On the Basis of Sex

on_the_basis_of_sex

Courtesy of Focus Features

A couple of years ago at a dinner, I had the honor of meeting a well-dressed elderly woman while sipping a martini (both of us!). I learned that she was one of the 1,000 or so female pilots in WW2 who became known as WASPs (Women Airforce Service Pilots).

onthebasisof sex1

Fifinella, the official Mascot of the WASPs

The WASPs weren’t the Army’s idea, but the idea of famed aviatrix Jackie Cochran, who, with so many men going off to war, suggested the idea of women ferrying new planes to bases to Eleanor Roosevelt. Eleanor made it happen, but the WASPs were not really taken seriously by the Army Air Force.

They were issued used mechanic’s overalls that the women called Zoot Suits, men’s sizes only, 44 and up. Of course these were too big for most women. But the women actually turned lemons into lemonade, making them look fashionable (with the sleeves rolled up).

They were not even integrated into the military, but seen as a civilian auxiliary.

Nevertheless, they did a vital job and some of them died in the service of their country. If you fly into LAX – Los Angeles International Airport –  during WW2 it was known as Mines Field, and North American Aviation made P-51 Mustangs there.

If you are on approach or departure at LAX today while flying over Santa Monica Bay, you are most likely passing the grave of Gertrude “Tommy” Tompkins, whose P-51 was to go across the country but thought to have crashed into the bay shortly after takeoff.

The WASPs flew over 60 million miles delivering planes.

Barbara was telling me that she flew mainly B-25s.

They were virtually forgotten with time until, the story as I remember it, President Carter in the 1970s was lauding one of the first female Air Force pilots, and was reminded that “no, she wasn’t the first!“.

In 1977, for their World War II service, the members were finally granted veteran status, and in 2009 awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.

When I was in the Army in the early 1970s, other than the nurses, the Army had the WACs, for “Women’s Army Corps“. They existed from 1943 until 1978, when they were disbanded and women integrated with regular Army units.

The Navy had the WAVES. They were Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service.

I was thinking today how, in the interval of 10 years or less, the culture of the military Lex knew was different even from what I knew. And women are even more integrated today than from Lex’s time.

Anyway, after this long wind-up, I mention all this because of a movie I saw today and the ground-breaking efforts of one woman, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. And this started with a simple tax case, Moritz v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue and a dispute over $326.80. Moritz had been looking after his elderly mother, and had claimed a small deduction.

It was the first gender discrimination suit, and it invoked not a female, but a male, a  63-year-old bachelor. You wouldn’t think that a movie that profiles a simple tax case could be so interesting, but it was a beginning of a cultural shift. And all laws that differentiated between men and women would change.

Due to the huge sum involved </sarcasm>, Mr Moritz represented himself at trial, and against all advice to it being a “hopeless case”, Ginsburg took the case to the 10th US Court of Appeals on a pro-bono condition. In this case, it really wasn’t about the money, but the principle.

The law stated that the deduction could be taken by a taxpayer who is a woman or widower, or is a husband whose wife is incapacitated or is institutionalized. 

I was a young child during the 1950s, but I can remember how differently women were treated from men. The movie starts with her admission to Harvard Law School in 1956, and as with the WASPs the condescending treatment these 8 women received.

How we have changed. While we can discuss if women can be Navy SEALs without lowering the standards, I believe in most cases these changes have been for the good. Lex even saw this in a couple of humorous posts over 10  years ago.

And in these political polarizing and contentious times, let it be remembered that Ginsburg was confirmed by the Senate as a Supreme Court Justice on June 22, 1993 by a vote of 96-3.

I believe Ruth Bader Ginsburg is an extraordinary woman.

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Filed under Navy, Politics and Culture

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