Friday, April 29, 2005

Gender War

Ok. This is a rant. It probably won’t be very organized or polite, but at least it gives me a way to gather – and share – the thoughts that have been pounding on my mind over the past several days.

I am in Iraq as a service member in the United States Army. I am a commissioned officer with prior-enlisted (3 years) experience before entering Officer Candidate School. I am a professional. I am a supervisor and a subordinate, and I am a member of a team. AND I AM A WOMAN.

I don’t have a problem with the fact that I am a woman; many of my peers and superiors have a problem with the face that I am a woman. If they don’t see me every day for more than five minutes at a time, I must be up to something. If I’m not spending “social” time with other members of my military unit, well I must be spending it with someone else – how dare I! – oh, and by the way, whoever it is, we’re probably fucking!

The Army is supposedly a professional, mission-driven organization – with regulations and guidelines. I have no problem understanding that, and whatever problems I may have complying, I acknowledge having those “problems” – measured against where I think my values lie in the grand scheme of my life – outside the military.

Fraternization has its own definition in the military, more complex than any generalized definition: “inappropriate” associations between/among Enlisted and Officers, supervisors and subordinates, and (implied) males and females. The intent is to keep mission focus, and keep the rank and organizational structures functioning properly. By Army definition, this truly encompasses many potential infractions – starting/maintaining businesses together, loaning/borrowing of money, gift giving, and off-the-clock time spent in perceived or actual friendship/relationship-building activities. Intuitively, one can see that the highest visibility and most enforceable aspect of this is when the two parties in question are of opposite gender.

By sheer numbers, females in the military field far more “traffic on the frequency” of attention and requests for “inappropriate” relationships. We are still a minority in the military. The ratios get even more extreme when discussing commissioned and non-commissioned officers, and the uphill battle we face in establishing ourselves as professional leaders – against the backdrop of peers who can’t keep their “equipment” in their pants and want to blame us as a result – is daunting at best. I can do my job, be pleasant and professional, “get the job done” while still complying with all the rules – and male counterparts and observers find this strangely attractive; they feel compelled to pursue closer proximity. By implicit grandfather clause, THEY aren’t wrong for trying, but I would always be wrong if receptive to the advances.

HERE’S THE PART THAT REALLY PISSES ME OFF: I challenge ANY male in the military to field and filter as much attention as I get on a daily basis, while still functioning with excellence in his job and position – while NEVER falling to the temptation of incessant invitation! I have met very few who could/would meet the challenge. Yet, I and my female peers are subjected to such scrutiny by the very personnel who are supposed to be our allies, peers, mentors and subordinates. I field more attention and apparently genuine intent IN ONE DAY than most of these men field DURING THE ENTIRE DEPLOYMENT.


I haven’t fallen – yet. I am confident but shaken. I struggle daily with the lack of female interaction in my life, and I realize that against that void, the difficulty of staving off male advances is even greater. I am a touch-oriented kind of person. If I could just get a hug every now and then without thinking the other participant was making excuses for proximity – that would be nice. If I could spend an hour here or there sipping coffee and discussing life with another woman – God, that would be a breath of fresh air! So far, such opportunities are slim or not at all forthcoming.

And all of this is exacerbated by the fact that if “they” – that ethereal they – can’t see me, then I must be up to something. I must be f***ing someone. I must be…. Wagging my ass somewhere to get things done – because God knows there is no other effective method I could employ!

I end up locking myself in my room frequently. Letting my morale down. Holding my breath. Burying myself in “work.” Or physically going to the command center to participate in more mission planning and analysis, because at least there I am validated as a professional. I harbor bitterness for the bridge club of swinging dicks that gather just outside my door with no genuine invitation ever issued to me. Sure, they’re talking about raising sheep in Minnesota or the last hunting/fishing trip the took, but there’s no embrace. There are no outstretched arms. There is only silence: outside the circle of privileged masculinity.

So my query, my shouting out to the masses involves a request for information, a qualitative survey: Where else is this happening? I am hereby calling out to peers and scholars to identify such places, if for no other reasons than: 1) to help others like me understand we are not alone, and 2) call the violators out publicly in order to demand a reckoning. MY SISTERS AND I DESERVE AT LEAST THAT.


At 4/29/2005 8:24 AM, Blogger Mary Godwin said...

