I was going through some pictures from my Afghanistan deployment the other day and it got me thinking about being a female in the Army. On one particular mission, which I wrote about on my photo blog, being female was critical for the mission. Normally, it is not such a plus but rather something to compensate for.
Years ago, I had an officer, a female officer by the way, point out that I had many stereotypes to overcome. She said, “You are a blonde, female, public affairs, Reserve lieutenant. I am not sure there are many other stereotypes for you to fight.” She had a point. I am sure most of you know some blonde female jokes. Well, public affairs Soldiers and lieutenants have about the same level of jokes in the military. Phrases like candy Soldiers and lost lieutenants are thrown about. I will just say that none of these singular descriptions bring about images of heroic warriors defending our Nation. And here I was, trying to fight all at once.
Time has passed and I am no longer a lieutenant, but all the other descriptors are still the same. I am still the same. All I can say as is that I have tried to be the best Soldier I can be, but I am sure I have not always been the best at fighting the stereotypes stacked against me. Sometimes I am silly. Sometimes I ask airhead questions. Sometimes I am not the most athletic. Overall though, I think I have succeeded in working hard and have a good reputation as a Soldier. I am not the best, but I am certainly not the worst.
I have always tried to work ethically and never ask others to do what I would not. I try to live within the characteristic and morals expected for those who wear the uniform. I am embarrassed by those in uniform who do not. I have never played the “female card” and have tried to go out of my way to prove myself worthy of the uniform, job and rank. So, as a woman, I don’t think I have been treated differently because of my sex. The times that I have, it was because of my behavior or lack of experience/rank.
In my civilian job, I also work for the Army. But at this job, I don’t wear a uniform. I get to dress up like a girl. I wear dresses and all the scarves and jewelry I purchased across the globe while deployed. Many people don’t even know that I am Reserve Soldier.
A few months back, all the females of my division were brought together to discuss harassment/sexist situations. It is a predominantly male workforce, so the leadership wanted to ensure that the ladies were not being treated unfairly and such. Some women had complaints. Others did not.
At that moment, it dawned on me that being female was not the issue of the times that I felt different at that job. For in those limited situations where I felt like a male was talking to me in a certain way, it changed the moment he realized I too wore the uniform that he wore (or once wore). It was like I was in the club. I had paid the dues. I knew his language. Therefore, he could relate to me more. It had nothing to do with the fact that I was female. It was simple, I could relate to him more because of our shared experiences. We were both veterans.
I know this might be naive as surely there are very real examples of sexism and harassment in the world, but I wonder if part of the problem sometimes is just not ourselves. A leader once told me, you have to demand a seat at the table. If I act unsure or am not knowledgeable, how can be expect to be treated or given some level of work/respect/position/etc just because I am a female? In my opinion, I cannot, nor should I. I should have to work hard and prove my worth. I need to meet the standards of the job. I have to show that I can handle the position just like anyone else. And, when I think about my past successes and failures, it was always my behavior and results that got me there. When I produced good work, spoke with confidence and earned my seat at the table, I was acknowledged. When I was timid, silly, and not meeting the standards, I was ignored and not taken seriously.
So as 2015 kicks off, I think, I can’t stop being lumped into any of those stereotypes. What I can do though, is prove that they are wrong.