I Worked for the US Army, and it Was a Horrible Place to Be a Woman
Photo Credit: SHUTTERSTOCK
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My first job out of college was as an entry level Engineering Technician with a contracting company in support of the US Army. This put me out in the field with an Army unit comprised of over 200 soldiers. I knew next to nothing about the military, or the lifestyle it encompassed, and the first week was something of a rude awakening.
I learned that the respect I was given was largely incumbent on the rank of the man standing next to the person I was addressing and leering was a common form of acceptable communication. In addition, good luck getting anyone to take you seriously unless you happened to have a penis-bearing co-worker at your side. It sounds harsh, I know, but in my personal experience, and that of my few fellow female co-workers, it is true.
I’d had my brushes with sexism over the years (typically in the form of drunk frat boys), but after the variety and open-mindedness of college, this was like a scary, entirely male driven planet full of shaved heads and confusing acronyms. Consequently, I now know a lot of really useless acronyms In Accordance With (IAW) military protocol.
Despite the amount of women now gracing the ranks of our proud military divisions, it is still, most certainly, a man’s world. I couldn’t believe some of the things these men felt comfortable saying either directly to me, or within easy ear shot.
Within the first two days of being on the job, I had heard my "ass" and "tits" detailed from a variety of different angles and with various levels of praise (my favorite was the time some guy compared my butt to his cousin’s in a very lewd and appreciative way that made it about thirty thousand times creepier). Many of these men were married. Many of them also looked about 12 years old.
I am not an exceptionally attractive person (though I was thinner and cuter four years ago /sadsigh), I would stick myself comfortably in the "average" column. I had never in my life been on the receiving end of so much male attention. Even the year I’d started wearing contacts and gotten my braces removed didn’t compare.
I worked closely with a group of about 20 men. There were no women in my group, though there were a few in some of the others, but I never really got the chance to know them. I noticed quickly that the male soldiers spoke a lot more respectfully and tactfully to these women. I chalked this up to a mutual respect sort of thing, something I’d hoped I could earn with some time and effort. I was foolishly optimistic in my young, idealistic age.
I oversaw my company’s interests with one of my male co-workers. He was about six years older than I, balding and heavy set. He was a nice enough guy, or at least he seemed nice enough during our three week training period where I exchanged maybe five words with him. I learned soon enough that he was not an ally on my quest of Being Taken Seriously. In fact, he ended up being my greatest enemy.
I got to know some of the men I worked with and, after refusing to react to their crass comments or crude offers, we settled down into an easy work-environment friendship. Key word here is "some." There were several, nearly a dozen, who just couldn’t take a polite "no" for an answer.
Let me stop here for a moment and say that most of these men were good people. They all came from very different walks of life and from all across our country. Every one of them had a different reason for enlisting. Most of them truly, and honestly, believed they were actively protecting and securing our country and, no matter what your political views, that’s an admirable goal.