“I Am Not Invisible”: An Exhibit To Raise Awareness of Women’s Military Service Visits LB
Twenty portraits have been making their way across the country since their first showing in February 2017. In almost two years the portraits have been viewed in 50 locations, including the U.S. Capitol. The frames that these large photos sit in are well travelled and worn– speaking to the success of the exhibit.
On Nov. 14, the “I Am Not Invisible” exhibit made an appearance in the Calapooia Center. Many LBCC staff and Albany community members gathered to pay respects and learn about the sacrifice of women to our country. The exhibit is comprised of 22 photos of women veterans from around Oregon.
The exhibit was the idea of Elizabeth Estabrooks, who is the current Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs Women Veterans Coordinator, and PSU Veterans Resource Center Director Felita Sigleton. PSU has since handed full control over the exhibit to the Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs.
Estabrooks created the exhibit to combat what she sees as a lack of awareness that citizens have for women that have served.
Estabrooks recounted during her presentation in the Calapooia Center that she has disabled veteran plates, but she had never been acknowledged as a veteran until she placed a bumper sticker on her window that says “Oregon Woman Veteran.”
“Every single time somebody saw that plate, what do you think they asked me?” Estabrooks asked the audience.
After a couple of women in the audience said, “about your husband,” Estabrooks replied,” Every single time.”
Until at a gas station in Pendleton, Oregon a young man seeing her new bumper sticker popped his head in her window and said “Thank you for your service, ma’am.”
“That was the first time since 1980 that someone had just walked up and randomly said that to me, without me being at a veteran event….because I’m a woman,” said Estabrooks. “This Exhibit kind of came from that, as I started talking to women I started hearing that we’re invisible, over, and over again…invisible to parents, to friends, to society.”
Women have played a role in our nation’s military since The Revolution, but they are not often seen as veterans. Women don’t fit the mold that has been laid out by society– a veteran being a macho man.
“Too many people are too willing to not be inclusive,” said Lyn Mcguire, a community member from Albany.
With new jobs opening up for women in combat roles, there is a an immediacy to the work being done to raise awareness for women veterans. In the past women have not had the same opportunity as men to use veteran resources such as healthcare and suicide prevention.
“Women attempt [suicide] at a higher rate than men, but traditionally women use non-lethal means. Which means their completion rates have been low. Women veterans use guns, which makes for a higher completion rate,” said Estabrooks.
Estabrooks hopes to reach a wider audience with the exhibit in the future, as she looks to garner a national dialogue by having women veterans of every state on display in Washington D.C.
“We don’t join the military to be thanked, but we also don’t expect to be ignored.”
Story By Alex Gaub
At a Glance:
For more information visit: iani.oregondva.com