5 Shockingly Outdated Problems Women in the Military Face

#2. The Recruiters (and Everyone Else) Will Lie to You

Jason Swarr/Photos.com

You're probably used to job descriptions that include "creative truths" like "friendly work environment" and "your soul and ideals will be neither violated nor openly mocked," but these lies are generally limited to minor details -- you've never been hired for a job in an accounting firm only to show up on the first day and find out you're really flipping burgers at Arby's. Unless, that is, you've been recruited for the military, in which case "flipping burgers" means "getting shot at in a foreign country."

Oleg Zabielin/Photos.com
"Must handle chunks of raw meat, surrounded by oil."

"I counted for three people for the recruiter's quota because I was female and did so well on the test. He would've told me anything," Noble says. "You don't find out the recruiter lies until after you sign the contract." She was promised a particular job -- photographer's mate -- by her recruiter, but she found out on the first day that it would be four years before she could even apply for that specific job (20 years later, she retired without ever getting a crack at it).

See, there's a clause in the military contract that says recruiters don't have to keep the promises they make. So they lie all the time, to everyone, but women have it particularly bad, because the public's understanding of what women do in the military is so hazy. It's easy for recruiters to tell them that they won't see combat while knowing they'll be deployed to the Middle East within months. So, what if you're a single mother, and your decision to join was contingent on not having to leave the country? Well, get ready to lose custody of your kid because of how irresponsible your decisions are, what with your flighty decision to possibly die for your country.

Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images
"The careless hussy didn't even bother showing up at the hearing! She's abroad on some vacation or another."

And it only gets worse once you're in the system: When Noble joined up, women weren't deployed on ships in the Navy, even though the unspoken rule is that you need sea duty to advance. Technically, Noble wasn't denied promotion because she was a woman -- she (and lots of other qualified soldiers) was simply denied duties that would've made those promotions possible, due to having the wrong genitals. This is as good an explanation as any for the disproportionately low number of female officers.

And, unfortunately, we have to come back to this again: An investigation found that in 2005 at least 80 recruiters were coercing sexual favors out of women in exchange for promised preferential treatment.

And that, sadly, brings us around to ...

#1. The Attempts to Deal With Sexual Assault Are Laughably Outdated

michaklootwijk/Photos.com

Unless you don't pay any attention to the news and, we guess, skipped the previous entries, you probably already know that the military has a problem with sexual assault. "There were 500 women on a 5,000 man ship," Noble says, describing one of her later opportunities for sea duty. "Two weeks into our six-and-a-half-month cruise we had our first sexual assault. I had to carry flashlights around because I didn't want to be in the dark on the deck. I joked that when I came off the smoke deck I should be dusted for prints."

Alexey Makushin/Photos.com
All jokes about "seamen," however, earn groans and two nights in the brig.

But as nightmarish as that sounds (imagine going to work every day knowing that one of your co-workers might attack you, and also they're all armed) what you may not know is that the military's attempts to deal with it are some of their biggest displays of incompetence since that time they accidentally dropped two nuclear bombs on North Carolina. First, there's the infamous "Ask Her When She's Sober" campaign, which is nice advice, but implies that all the perpetrators need is a poster reminding them of proper sexual etiquette. But then the campaigns turned their attention to the real source of the problem: the victims.

Jennifer Stevens
When you let someone rape you, you rape America.

That's an actual anti-sexual-assault poster advising women that not being a victim is their "duty," and providing helpful tips to keep from being attacked, like "Be prepared to get yourself home" and "Socialize with people who share your values." ("You know, like the fellow soldiers you work with!") And, apparently, women aren't allowed to have casual sex, because "leaving a group situation with someone you don't know well" means you're not doing your "duty."

Ohlms describes a situation in which she and other women (but no men) were asked to perform extra "night duty" after someone was raped in their barracks, meaning that they lost extra sleep trying to prevent another attack. A woman was raped, and in response, more women were punished.

And the thing is, if you've read the article up to now, you know these techniques ignore the reality: The majority of sexual assault is committed by higher-ranking individuals exploiting their professional authority. But boys will be boys, right? And it's not like you can enforce strict discipline on these out-of-control males. This isn't the milit- oh, wait. Right.


Donna Noble is a mother and 20-year Navy veteran. JF Sargent is a 20-year "putting his pants on all by himself" veteran and is on Twitter and Facebook.

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