Expectation Versus Reality: Being a Woman in the Military

August 6, 2021Eric Miller
Woman in the Military

Staff Sgt. Carmen Medinaponce, a drill instructor with Platoon 3241, Lima Company, 3rd Recruit Training Battalion, Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, during the Crucible, a 54-hour field training exercise and the culminating event of Marine recruit training. Photo by Ethan E. Rocke/Coffee or Die Magazine.

Women have always been an integral part of America’s military and have often shouldered more than their fair share.

On the night of June 1, 1863, famed abolitionist and Union spymaster Harriet Tubman boarded a federal ship accompanied by two gunboats and set off for the Combahee River. A vital intelligence asset, Tubman led the ships to key locations where escaped slaves could be rescued and Confederate property could be destroyed. Tubman personally led a 150-man rescue team ashore; by the time the night was through, 700 people had been liberated and several Confederate assets and supplies had been destroyed.

In other words, Harriet Tubman was operator as fuck.

Harriet Tubman moments before kitting up and making some grass grow, probably. Photo by Horatio Seymour Squyer, courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery.

Even when limited in what they were permitted to do, women in the military have always served with distinction, honor, and bravery. We’ve heard the stories, we’ve served alongside them, and now we have to ask, “What’s it like being a woman in the military?”

In this week’s installment of expectation versus reality, we’re getting an honest take on what it’s like to be a woman in the military. Coffee or Die Magazine reached out to several female service members to get their input, and in what may be a first for men, we actually listened!

Expectation: Just another one of the guys

Reality: “Any and all interactions with a member of the opposite sex will result in a rumor that you are sleeping with said male. If you make direct eye contact with a male peer, you’re fucking. Sit down at the same table as another male, you’re fucking. Breathe the same oxygen as another male, you’re fucking. If you’re the lone female in an all-male section, you’re fucking the entire section. If you salute the commander in passing, despite going two separate directions, you’re both on your way to a barracks room to … well, you get the point.” — Lauren Coontz, US Army veteran and Coffee or Die staff writer

Lauren Coontz recalled getting a dose of reality after test-driving a camel on As Sayliyah Army Base, Qatar: “My knees were apparently distracting a command sergeant major, who let me know the length of my shorts could potentially compromise the mission.” Photo courtesy of Lauren Coontz.

Expectation: Focus on PT

Reality: “More like focus on my ass. I don’t think I’ve ever been through a single PT session where I didn’t catch someone staring at my ass or overheard a comment about my body. I’m trying to knock out this run, not participate in some weird-ass Ms. Army pageant judged by all the creepy guys from S-3.” — A US Army veteran

Woman in the Military
Maj. Lisa Jaster performs a fireman’s carry on a simulated casualty during Ranger School at Fort Benning, Georgia. The 37-year-old engineer and mother of two was the first female Army Reserve officer to graduate from the grueling combat-leadership course. US Army photo.

Expectation: Cool uniforms

Reality: “As a seaman recruit in a new unit, I didn’t really know what to expect, but I did expect that the uniforms would be nicer. When I got issued blue dungarees, I looked at my company commander and told him that I look better in green. That was a mistake. I did many pushups for that one.” — Theresa Hoehne, US Navy veteran

Woman in the Military
Master-at-Arms 1st Class Mary Morrison tries on a Navy white hat, or “Dixie cup” cover, in 2014. Any Navy enlistee expecting cool uniforms during this blue-camo era faced a rude awakening. US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Victoria Kinney.

Expectation: Leaders are judged on ability and the content of their character

Reality: “Female leaders are broken down in one of two ways: You’re either a bitch or a slut. If you’re an assertive, hard-charging, A-type personality, congratulations! You’re a bitch. On the other hand, if you’re friendly and maybe less competitive, people start to wonder how you got a leadership role in the first place and naturally assume that you slept your way to the top.” — Sgt. 1st Class Kacie Kennedy, US Army

Woman in the Military
Then Staff Sgt. (now Sgt. 1st Class) Kacie Kennedy, right, after receiving the Sergeant Audie Murphy Award, which recognizes NCOs who exemplify leadership characterized by personal concern for the needs, training, development, and welfare of soldiers and concern for families of soldiers. Photo courtesy of Kacie Kennedy.

Expectation: Women stick together

Reality: “Women in the military can be worse to each other than the men are. I think it stems from competition and there being comparatively so few women in the military. They don’t want someone coming in and being a better them or taking their ‘spot.’ I’ve been in over 12 years and have never had a female mentor. Some of the worst treatment I’ve experienced came from senior-ranking females.” — An NCO, US Army

Woman in the Military
Recruits practice escaping headlocks during a Marine Corps Martial Arts Program training session. Marine Corps photo by Gunnery Sgt. Tyler Hlavac.

Expectation: You’re gonna get roasted

Reality: “This is true, but unfortunately, it’s either a joke about getting lost on the way to the kitchen or a joke about making a sandwich. They’re never funny or creative. I’ve also heard ‘You’re too cute to be in the Army,’ which sounds suspiciously like an insult that disguised itself as a weak-ass pickup line.” — Anonymous Service Member

Read Next: US Military Draft May Soon Open to Women

Eric Miller
Eric Miller

Eric Miller is a former Army Combat Medic from Parkersburg, West Virginia. He holds a bachelor’s degree in history and has worked with homeless populations and veteran services throughout the state. He is an avid outdoorsman and has recently become interested in woodworking.

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