A toxic culture of gender discrimination and inequality continues to exist in the U.S. military. Worse, it isn’t simply gray-haired military bosses who are responsible for this. The atmosphere created by a few junior military personnel can ruin the career of a promising servicewoman before it even begins.
I know this because I have seen it happen.
When I was a brand new officer, fresh from Navy flight training, I met my first command while they were on deployment in the Persian Gulf in 2011 aboard an aircraft carrier. Six months into an eight-month deployment, they hated everyone and everything — including me, the newly minted lieutenant junior grade stepping off the C-2A Greyhound for the first time.
They especially hated a popular woman officer in our squadron. This woman just naturally got along with nearly everyone. She was competent, capable, and energetic. Two years my senior, she was a role model to me. The onus is on us — the young men of the officer and enlisted corps — to come together and say, “Enough.” Unfortunately, a small but concentrated segment of male officers in the squadron resented her popularity. They made it their mission to make her life a living hell. In activity that never rose to the level of criminal, to my knowledge, they kept tallies of how often they made her cry, talked about her behind her back like she was unintelligent or promiscuous, and undermined her at every opportunity with senior leaders around the ship. It was nasty, and it was constant.
As an inexperienced member of the command, I was conflicted. Thrust into a new situation halfway around the world, I had to achieve my Navy qualifications, take care of my sailors and collateral jobs, and try to learn how to be an effective member of a team flying in support of combat operations. I was exhausted, demoralized, and just trying to hang on.
But the behavior of the offending men was a daily occurrence, and it floored me each time. I was repeatedly faced with a choice: Stand up and speak out, or sit down and shut up.
So what did I do? Not much. I hid. I thought that surely someone senior would take care of it. In private, when it was just a small, safe group, I would express how jacked-up I thought things were. There were a handful of junior and more senior officers who felt similarly, but I didn’t do anything in front of the offenders. I demurred; I hesitated.
Gradually, as the culprits left the command and the small group of us rose in seniority, we tried to make right. We made sure every new person to the command knew what had happened and how unacceptable that kind of behavior was.
Too little, too late, unfortunately, for the targeted officer. Her career might not have been cut short as a direct result of these events, but it was certainly affected. And now there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about how […]