Women: Missing in Action from the 4th of July Speech

By Carol Graham

Carol Graham gives an honest critique of the President’s 4th of July speech and how women, particularly women in the military and Native Women, were excluded.

All credit to Trump’s speech writers who, for the 4th of July address, frankly managed to exceed my rock bottom expectations.  Trump concentrated on America rather than on himself and the speech writers even managed to squirrel in mention of African Americans. The speech also thanked ‘men and women’ in both law enforcement and the military.

However, the bulk of the speech neglected opportunities to pay tribute to women and men on an equal basis.  Trump mentioned by name only 8 women.  A loose count shows specific mention of 27 men, not including mentions of groups who were all male such as the astronauts of Apollo 11. Do these men deserve recognition? Yes. Could they have included women who also deserved recognition?Absolutely. And the American public (and president) would have been better educated about our country for it.

Here is how. Two of the eight women Trump mentioned were the First Lady and the wife of the Vice President. When he mentioned President John Adams, he could easily have discussed the contribution of Abigail Adams who served as both Second and First Lady. Abigail Adams was highly educated and a staunch advocate for women’s education. She took over running the family farm during her husband’s long absences in congress so successfully that the income provided their pension after John Adams retired from public office. This is not an irrelevant reference. US foreign policy promotes education as integral to any country’s success, as it has been for our own. Education is an ongoing topic of national interest and debate.  And for a president whose lauds the business acumen of his daughter, including Abigail Adams could have been a natural choice.

 I was also struck by the very ’60s feel of the speech as the only ethnic minorities mentioned were African Americans. In the ‘60s, the neglect of a range of ethnic minorities in political and cultural discourse was pretty common, even among black Americans. We must demand more from our president now. A particularly glaring absence in the speech (and often from US discourse in general) was any mention of the military contributions of Native American women. Considering Trump’s commitment to the misrepresentation of Native American women, and the presence of those tanks out there in the parade, I will now take the liberty of educating him and his speech writers on the existence and importance of these unsung heroines.

Native American women have served with the US military from the Revolutionary War onwards. Indeed, the war service of Native Americans was instrumental in the decision to pass the Indian Citizen act which made all Native Americans US citizens. In 2010, Army Veteran Mitchelene Big Man founded the Native American Women Warriors (NAWW).  The mission of the NAWW is to promote recognition for all women veterans, especially Native American women. 

Most Americans probably do not know that nearly 800 Native American women served in the US military during World War II including Private Minnie Spotted-Wolf (Blackfoot), who was the first Native American woman to join the Marine Corps.  Shirley M. Arviso (Navajo: Bitter Water Clan) supervised a communications decryption team during the Korean War.  Over 42,000 Native American women and men were the Vietnam War. The vast majority were volunteers.  Lori Ann Piestewa (Hopi), a member of the US Army 507th maintenance was ambushed in Iraq in 2003 with her unit and died of her injuries.  Around the time of her death, Arizonans had decided to change the name of a mountain known as ‘Squaw Peak. It became Piestewa Peak in her honor.

Even as the current president has expanded the DOD budget, he promotes a restricted idea of who is in our military. The transgender military ban and the suspension of fast-tracked citizenship for immigrant service people about to deploy, in the context of this speech, deliberately downplay the military contribution of ethnic minorities, women, and gender variant individuals largely by simply not mentioning them.      

Towards the end, Trump states: “Americans always take care of each other.  That love and unity held together the first pilgrims, it forged communities on the Great Plains, it inspired Clara Barton to found the Red Cross, and it keeps our nation thriving today.”

This is the only part of the speech that mentions the word ‘communities.’  As a country we have not taken care of our Native American communities and have often failed to care for people across communities. This needs to change, and a first, easy step is recognition. It is only one part of the injustices Native American women face, but recognizing the contributions and amplifying the voices of their and all marginalized communities is a form of everyday resistance we can all do, when talking politics with friends or colleagues, or when calling out our President.

Lorraine Hansberry wrote in her play A Raisin in the Sun, “When you start measuring somebody, measure him right”. My advice to the White House for the next 4th of July is when you measure Americans, measure us right.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: