The other day I was reading through social media comments on a current topic and found one that frankly pissed me off. After some thought though, I realized, the person was just clueless and I felt sorry for them and their ignorance. However, this ignorance was a perfect example of stereotyping and a small hint of what is wrong, and yet somewhat normal, with humanity.
First, let me explain the comment and why I torture myself with reading them. As an Army Reserve public affairs officer, I try to stay current on world events, particularly those that have a connection to my service. Then, to help me better anticipate any possible backlash/perception/opinion from the public on such topics, I read through the comments. For the most part, the world can be wonderfully supportive. However, there is always someone, somewhere hating.
For example, back when the new Miss USA was announced to be an Army Reservist, I was reading through posts on that. Personally, I was super excited that a fellow Army Reserve Soldier snagged the crown and thought, surely, there cannot be anything bad to be said here. Of course, I was wrong and naïve. There is ALWAYS someone unhappy/suspicious/stupid/etc. Those negative comments ranged from some sort of “government conspiracy” to “what does she do outside of one weekend a month” to “she doesn’t even look American.”
I merely shook my head at these comments and thought, “Wow. People really can find an issue with everything.” I will applaud one response to the “she doesn’t even look American” comment. It was poetic, perfect and literally made me laugh out loud. This perfect response was, “You know WHO looks American? Pocahontas. She looks American.” That was classic and I wish I had bothered to see who made that comment so I could have given them mad props.
Anyway, on to the most recent stupid comment.
So earlier this week, I was reading about the horrible news in Dallas and how the accused shooter was a former Reserve Soldier. (I say accused as that is a journalist practice. It is always accused until some legal determination is finalized on guilt. So please don’t get upset with me.) First off, this broke my heart that someone who once wore the same uniform could do something so despicable and evil. Violence, hatred and any form of intolerance is NOT what the Army teaches. It goes against everything I ever learned while in boots.
As I read through the comments, I saw one person’s post, “Army Reserve…I don’t think that counts as military experience.” My knee-jerk reaction was, “Well heck. My 15 years of wearing this uniform, three deployments, and countless small missions across the globe sure have felt like experience to me!” But I paused and thought. I assume this person didn’t mean to discredit an entire force of Soldiers who have participated quite well in numerous operations for 108 years. I assume this person merely was trying to say that the Army Reserve did not teach this person the sniper skills needed to carry out such an act that would take specialized training. I assume this person just didn’t want such an ugly act to be associated with our uniform. But more likely than not, this person was just clueless on how much the Army Reserve actually does and still thinks of us as “weekend warriors.”
This got me thinking about ignorance and stereotypes. Let’s face it. The world is full of them, and not just once concerning race.
For example, on one mission, I had a superior officer point out five negative stereotypes that I must fight. One, I was a female in the Army. I had to work harder to prove myself and to be taken seriously. Two, I was a public affairs Soldier, and for those of you outside military service, this group of Soldiers is generally looked down upon and not taken seriously. We are “picture takers” and “candy Soldiers” and “not tactically skilled.” Three, I was a lieutenant, which have the assumed perception of being dumb and navigationally challenged and that in turn, supports the endless “lost lieutenant” jokes. Four, I was a blonde, which is similar to being a lieutenant but just out in the free world for anyone who is not familiar with that image. Five, I was in the Army Reserve, which means we have no experience according to the comment above. So no shit, there I was on a mission as a blonde female Army Reserve public affairs lieutenant.
I never realized I was working against so many negative stereotypes and probably never would have thought about any of them until this officer pointed them out to me. I didn’t take offense to this observation though. Actually, I found it helpful. I WAS all those things (the labels, not necessarily the stereotypes of them) and it was important that I KNEW what people might assume about me. It was critical that I actively fought those stereotypes. It was pertinent that I proved myself to be MORE than someone’s limiting thoughts of me.
Of course, I failed at times. I was silly here and there. I didn’t always know my tactical skills by heart. I got lost a time or two. However, for the most part, I think I have succeeded in showing that I am a smart, hardworking Soldier of good ethics and strong character. I have even received compliments over the years that confirmed, I beat a stereotype or two: “I didn’t realize you were a Reservist.” (Told to me by an active duty Soldier while deployed.) “Thank God YOU didn’t get us lost like….” (Told to me by a leader on a training mission.) “I never knew public affairs Soldiers could do that.” (Told to me about a foreign athletic badge I earned.) Certainly, I will never say I am a super Soldier, and you won’t find the Rangers or the Special Forces calling me to fill an empty slot on their rosters. But that’s OK. The Army is made up of several talents and skill levels. And just like the rest of the world… we are also full of stereotypes to fight. I just need to make sure I do my part to prove them wrong. And since I have been promoted, I am down to four stereotypes (blonde, female, public affairs, Army Reserve) to fight, and I don’t plan on changing any of those until I retire…or get gray hair.