Years ago I was working with my church youth group and we played a game called “If You Really Knew Me.” In this game, students and leaders would tell a story about themselves that revealed things people wouldn’t automatically assume about them. Every time I am asked what I do for a living I feel as though I am in the middle of that game again.
You see, I am an active duty Sailor.
Yes. You read that right. This prissy girl made it through bootcamp, survived A-School in the middle of nowhere, deployed for 9 months on an aircraft carrier, took Marine Corps Martial Arts courses and earned two belts, advanced twice in two years, earned a warfare pin in under six months, and is now a shop supervisor. But you’d never know it looking at me.
A couple weeks ago, I went to Harris Teeter and as I was pulling into the parking lot I noticed a sign for parking that was specifically for military. It was open. It was a nice spot. It would have been wonderful since I was also coming off a foot surgery to park close. Yet when it came down to it, I wouldn’t park there. All I could think of was an article I read a few months ago. A female Air Force veteran parked in a veteran specific spot and when she came out to her car there was an ugly note telling her it was not her place to park in that spot. It was for veterans only and the author automatically assumed that a female couldn’t possibly be a veteran.
That right there is part of the problem. It is 2015 and the military is no longer a boys only club. The demographic of those defending our freedom is changing and yet the public still can’t always wrap their head around the idea that women are just as capable as men.
Recently two females completed the Army Ranger course. These two women are the first women to do that. Yet instead of applauding them for going above and beyond, people are saying how the Army must have changed the standards in order to let them pass. People who have never worn a uniform were criticizing them for even trying, saying that women have no place in combat because of their emotions, their menstrual cycle, their ability to get pregnant and the fact that men might be upset by seeing a women get hurt in the line of fire.
Instead of applauding them for going above and beyond, people are saying how the Army must have changed the standards in order to let them pass.
On top of this amazing achievement, Admiral Greenert just announced that women will soon be allowed to join the Navy’s exclusive boys club.
"Why shouldn't anybody who can meet these [standards] be accepted? And the answer is, there is no reason," Greenert said Tuesday in an exclusive interview with Navy Times' sister publication Defense News. "So we're on a track to say, 'Hey look, anybody who can meet the gender non-specific standards, then you can become a SEAL.'"
And in case you think it’s just the men saying that we women aren’t good enough to be in uniform, back in 2013 a female Army colonel was retired for making comments that pretty women shouldn’t be used as advertisements for recruiting material because average women were a better representation of the type of Soldiers they would want.
I had a Marine on deployment point out that he never saw me without makeup. Often at work I have male Sailors ask me just how much time it takes me to get ready in the morning. I even had girls in my berthing comment on my pink PT clothes when we were allowed to wear civilian gear. I’m not sure what wearing makeup and loving pink has to do with my ability to put on a uniform and fight for my country. In the morning I wake up at 0500 and am out the door by 0530. Being feminine is something I enjoy. Just as much as I love the fact that I am doing a job I can be proud of.
The two aren’t mutually exclusive.
I’m not 100% clear on how having a uterus puts me at a disadvantage when it comes to being a good Sailor. The comments I was reading reflected so often on how a woman could become pregnant and have to leave the team they are assigned to work with. I can’t help but point out that men could get injured in a car accident, come down with an illness that takes them out of the force, or have some other personal issue that requires them to remove themselves from these elite forces just as easily. I grew up around SEALs and know one personally who had to leave his position due to a chronic illness. Women who have children may be removed while they are pregnant and on maternity leave but just like a man who breaks a bone, once they are medically cleared they can return to duty.
I worry that people assume men will only be affected by seeing a woman shot and that they won’t care if their male battle buddy takes one for the team. These teams, the elite of the military, are their own little families. You think the men aren’t hit hard when a member dies? Did you miss Lone Survivor and the emotional toll it took on Marcus Luttrell when his team was picked off one at a time and he was the only one who didn’t return in a flag draped coffin?
It amazes me that over a hundred years after women were fighting for the right to be considered equals we are still having to prove ourselves. We are having to fight stereotypes of what women should be. We are being told we are not good enough to defend this nation alongside our male counterparts. We are undervalued and underserved in the veteran community because people can’t imagine that the girl next door actually would put on the uniform. It’s time for that to change. The big brass in the military is willing to recognize our worth and I believe it is time that society opens their minds to the changes that are coming.
Like it or not, it’s going to happen. And women will be much stronger in these roles when they have support. Though to be honest, at least for me, when I’m told I can’t do something I work twice as hard to prove the naysayers wrong. So maybe the doubt is what we need. Because it feel darn good to kick some butt when people only see the pink lipstick and ignore the martial arts belts I have.
Many Kind Regards,