Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Women and the Military

Last night I was reading the Army Times and came across a couple of articles that sparked this blog.  One was women in combat, and two were uniform changes.  I won't get into the women in combat article because it's something that has been debated many times.  Some of you know my thoughts on that matter, and if you're interested in knowing more, I can write about that.

The other topic, the uniform standard, is one that has always gotten to me.  Or rather, the reaction that people have to  females being feminine in the military.  Perhaps this issue frustrates me because I am one of those females who does wear makeup, and nail polish (sometimes), and who likes to "look pretty" as some might say.  However, my makeup is always in neutral colors, as are my nails.  There was once a time when I wore too much makeup (back in my junior-enlisted days), but that is something that leadership needs to correct, not something a regulation should prohibit because a few people don't think females in the Army should be feminine.  What irks me most about people who state that females joined the Army and that they knew what they were getting into (some comments on the Sergeant Major of the Army's (SMA) Facebook page, and in the Army Times!) is that I do not see how being feminine affects someone's ability to do their job.  Being in the Army should not mean that females should have to look like males.  Males are allowed to look masculine, and in our society, it is more professional for a male to have shorter hair.  As I stated on my comment on the SMA's page, the Army's emphasis on looking professional generally imitates civilian society's ideals on what looks professional, but is a more conservative version of it.  I don't think that females should be wearing bright red nail polish, or super heavy makeup, but I wouldn't think that would look professional in a civilian workplace either.  Just like I don't think long hair looks professional on men, though I do think that high and tights are unnecessary, and that the Army could loosen up a bit on male hair standards, or rather certain units could stop making high and tights the standard.  

 A couple of comments about makeup and such seemed to point to the argument about equality between the sexes in the military, and that we as women have fought hard to be equal, but makeup basically destroys that.  I do agree we should be treated equally, but EQUAL does not mean that men and women are the exact same.  We should be treated equally in the sense that we are treated based on how well we do our job, regardless of how we look.  We are NOT the same.  It is like saying that males in a predominately feminine field such as nursing, for example, should have to get manicures in order to be treated "equally." Both men and women bring something different to the Army, and because a female wears makeup does not mean that she is incapable of being in the Army and performing well.  Personally, while I wear makeup, and sometimes have my nails painted, you will never hear me complain of a "broken nail," (though I did have a toenail falling off from all of the running I was doing that affected my PT one morning!) or see me avoiding certain things just because I am going to mess up a manicure.  If THAT is what the Army is afraid of, then they need to address the individuals doing these things, NOT all females in the military.  It is the same regarding males who are incapable of their job.  Gender should have nothing to do with this.  

Being feminine does not equal being weak, nor does it equal laziness, an inability to do the job, or expecting everyone else to do their job.  These are all things I heard while enlisted and while at West Point.  It is not this way in the civilian world, so why should people assume it is this way in the military?  Sadly, so many men think that because a female is not as physically strong as a male or because they like to look feminine (the same as most males like looking masculine) that they can't bring much to the military.   As a matter of fact, I can remember when I was enlisted and I would be on some detail moving stuff around, trying to stay busy, while some of my male counterparts were hiding in the corner because they didn't want to work.  I would NEVER do that, and if I did, people would assume I was doing it because I was a lazy female rather than because I was just a dirt bag.   When a male is lazy, it's individual, but when a female is lazy, it's because she's a female.  There are some things I am not as physically capable of  (at 5'1" and 113 pounds, carrying around heavy rucksacks is not easy for me, though I can usually keep up, it just takes me more effort than someone bigger), but that has no bearing on my ability to do a good job.  Anyway, I can still outrun, outpush, and out pull-up a lot of the guys :)  

Anyways, I know that was a little all-over the place.  Probably because these are areas I feel strongly about.  I do think that people's opinions on appearances tend to reflect the general attitude that the Army has about females in the Army and their role in the Army.  The opinion seems to be that if females are not a direct reflection of males, both in appearances and in physical capabilities, that they are less capable of their jobs.  My opinion is that males and females are not the exact same (which is why I'm not so sure about females being in the infantry, though I do think they can bring something to those units if they are attached... there's a small snippet on my opinion on that matter), but that does not mean they are not both capable of doing great at their perspective roles in the Army.  

Thoughts?  I'd be interested to see some opinions.  I know I've gotten into some pretty heated debates over this with people I know. 


  1. I have to agree with you totally! I was also upset and actually found out what some of the specific changes will be. I was writing a response to SMA, but you did it so well here in your blog.

    I do agree, we should continue to work on being equals, but we should recognize that we are different; and that is totally OK!

    I love being in the Army, I love and am proud to be member of time honored tradition, but I shouldn't have to be sorry for wanting to be a professional, feminine Soldier. I also recognize there is always a time and place for make-up and nails. However, I shouldn't be stripped of those options.

  2. Olivia, thanks for the comment! Like I responded on Facebook, it's always good to know there are other women who feel the same way about being feminine while being Soldiers. I think it's completely unfair to have to compartmentalize being a female AND being a Soldier, and that's a great point that we shouldn't have to be sorry for being professional, feminine Soldiers.

  3. Although I agree that the military polices women to make sure they don't look too feminine, I think you neglected to note that they also make sure they're not TOO masculine either.

    Women can have short hair, but not as short as the men's. Also, in Class A's, men wear ties and a service cap, whereas women wear a different garmant around their necks and wear a much more feminized bowler hat. Women don't have the option to wear the masculine version of the uniform.

    It seems that the military condemns feminitity as weak and unprofessional but simultaneously mandates women possess a certain amount of it.

  4. Katie, that's a really great point regarding the Army's view of being feminine but not being allowed to be too masculine either. A couple of people had actually mentioned that on the SMA's blog. Unless the regulation changed, women are allowed to wear the tie with their Class A's, but they are still required to wear skirts to formal functions after 1800 when they are in ASU's/Class A's.

  5. Without delving too far into questions of gender identity, I think Katie's comment also opens up some great questions about a male's ability to dress in a more feminine appearances. If the standard of equal presentation is to be judged along the lines of professional appearance, I think it would be an easy claim to uphold that males who dress in a more feminine fashion tend to keep (if not embody) very high standards of professional appearance, above and beyond that of their more masculine peers. Should not both males and females have the opportunity to dress in the professional appearance that matches their desired masculinity or femininity?

  6. Good point, and I do think both genders should be allowed to dress to their desired level of femininity/masculinity. As you said, most men who prefer a more feminine appearance are generally better groomed. I don't see where that is usually an issue in the military, unless the hair is too long, or he is wearing something other than clear nail polish; though most men I know in the military, to include men who prefer a more feminine/groomed appearance, don't have a desire to wear colorful nail polish. Actually, I have yet to meet a man whose standards of grooming are too excessive for the military other than desiring longer hair (and I honestly think the standards could be a little more lax on haircuts for men).

    I posted this on females 1) because I am one, so I can relate and 2) men usually don't have as many issues conforming to military and societal standards of attractiveness (if they try to look nice, people don't generally assume it's because they're trying to "get ahead.")