5 Shockingly Outdated Problems Women in the Military Face
With women not only engaging in combat but awesomely taking down people who try to con some veteran's benefits, it seems like things are pretty OK for ladies who want to put their lives on the line in defense of 'Merica. But we spoke to Donna Noble (not her real name), a 20-year Navy veteran who traveled the world and raised a child while in the service, and learned that not only do things kind of suck for ladies in uniform, these problems show no sign of changing anytime soon.
Now, right about this point there is a certain type of person who thinks, "Well, duh, the military isn't supposed to be a baby shower! This is what we've been saying -- women shouldn't be in combat because they don't have the iron toughness that we all know flows from the penis." We can't promise to change that person's mind, but why don't we give it a shot. Because as a woman in the military ...
You're Expected to Perform Sexual Favors to Get Ahead
It's not long after a woman joins that she learns that some of her superiors see her as less of a soldier and more of a potential date -- and by "date," we of course mean "concubine."
Kind of like a wife, but no dowry.
After an inspection of her performance as part of a maintenance program, Noble was told that the inspector could promise her a better review if she went to dinner with him. Then she found out that other women on her team were told the same thing -- about the same inspector. She and the other women ended up refusing, and not only did their review suffer, it was made clear they weren't "team players" (we're assuming he didn't put "team players" in innuendo quotes in his report, but who knows).
"They still have this mentality of being mighty, dick-swinging warriors," Noble says. "And have the right to rape and pillage." And if you find yourself about to say, "She has a job around a bunch of testosterone-filled alpha males, what does she expect?!?" just stop and listen to what you're saying. Really. Take a moment to evaluate your life.
Just don't consult your designated military evaluator. We all know what he wants to "evaluate."
Because reports say 15 percent of women in the military have been pressured for sexual favors, and the government accountability office assumes the number is a lot higher, with many women deciding not to report their harassment or assault because of how much of a joke the process is. Jamie Livingston, a six-year Navy veteran, went public with accusations that her commanding officer would hold basic paperwork necessary for her job hostage until she performed sexual favors for him. She was lucky in that she managed to get that guy prosecuted, but unlucky in that other men were happy to step in and continue the abuse. See? They're being team players.
Women's Combat Equipment Sucks
"If there is an entry about the problems that women face in combat, the number one response that you will get is 'See? Women shouldn't be in combat.'" says Sara Ohlms, a lance corporal in the Marine Corps and a Cracked contributor. "The problem with the current status of women in the military is that it is about the last place that it is totally cool to discriminate based on gender."
Along with the fashion world, where Ted still can't get a job modeling lingerie.
Just keep in mind -- a complaint about something like equipment not fitting properly isn't about it being uncomfortable or not looking good. You kind of need everything to work as it was designed, since a war zone provides remarkably little margin for error for, say, ill-fitting body armor. In Ohlms' case, the smallest sizes for packs, flak jackets, and boots were still too big for her, and to make things worse, the people in charge refused to order new ones. And sizes aside, most of the equipment is designed for men, which not only means that it doesn't really fit (because women are shaped differently) but that it's designed for someone who can pee standing up. For a woman, urinating while wearing it is such a pain in the ass that Ohlms avoids hydrating so she won't have to (a shitty choice that a lot of women end up making).
Luckily, the military has been developing technology to allow women to pee while standing up just like their male comrades, which is a technological marvel that no one in the private sector would ever be able to- oh wait, never mind.
The U.S. Military just got out-innovated by every college girl with a water bottle and a pair of scissors.
When Ohlms pointed these problems out, she was told, "You wanted to join -- why should we change for you?" Again, as if she's complaining about comfort instead of about equipment making her less effective as a soldier. No matter what your job is, it's going to be tougher to do it if you have to use equipment designed for someone else. Would the male soldiers keep quiet if they were issued gear clearly designed for women?
Ted would, but that's a separate complex issue.
They Don't Know How to Deal With Women's Medical Issues
Women in the military have to deal with doctors who have little to no experience treating females, like the doctor who began Noble's pelvic exam by saying, "Oh, I see you didn't shave your legs for me" -- a statement that is pretty rude in most contexts, but downright terrifying coming from someone about to insert tools into your vagina.
"'Bedside manner' means I act like I'm gonna bed you, right?"
It's even worse if you're actually injured. Tammy Duckworth, the first female double amputee in Iraq, woke up in a hospital bed to find a "comfort kit" full of men's clothes and hygiene equipment waiting for her. This is a soldier who flew 120 combat hours in Iraq and helped land a helicopter after her legs were blown off by a grenade, but she still didn't have the right comfort kit when she woke up, because it never occurred to anyone to make one for a female. Yes, it's a minor slight, and as far as we can tell, Duckworth never complained about it (the linked article describes her laughing at the mistake). The point is that the military is still acting like it's weird that a female showed up, like she stumbled into the wrong locker room.
They'd have mocked her for not shaving her legs, but, well ...
Another example: A woman's menstrual cycle can be disrupted by stress, even stress caused by something as simple as getting your car impounded or coming short on rent or hundreds of people with AK-47s trying to kill you all day. This would (again) be an easy opportunity for somebody to say, "See! Another reason women shouldn't be in combat! All their menstruations and such!" But there are ways that women on the battlefield can basically eradicate this problem (certain types of birth control, for example) that are both easy and readily available. It's just that lots of the time women are simply not told about them. Because no one seems to remember women are even there.
The Recruiters (and Everyone Else) Will Lie to You
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."
"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.
"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 ...
The Attempts to Deal With Sexual Assault Are Laughably Outdated
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."
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.
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.
Related Reading: Want a look inside drone warfare? Cracked talked to a drone pilot and learned some shocking truths about America's murderbots. We also talked to a prison guard and learned about the other side of Shawshank. We also sat down with a real-ass spy. Have a story of your own? Click here.