Antwanisha Williamson, a CalVet Trailblazer Award recipient in October 2021, spent 18 years in the Navy, and was deployed immediately to the Middle East after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. It was one of her four overseas deployments during her Navy career that included tours of duty aboard the carrier USS Carl Vinson.
Likewise, her service on the Carl Vinson could just as easily merit featuring her in a story for a Women’s History Month piece in March, with Women’s Military History Week scheduled for March 14-20. Williamson was among the first group of women to call the nuclear-powered ship their permanent duty station, and therefore ship’s company.
But, as Williamson will tell you, her past will be matched and perhaps defined by her future and the impact she can have on the futures of women in the military.
With degrees from Stanford and the University of Phoenix already in hand – and a published author of a book on mental health – Williamson is now working toward her doctorate in education at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, the city where she grew up.
Her dissertation is a work in progress that involves a military feminism theory aimed at helping women thrive in the armed forces and impact change in a male-dominated culture.
Her dissertation indeed delves into the male-dominated military structure.
“Since its inception, the U.S. military has been primarily composed of men,” she wrote. “… This patriarchal system of government has historically given white men power and privilege to hold positions and make decisions that largely exclude women.”
That, she said, involves “Digging deeper into working in spaces where the power dynamics are more prevalent and specific to a male-dominant culture, posed additional thoughts to how would one create brave spaces for women to work, live, and breathe in those spaces all while remaining true to their most authentic self?”
She said it requires considering the “constraints associated with those who try to operate within a system that wasn’t necessarily designed for them,” she wrote. “Theorizing what it is like to be a woman in the military would help create deeper meaning and shed light to the critical issues servicewomen experience.”
Having served 18 years in that precise environment makes her an expert on that front.
Certainly, Williamson is not the first to address the topic. Another CalVet Trailblazer Award recipient, Elizabeth L. Hillman – President of Mills College – is an expert on sexual harassment, assault, and discrimination in the military and served on a 2013 panel probing sexual assault in the military. She heard testimony from some generals that left her disgusted.
“I struggled with the dismissiveness I saw in some of them,” Hillman said in a 2019 CalVet Connect story. “They were going to protect their military autocracy.”
The murder of Army soldier Vanessa Guillen in 2020 focused a laser beam of attention on the military and its culture. Her death ultimately led President Biden to sign in January an executive order making sexual harassment its own unique crime under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. That it hadn’t been a crime until then underscores the need for people like Williamson and Hillman to continue to promote and improve women’s rights, status, equality, safety, and respect in the military.
Williamson said women of color face their own dynamic in the military.
“I believe is it one of the many complexities within,” she said. “How black women are viewed in society.”
Many, she said, are like her: super patriotic, proud to serve, contribute to their country, and must be able to do so. Thus, Williamson is so confident in her work so far that once she completes it, she plans to submit it to the Department of Defense as a prescription for what ails them.
“I would love to get this into the right hands at the Pentagon to help assist lawmakers in creating a more inclusive space of belonging for women,” she said.
She’s got her eyes on a prize she hopes will arrive in the not-so-distant future: equality, a safe working environment, and greater opportunities for women in the military.