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Observances

Fort McCoy celebrates 
Women's Equality Day Aug. 26

By Lou Ann M. Mittelstaedt, The Real McCoy Staff

Members of the installation community gathered at McCoy’s Aug. 26 to celebrate Women’s Equality Day and the presentation of the 2008 Excellence through Diversity Award.

Photo: Command Sgt. Maj. M. Kevin Dubois presents a command sergeants major coin to Women’s Equality Day guest speaker Mary Kay Wolf of the La Crosse YWCA. (Photo by Val Hyde)
Command Sgt. Maj. M. Kevin Dubois presents a command sergeants major coin to Women’s Equality Day guest speaker Mary Kay Wolf of the La Crosse YWCA. (Photo by Val Hyde)

Women’s Equality Day marks the anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which granted women throughout the nation the right to vote.

The Fort McCoy observance was coordinated by the U.S. Army Reserve Equal Employment Opportunity Office.

Mary Kay Wolf, who recently began her role as director of the YWCA of the Coulee Region, was the guest speaker for the event.

Wolf said the YWCA got its start in London in 1855 and in the United States in 1858. The YWCA has been offering services in the Coulee Region since 1906 — three years prior to Fort McCoy’s founding.

The YWCA’s mission is to foster community programs that strengthen society in the areas of affordable housing, social justice, teen services and activity opportunities for individuals of all ages and physical abilities.

Wolf said she has spent considerable time trying to convince people the organization exists, Wolf said.

"It is very refreshing to have someone seek us out!" she said in reference to the invitation to speak at the event. "It is actually appropriate, too, because from day one the YWCA has been about equality and eliminating racism."

Since the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920, much in America has changed. Wolf said society has evolved from the physical to the cerebral — now valuing brains over brawn — and competition is a way of life. With this as a preface, Wolf asked the audience to consider whether "equality truly can be attainable in a society that is very, very keyed on winning and losing." "I think it is attainable, but we have to approach things in different ways," she said.

In terms of equality related to economics and employment, Wolf cited two indicators that women are, in fact, gaining equality in the employment arena: 1.) Women now are dying of heart disease and stress causes at the same rate as men. 2.) In a poor economy, women are losing jobs at a rate equal to men.

"I don’t think this is what our foremothers were thinking about when they pushed for equality," she said. "And in looking at these two indicators, do we really want to be equal on this playing field? Or shouldn’t we be changing the playing field?"

As an illustration, Wolf used the story of Linda Stewart, who, years ago, while working as a senior executive at Fidelity Investments, hit the proverbial glass ceiling that blocked her advancement in the male-dominated company. Stewart changed the playing field by quitting her job and starting her own business. She has achieved great success, Wolf said, and many women followed this same path.

Prior to 1920, virtually every state had, at one time, granted women the right to vote and then later taken the right away, she said. "So when the 19th Amendment was signed, it was great, and women were equal, right? No, that’s not quite right, and, in fact, women and men are not the same. Because of that we each have our strengths." 

The playing field is beginning to change. Today’s work environment places more value than ever before on team-based networks and interpersonal skills such as conflict resolution and multi-tasking — skills which women traditionally are good at, Wolf said.

To bring further change to the playing field, Wolf said women will need to look for far-reaching social solutions — obtaining affordable health insurance and mortgages, adjusting school hours to accommodate working parents, incorporating the community and extended family — into employment and work place life.

Wolf said that while the first recommendation is to change the playing field, the second change of approach is somewhat different. "We cannot continue to look for equality and be divisive, at the same time," she said. "We should be looking at this as human rights, not women’s rights versus another faction who are also looking for their rights." 

Women did what they had to do to gain rights, and it was effective, Wolf said. "But I’m not sure it works anymore," she said. "I’m not sure we can be one group trying to find our way as much as we need to be humans and find human rights and human equality. That’s something we can all be on board with, and that’s not divisive at all."

Garrison Commander Col. David E. Chesser presented Wolf with a Department of Army certificate of appreciation and a command coin for speaking at the event.

Wolf also received a command sergeants major coin from Fort McCoy Garrison Command Sergeant Major Command Sgt. Maj. M. Kevin. Dubois.

 

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