MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
Women in the United States were given the right to vote on Aug. 26, 1920, when the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution was signed. The amendment was first introduced many years earlier in 1878.
The 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution tore down the last formal barrier to women’s enfranchisement in our Nation and empowered America’s women to have their voices heard. This amendment became law only after decades of work by committed trailblazers who fought to extend the right to vote to women across America.
For the women who fought for this right, voting was not the end of the journey for equality. For Master Sgt. Gloria Gray, the staff noncommissioned officer in charge with the Deployment Processing Command – East, equality goes far beyond just being able to vote.
“When I think of equality, I think of the opportunity to basically get an education, a good job and everything that males or anyone else can do,” said Gray. “(Equality) is the opportunity to do what we want to do and succeed in life, whether on a personal or professional level. When you take away that opportunity, that’s when bondage, segregation and degradation come in. We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.”
Gray added that voting is however very important and more people should exercise the right to do so.
“People fought for years to get us where we are today and you have women of all countries still suppressed,” said Gray. “They don’t have that voice, they don’t have that right. Voting is my chance to be heard and my opportunity to elect who may be the best candidate.”
Gray said that since she joined the Corps, there has been a noticeable difference in equality.
“You can see it even doing physical training, for example, I think there are still a lot of men who feel that we’re inferior,” said Gray. “(They feel) that we don’t belong and simply, we still have a long way to go. And don’t just look at us here in America, I look at women all over. Women’s equality is global.”
Gray said that Marine Corps programs like the Lioness Program and Female Engagement Teams have also shown that females play a very specific, necessary role in today’s military.
“I try not to become too complacent with where I’m at as a leader and especially as a female leader,” said Gray. “I try to humble myself and think about the ones who don’t have these rights. I try to instill the military female with the ‘self-worth’ factor. So many of us try and compete with males and fit in just to be accepted. You already went through basic training and you’ve earned that title of Marine, so just keep pushing forward.”
When Marines need guidance, whether male or female, Gray let’s her Marines know people aren’t always going to accept them for who they are.
“You don’t need to compete,” said Gray. “That’s where they go wrong. Instead, apply that knowledge and work ethic to your job. There are a lot of women out there yearning to be accepted, and it’s very noticeable. That’s where the disconnect comes into play.”
Gray added that women didn’t get where they are today without a male influence helping them along the way. Equality is a collective effort, which she addresses as often as possible with her Marines.
“Education is definitely a helping tool in equality,” said “When you educate on a personal or professional level, you still need to mentor them. ‘Reach back’ for them and bring them along with you. I take a different approach when I educate. I educate from (my heart) and then from (my mind).”
One of the Marines under Gray’s charge, Cpl. Karen Pajatorres, a separations clerk with DPC-East, said in the few years she’s been a Marine and at her current command, she’s never had to experience any discrimination.
Pajatorres added that the right to vote is great and women have the opportunity to express their political views.
“I’ve never felt discrimination, and I’ve never experienced the difference in not being able to vote,” said Pajatorres. “I feel like I have the same equal opportunities now, but if I was born back in the day, my mentality would probably be of a housewife or stay at home mom. I’m glad that somebody back then fought for our rights to be equal. As a single mother today, I can say it’s easy (to be a woman). I’m sure it would’ve been very difficult before.”
Before the amendment took effect, women had been serving our Nation in the public realm since its earliest days. Even before they gained the right to vote, America’s women were leaders of movements, academics, and reformers, and had even served in the Congress.
Sgt. Leanne Duvall, travel section chief with the DPC-East, said regardless of how important voting is, the endeavors of past female trailblazers the right to vote is useless if you don’t know what you’re voting for.
“While we have been given the right to vote, you can’t just take that lightly,” said Duvall. “You have to educate yourself on what’s going on. Of course people want the right to vote, but once you get that right you have to use it. I don’t think everyone realizes the power they have.”
Today, our Nation’s mothers, daughters, sisters and wives reap the benefits of these courageous pioneers while paving the way for generations of women to come.
This year marks the 91st anniversary of women’s equality, a right that service members – both male and female – fight for everyday. For many years to come, both men and women of all colors and creeds will continue to uphold some of America’s strongest principles: we are all equal, and that everyone deserves a chance to pursue one’s dreams.