vote until 1924; all women in Puerto Rico gained it in 1935; Asian American women gained suffrage in 1952; and Black women gained it with the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965.
With those strides in suffrage came increased women’s political representation. The United States had its first elected female Senator, Hattie Caraway, in 1932. Margaret Chase Smith became the first woman elected to both chambers of Congress in 1948. Patsy Takemoto Mink became the first Asian American Congresswoman in 1965, and just three years later in 1968 Shirley Chisholm was elected as the first African American Congresswoman. Mary Rose Oakar became the first Arab American Congresswoman in 1976. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen became the first Latina elected to Congress in 1989. We’ve made tremendous progress since Rankin first entered Congress: last year, American voters elected this country’s first female Vice President, Kamala Harris.
All their groundbreaking victories opened doors for the 393 women that have followed in their footsteps and served as Members of Congress. It was their ambition and forward thinking that opened the doors to institutions that previously had been — and still are — mostly populated by their male counterparts.
As our country moves forward into the 21st century and we celebrate and encourage diversity in all aspects of life, one historical myth still lingers in our society about women who seek elected office, particularly at the federal level. Some may not question women’s qualifications for public office, but rather they question a woman’s fortitude to make difficult decisions, particularly the ones that may cost American lives. Some may ask, can women lead our country in times of conflict or war?
Tammy Duckworth is a United States Senator who has served the people of Illinois since 2017. She is a wife, mother, former Assistant Secretary of Veterans Affairs and a double amputee. As a result of her valiant service in Iraq, as a Blackhawk helicopter pilot for the Army National Guard, she was the first woman to become a double amputee because of injuries suffered from the war. She was awarded the Purple Heart for her service.
Senator Duckworth’s courage, character and service to our country are proof this stereotype is just that — a stereotype. It is grounded in the long-standing belief held by some that only men can lead in times of conflict. Hollywood has assisted in the perpetuation of this stereotype with a long history of making movies and television shows depicting men as our leaders in times of war. These forms of visual entertainment have influenced generations as they form opinions about who is fit to lead our country, particularly in times of conflict. Can you think of a movie, old or new, with a woman leading American troops?
This leads to bias against female candidates for elected positions at the federal level, especially as we move closer to the real possibility of a woman being elected President and serving as the Commander-In-Chief of our armed forces. Will she have the courage to make the difficult decisions?
Senator Duckworth’s record answers that question with a resounding yes: women can be gallant leaders with the fortitude to stand strong and guide our country through difficult times. She has led and paid a tremendous personal price for her service. She was one of the first modern day American women to step forward and fight alongside men. Her injuries occurred in 2004, but it wasn’t until 2013 that women were officially granted the right to serve in combat. Senator Duckworth is in good company, however: other women politicians have also served on the battlefield, such as Senator Joni Ernst and Senator Martha McSally.
They are living examples of the best this country has to offer and their contributions are helping break down the myths about a woman’s ability to lead during difficult times. As for Senator Duckworth, even if she does not become the first female President, she will certainly be viewed as a trailblazer who helped forge the path for a woman to be elected to the highest office in our country.
Elizabeth Triece is a former Running Start Congressional Fellow. Originally from Long Island, NY, she earned an undergraduate degree in Management and Business Systems and Analytics from Stetson University in May of 2019. While a White House intern, she was assigned to the Office of the First Lady, where she assisted the staff with drafting social media content. Her duties also included working with Senators, Members of Congress, Cabinet Appointees, other VIPs, and the public with regards to White House functions. She has also interned within the Office of the United States Trade Representative (Office of Public and Media Affairs), NASA (Office of Communications) and the U.S. Department of State. During her free time, she enjoys spending time with her friends and family, catching up on the latest movies and spending time outdoors.