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.
WHAT THE F*** DO THESE PEOPLE THINK I AM, A MACHINE?!
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.