I work in a profession, that compared to most, is leaps and bounds ahead in terms of equality. Women are paid on rank, not gender. You can be of any sexual orientation and maintain job security. Any one of us can do any job within our organization that we are physically capable of doing – which even includes combat roles for women. How cool, right? I think so.
But needless to say, sexism still exists. The good old boys way of thinking is still prominent amongst our ranks, our senior leaders and peers. I love my job, I love what I do, I love who I serve with, and would not trade it for anything – at least not yet. But it is also important that you understand that unfortunately, being a female in uniform comes with a continuing circle of things that quite frankly, are just not acceptable.
In the last six months alone I have been told to ‘make it sparkle’ when writing a speech for a commanding officer by a male peer. I have received a travel safety brief that was initiated with “This is what I tell my sixteen year old daughter…”. I have sat in a meeting in which the highest ranking individual told the remaining leaders in the room to ensure their female soldiers were at the sexual harassment/assault response and prevention training because they are statistically the victims, with no mention that the males should attend training because statistically they are the predators.
While to some this may all seem minor, these are only a few examples over the course of six months – and I am only one woman. Imagine if we combined every female in the military together and asked what sexist comments had been made and what sexist actions they had witnessed over just one week, or one month, or one year.
Comments like these show other junior leaders that this is an acceptable way of thought, when it is not. Comments like these say you are less than – and it is exactly how it makes me feel. I would guarentee my male predecessor was never asked to ‘make it sparkle’. Quite frankly, here is a jazz finger for you and a box of glitter. You figure that one out, sir.
As recently as this week, I was reviewing video footage from a footmarch that was recorded via GoPro by a soldier for me. The intent is to use the footage to build a motivating ‘hooah’ video. Instead, I spent my evening circling around a one-minute clip in which he and another male peer have a brief but sexual conversation about me, fraternization and his past opportunities to have sex with another female officer.
No, dude. Absolutely not. I do not care who you are. That we are from the same area and have mutual friends. Anything. It is disgusting that as a female I have to not only assume the conversation is happening but now listen first hand to two soldiers discuss me in such a manner. Absolutely unacceptable. But how do you go about rectifying this? How do you correct this behavior? How does a junior officer tell a senior ranking officer that his comments are out of line and he needs to think before he speaks?
I know it may seem so simple. In any other aspect of my life I am the first to call out a male or even female for sexist comments and stereotypes. I have no shame. I will tell you how it is and that what you have said is not okay. But when your workplace is involved? Your boss is involved? Your peers? In a military environment?
I know I need to do better at correcting sexist comments in a respectful manner instead of pushing them aside. Last year I had a male officer, senior ranking, grab me by my dress uniform jacket right at the chest at a military ball and angrily request to know:
“Do you wanna go to Ranger School, LT?”
— Uhm, no sir. I’d like to earn my jump wings though. (eyes the size of saucers because I know this is not real life, right?)
“Good. The vaginas are ruining the institution.”
WHAAATTT?! Why oh why. Not ok. Not cool. And thanks dude for now making me incredibly uncomfortable and having to run in the opposite direction now anytime I come near you or your boss.
I share to let other women who have experienced similar encounters know they are not alone. And that even someone as confident, and vocal (as many of you know), as I am, I too still have not figured out how the right way to go about correcting such comments and behavior. I share to let my male peers know this is not acceptable and if you are guilty of such comments/actions in the past — take the time to rectify this. It is not too late. But also for others to be more aware of how the things you say may have one intention but be perceived completely different.