NEW CUMBERLAND, Pa. –
The women’s suffrage movement began in 1848 at the Seneca Falls Convention in Seneca Falls, New York. Convened by suffragist leaders Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, the committee published a “Declaration of Sentiments.” The declaration outlined key social, civil and political demands for women, helping the cause of women’s suffrage gain national prominence. Nearly 72 years later, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was passed Aug. 26, 1920, granting women throughout the United States the right to vote.
Each year, since 1971, August 26 has been designated and celebrated in the United States as Women’s Equality Day.
Over the last century, great women like Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt, Marie Curie and Jane Goodall have proven what women are capable of achieving, from fighting for civil rights and equality to being great scientists. The last century has shown more than ever what both women and men are capable of achieving, given the opportunity.
When people think about those individuals who choose to be police officer or firefighters, images of men instantly pop into their minds. However, more now than ever, women are joining the ranks of those who make that decision to put on the uniforms of those who protect and serve.
Here within the Defense Logistics Agency Distribution network there are a multitude of women working in careers that in the past were earmarked as a “man’s career.” Officer Eliza Baker serves as a member of the Defense Distribution Susquehanna, Pennsylvania police force and Andrea Kiser is a firefighter with DLA Distribution San Joaquin, California.
Both women have served proudly in their respective fields for 17 years. Kiser began her career at a rural California fire department before joining the DLA family in 2006.
Dreams of being a firefighter began at a young age for Kiser. “I always enjoyed helping people and was involved in community service oriented clubs in school and the fire science class I took my senior year helped push me in the direction of the fire service.”
As expected, her family members were initially against her decision.
“My family had a difficult time understanding why I would choose this profession as a career. They didn’t think women should be in the fire service or that I was strong enough for such a physically demanding job,” explained Kiser. “Even without having their support I still pursued my fire service career and after graduating fire academy their doubts no longer had validity. Now, they are proud of my persistence and determination to not be held back by the doubt of others.”
Baker’s journey to public service began when she was a frustrated college student. Like many young people, dreams and visions change during those formative years after high school. She decided to join the Army. Not exactly sure where she wanted her military career to lead, she chose military police for her military occupational specialty early in the recruitment process.
Baker has been in law enforcement since 2001. She served three years as an MP before she was discharged. At that time she joined the Department of the Army Police at Ft Bliss, Texas, before coming to DLA in 2014.
According to Baker, being a female police officer is a “difficult tightrope to walk.”
“With harassment being in the public eye now more than ever, it seems there are some people who are scared that any little infraction, no matter the intent behind it, will lead to a complaint. That leads to everyone walking on eggshells and a general feeling of alienation,” said Baker. “On the other end of the spectrum there are those who don’t care and will say whatever they want without much thought on if it is appropriate or not.”
“Beyond that, there’s a vast disparity between the perceptions of women’s actions compared to men. Men are able to laugh and joke with others without any subtext as to their motivation. Women, on the other hand, can’t even smile without it being assumed they are flirting,” explained Baker. “That’s not just within departments, but also when dealing with the public. So it’s a fine balance trying to walk the line where you’re respected and treated as one of the guys without throwing all mutual respect out the window.”
Because of her position as a female police officer, Baker has had the opportunities to help women who have been victims of assaults or domestic disturbances. “Being able to be there to help them is what this is about for me.”
When asked how being a female in a male dominated field affects her, Kiser explains, “I’m here to help the community I work for. I train the same, wear the same protective gear, and respond to the same emergencies. So I don’t see myself as a female in a male dominated field. I see myself as part of a team that is in a physically and mentally demanding field that provides care, guidance, and service to the community.”
Both women offer powerful advice to young women who wish to join the police or fire departments.
“Prepare yourself physically and mentally. Firefighting is a tough profession that not everyone can do, male or female. Find a mentor that you can talk to. Be adaptive. Your work and home life won’t be the same as everyone else’s. You’ll miss birthdays, holidays and family gatherings. But it’s worth it to be part of a bigger family that helps the community. Be that helping hand on someone’s worst day,” said Kiser.
Baker would like young women to know they need to “Be strong. Be stubborn. Stand up for yourself. Know that no one else is going to help you improve; you have to put in the time and effort on your own.”
This year, August 26 marks the 98th anniversary of Women’s Equality Day. While the vast majority of women in the U.S. have been born with the automatic right to vote upon their 18th birthday, this was not always the case. Today, women’s equality has grown to mean much more than just sharing the right to the vote. Many organization’s continue to work to provide women across the globe with equal opportunities to education and employment, pushing against suppression and violence towards women and against the discrimination and stereotyping which still occur in every society.