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One Character in Two Opposing Acts

by Nicole Keefe 2 months ago in army · updated 2 months ago

A Female Perspective of the Military's Standards

Heather MacDonald’s article in the 2019 Wall Street Journal states in her stark title, “Women Don’t Belong in Combat Units”.

MacDonald argues that women are “physiologically incapable” to serve. Further down the article, she states that females “pose a greater challenge to combat cohesion”. As I read her 13 paragraph article, I became more disheartened but also irritated. MacDonald is a distinguished writer for the Wall Street Journal, but has never served. She only focuses on the failures of females in the Armed Forces. She mentions that 3 out of the first 19 women to attempt Ranger School have passed due to “diluted standards”. Nowhere in her published article does it state that 50 females have graduated from Army Ranger School since they first allowed women to graduate in 2015. Again, nowhere in her article does it state that there are 489 women in the Army serving in infantry out of 61,000 soldiers since the ban of females in infantry was lifted in 2015 (ArmyTimes).

While I agree with her that men and women are built physically different, the average man according to HealthLine weighs 197 lbs, which is teetering the international “overweight” class. The average male in the Marine Corps needs to weigh no more than 169 lbs to pass the PT test. So, MacDonald, don’t you think that “physiologically incapable” people can be both men and women?

Micah Ables, a commander for the Army’s first mixed-gender infantry company, wrote an article in The Modern War Institute titled, “Women Aren’t the Problem; Standards Are”. He states that the physical standards are reduced by age and gender. So, for example, for the Air Force PT test, a female under the age of 30 must run a mile and half in 10 minutes to receive a top score, but if a male under the age of 30 runs a mile and a half in 10 minutes, he loses 4 points from his score. However, when it comes to combat, we all carry the same weight in weapons, we all have to perform the same tasks, we all run the same distance; so, “if an individual can meet the qualifying standards, he or she should be permitted to do the job” (Ables).

By observing firsthand what females have to encounter through the military, I have had to explain why I, a female at the age of 21, joined the Air Force when I did. I have had to explain why I, more importantly an American citizen, wanted to fight for our country. Recently, I had a female supervisor overseas. She and I did not get along, but the one piece of advice she told me that I will remember is, “Being a female in the military is incredibly hard. You either have to be a bitch or a pushover. You have to be only one, and it’s impossible to be both.” I laughed it off and went on with my day. As the days and weeks progressed, what she said permeated through me.

I came to her for advice when a new troop came into the rotation- an Airman First Class who is, surprisingly, in his early 40s and at least 285 lbs. Can you imagine me, being a 5’5” Staff Sergeant at the time, barely 150 lbs, that had to give him orders. Every fiber in my being wanted to be passive and to comply with him, especially when he disagreed with me. I wanted to let him win the disagreements that we had, I wanted to be complacent. (After all, aren’t women supposed to be obedient to men?) He had a tendency to observe tiny movements in body language, and use them to my disadvantage. After a couple of weeks, I learned to conform to his responses, and use them to build my supervisory skills. After all, he was an E3 and I was an E5. I had to harness all of the fake confidence, to be aware that I was equalizing my weight on both feet, and to keep my arms to my side when giving him orders. My interactions with him, and my other male troops, made me finally comprehend what my supervisor said to me.

In 1948, women were bullied, terrorized, and oppressed to join the Air Force. In 2021, my speed bumps were barely miniscule.

The overlooked gender rivalry lived on. I felt that the majority of my subordinate airmen respected me. However, the things that they said were clear definitions of “no filter”. Things like, “The only reason you’re a good supervisor is because you have tits”, and “Close your ears, this is something a female shouldn’t hear”, and, “What, are you offended? Are you on your period?”. What is a female supervisor supposed to do to her 15 male subordinates? Be a “bitch” or a “pushover”? So, I danced the line. It was a two part act. I joked and laughed with them, but I told them to be careful of their surroundings, just in case someone else heard. I told them that their jokes were inappropriate, but I did not want to sound too “sensitive” or “weak”. I would say something else in response, and then be deemed “one of the boys”. As their supervisor, I was not their friend. In fact, I was calculating; I would gain their trust and open their doors so that they would follow my orders. According to the enlistment oath, I was a good supervisor because I focused on the mission. I would keep a straight face, let my anger fester, and then cry in the bathroom when nobody was around. (Soraya Chemaly, author of Rage Becomes Her would be so disappointed in me.)

“We can tell what kind of day we are going to have depending on the tightness of your bun.” was one of my favorite things they said to me. Apparently, if my bun was tight and higher, it means I’m pissed off and I was going to yell at them all day. If it’s a lower bun and loose, it means that I’m going to be less of a bitch that day.

"Women don't belong in combat. Because, if they are stuck in the trenches, they will have to fester in their own lady juices." This was an actual sentence said to me by a family member, for that matter. Hard to overlook that misogyny.


Nicole Keefe

Read next: 25 years of a different kind of war

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