THIS is a great read, Tommi, and you speak to a powerful truth when you title your post "Gender War." Another of the discouragements for me about your service in Iraq is that you are fighting "wars" on so many unacknowledged fronts. I am all the more proud of you for your fortitude of spirit and discipline in self-determination, but with you, it pisses me off that you are so undeservedly and unequally pressed on issues of decorum at the same time you are scutinized as with an assumption of ignorance, inability, or "appetite" more apt to be out of control because you are a woman. GDI!... as if I needed one more thing to make me mad about this occupation of Iraq. Hang in there, Kiddo. Draw strength from your roots as you can. I'm sending you as many of the various flavors of POWER as I can imagine to send. Use them liberally: I've got LOTS more!!

At 4/29/2005 1:02 PM, Blogger Dr. B. said...

I'm with Mary on this one. You are fighting wars on many fronts and it sounds like you are doing one hell of a job!!! Gender inequality in the military is a bitch! I support you in your endeavor (even if not and your endeavor) and feel free to draw on the strength of strong women all over who hold you up high!!!!

At 5/01/2005 1:12 PM, Blogger Awaiting Deployment said...

I can definitely feel your pain, as a fellow female soldier. I know just how difficult it can be, especially with so many males around. As an attached female to an FA unit for 4 years, I know about the attention fielded by females and have been the subject of such scrutiny by my male counterparts. I am a pretty easy going person and I get along well with most people, of both sexes, so I have a lot of friends of both sexes. The problem with my previous unit was that males were obviously the dominant gender, and it was hard to escape the fact that I would form the bonds of relationships with many of them. It's all part of the unity and teamwork focus that is pressed upon each soldier during his/her initial training and continues throughout his/her military career. If I was talking to one of the males and wasn't in plain sight (or in many times even when I was in plain sight), and the two of us didn't have a group around, I was flirting or making plans to fuck him. It didn't matter who it was...I was making plans or at the very least wanting to fuck that person. It was moreso if we were out of sight or spotted leaving together because god forbid I have friends of the opposite sex!!!! I just don't understand this logic of thought and sometimes it seems to spill over into civilian life as well, but not to the extent I believe you and I have both experienced.
Now don't get me wrong, I enjoy attention (I was in theatre in high school), but enough is enough! I can only handle so much of it, but I can only imagine what you face on a daily basis, being one of the only females with your element. My god, it has got to be unreal!!!! I've not had to deal with such attention on a daily basis in such an isolated situation.
It's difficult to reject such advances all of the time, especially when you are in such close quarters and without sexual companionship. And to say that I haven't fallen would be a lie, but I'm not quite in the situation you are either. Nor am I one of the females who has fallen every time she's been propositioned (because they are out there!!!!). But males can be the same way, married, single, taken, they don't seem to care! It all comes down to the Vegas principle, "What happens at (insert event here), stays at (insert same event here)." It's as if it's just a completely different part of their lives (on both accounts).
I have to admit that with my parent unit, which I have gone back to since my attached unit's deployment, it seems to be a bit different. Although I still receive some of the attention, I am not subject to it all. In addition, there is much more camraderie amongst the females because there are so many more of us. In the FA unit, only certain females hung out with one another. So at first, I was off on my own, without a battle buddy, but I soon found my niche and had one.
Ok, so I know this is jumbled, but please bear with me a bit longer. When you said that you are a touch oriented person, I felt like you were describing me. I need touch in my everyday life, a hug, a pat on the back and arm around the shoulder; it doesn't matter, I need touch! In the army, you don't always get to do that because if it's someone of the opposite sex, you've basically said I'm fucking this person. And if it's someone of the same sex and there are any guys around, you instantly attract even more attention because in "maleland" (their own little world of double standards), lesbians are cool!!! So you just can't win unless you are in private and even then, the rumor mills start flowing, or in the song by Jimmy Buffett, the lines of the coconut telegraph are buzzing.
But girltime is oh so important and I honestly wish I could be there to help you out! Over the past year, I've realized just how important this special time can be. I've learned to treasure my girlfriends and our time together, because it's not always going to be there. And I know that words on a screen don't suffice, but if you'd ever like to chat or whatever, I'd be more than happy to be an ear for you! :-) You are a beautiful person, and deserve better than this from your co-workers! I know you'd love to tell them to shove it, and I'd love for that to happen too, but I'm afraid you might get into trouble for those actions.
Stay safe! Take care!

At 1/11/2007 12:03 AM, Anonymous Lindsay Beyerstein said...

Great post, Tommi. I just discovered your blog through Flickr, and your new digs at Republic of Conscience. I'm looking forward to reading the whole saga from the beginning.

Welcome home and thanks for your service, in Iraq and back in the States.


Post a Comment

<< Home