When I was in my early twenties, just after my first divorce, I had a conversation with my mother that I will never forget. We were standing in her kitchen, talking about nothing in particular, and she abruptly said, “Sarah, never put yourself in a position where you are dependent on a man. For anything.”
Now, I had survived quite a bit at this point. Sexual assault at 15, having children long before I was ready, my first divorce and my first deployment. I remember thinking to myself, “I got this, mom. You don’t need to remind me. I know what it means to be a woman.” I didn’t think twice about it and went on with my day.
It wasn’t until recently, when I was thinking about that day, that I began to see things from her point of view.
I would love to say that my mother’s generation was the last generation where women were expected to marry and either stay home with the kids or only work just part time so as not to earn more than her husband did. While it’s definitely not as bad as it once was, the pressure is still there.
While I didn’t necessarily depend on a man for financial security, I certainly was asking permission for a lot of things.
Joining the military was not a popular choice for me when I graduated High School in 1999. I was supposed to go to college and get a degree and do…whatever else it was that had been planned out for me. Past generations had fought hard so that I was able to do that. True, but past generations also fought for my ability to serve in our nation’s military alongside men.
GI Jane was my idol then. Taking on a hard core, male dominated world and excelling at it was everything. Nearly every young woman in my basic training company wanted to be just like her. We wanted to shave our heads and outshine every male in our company.
Slow down there, skippy.
At that time, AR (Army Regulation) 670-1 (the wear and appearance of the uniform) stated that a female in the Army, while allowed to have short hair, must maintain a feminine appearance. Guess what a shaved head was? Not a feminine appearance. Also in that regulation, it stated that females were not allowed to wear earrings in the service uniform, and only studs in the dress A or B uniform. Make up was allowed, but only minimal. Nail polish was allowed, but only nude or clear.
Wanna take a stab at who wrote those regulations? You guessed it. Men.
While I understand the heart of the matter was to maintain a uniformed appearance throughout the entire military no matter what gender, it doesn’t mean that I liked it. I didn’t want to stand out, I just wanted the same opportunities that my male counterparts had. But that simply wasn’t an option.
Throughout my time in the military, it was frequently a male who made the decisions about my position in a platoon or company. It’s not necessarily a jump considering that I chose to work in a male dominated field; Army Aviation. Many of the men I worked with were fair and recognized my ability to do the job as well as they did. Oh, but there is always one that messes it up for everyone else, isn’t there.
I was denied the opportunity to attend a promotion board and subsequently kept out of a promotion board for four years because I refused to perform “favors” for a male Non-Commissioned Officer at my second duty station. That was only the beginning.
Because I had denied this person, I was smeared. I was removed from the company I was in and sent to a different company. When I turned down other advances from peers, my reputation only grew and overshadowed my ability to work on the aircraft.
But nothing, and I mean nothing, compared to when I refused to “ask permission” from my second husband to sleep during my off time instead of be on the computer with him. Working twelve hours on and twelve hours off, that time I had to eat, work out and relax was precious. Yes, I missed my husband, but my job was incredibly important, too. If I messed up, I could very well kill someone.
Being denied what he thought he had a right to, to the detriment of my own health and well-being, he retaliated. He sent pictures of me to men that I worked with. Men I had to see every day. And since I was on my second deployment, there was no escaping any of them. No escaping the rumors that started or the way everyone looked at me. Especially when he called my chain of command and claimed that he had seen a male in my room.
Now, if any of you were, or still are, in the military after 9-11, you know that there were several General Orders that governed our very existence in a combat theatre. Especially General Order Number One. No females allowed in male housing and no males allowed in female housing. Simple, to the point, and it existed for obvious reasons.
This was the one and only time I received UCMJ (Uniform Code of Military Justice) action. Because my own husband had claimed this, what I had to say meant nothing. I was charged and so was the male that my husband claimed to see inside of my room. Now, after working my twelve hour shift, I still had another several hours of extra duty that I had to serve…alongside said male.
Not one career was smeared, but two. All because he didn’t get what he thought he was entitled to. Because as my husband, he apparently owned my time no matter where in the world I was.
That followed me for the rest of my time with that aviation unit. No matter who came and went, the rumors were passed on to new people and it didn’t matter how good I was at my job. So, by the time the final blow came around…I had no fight left in me.
I was sick of asking permission to simply do my job. I was so disillusioned that I quit trying, I quit fighting to be seen as an equal because I never would be.
Aside from my time in the military, I have suffered three failed marriages. All by the time I was 31.
Happy thirties…here’s your third divorce, a boot from the only job you have ever known as an adult, oh and surprise, you are now a single parent.
So I did what almost anyone would do at that point. I panicked.
I refused to address any trauma, PTSD or medical issues from the time I was in the military. I’m a woman, so obviously what was wrong with me was nothing like the men who served in combat, right? Exactly, sit down, take your rating, and shut up. You didn’t have it as hard as your male counterparts.
Open chapter two…asking permission as a female Veteran to be just as messed up as everyone else. Asking permission from male and female doctors to please, for the love of all that is holy, to take you seriously when you say that something is wrong with you.
Like other women across the known world, female veterans have to prove, a thousand times over, that they are really sick. Do you know how disheartening it is to be told, “Get your PTSD under control, then we will talk about your migraines, your arthritis, your kidneys, your joints, your body.” Just a truly messed up way of telling a woman, “Hey, its all in your head.”
So, I asked permission to see doctor after doctor after doctor, just to prove that I do indeed have debilitating issues that have absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I am a woman and everything to do with the fact that I went to a combat zone.
Now, in my forties, I have witnessed women that I know and do not know ask for permission for the most ridiculous things.
I have witnessed a woman who has chosen to be a traditional stay home mom be brutalized and demonized by other women. She was told that she has “set back feminism at least fifty years.” Honestly? When did other women become so judgey?
I have watched women who have chosen a career over a family be ripped apart for not having kids. “You know, your life isn’t complete until you have a husband and children.” Wow. Who are you to know if someone’s life is complete or not?
To say that my views of what it means to be a woman have changed over my twenty years of adulthood, is a vast understatement. If you would have told me when I was nineteen or twenty that I would happily be a stay home mom at forty, I would have laughed in your face.
I have spent twenty-five years of my life asking for permission in one form or another. Permission to be looked at as person, not a victim. To be looked at as a peer, not some piece of meat. To be looked at as someone who knows their own body, not some silly empty headed woman who’s illness is “all in her head.” Permission to be respected and honored as I respected and honored someone else.
So, I’m sorry, Mom, I did depend on a man. But not in the way you meant.
I depended on men and women to be decent human beings. I depended on them to treat me with some shred of decency and humanity. I depended on them to be true to their word when they said they would love, honor and cherish.
And I was disappointed time and again.
Now, some people would say that I was young and naïve and shouldn’t have trusted or depended on anyone in the first place. But what kind of hell scape is that to live in? Is that what we are teaching our daughters? Sorry, sweetheart, humanity is trash. Don’t expect anything from anybody. It doesn’t matter what you decide to do, someone will rain on that parade of yours.
If that is what our society has come to for women…I gotta say, I think we have failed somewhere along the line.