Female service members should be grateful for special treatment


(Photo: 55th Combat Camera, Spc. Sandy Barrientos)

This is an opinion piece that reflects the views of the author but does not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of MilitaryOneClick.

By Lizann Lightfoot

I recently came across an article called “Stop lumping servicewomen and military wives in the same category.” Based on the title, I thought I would agree. Servicewomen and military wives lead different lives and face separate challenges. Organizations that host events to serve military wives and  servicewomen together (with a day of pampering or makeovers, for example) are well-intentioned but miss the real struggles of female service members.

Treating female service members like military wives does not honor the challenges of their job. In fact, lumping them together encourages female service members and military spouses to fight each other in a fake hierarchy of whose job is harder. I recently wrote about this false perception and reminded all parties that “female service members are not better (or worse!) than military spouses.”

What I read, however, was disappointing. The article’s authors were responding to Second Lady Karen Pence, who recently hosted a luncheon and several special events to honor “military women and families.” Both authors are women who were former Marine Corps officers. Instead of being honored by the special attention from the White House administration, these former officers were insulted. They argued that, as military professionals, female service members should have the ear of the Commander-in-Chief, not be “shuffled off to a high-profile spouse who is not in their chain of command.”

Female service members should be grateful for special treatment

Is attention from the Second Lady not good enough for female service members? I thought military women wanted to be treated as equals to their male counterparts. Male service members do not get special luncheons and events from the Second Lady or from the Vice President and Commander-in-Chief either. My husband has served for 16 years, was wounded in combat, and has never once been invited to a luncheon to honor male military service members. If he was, he wouldn’t complain about it being hosted by “only” a member of the White House. No one is required to give women in the military special honors. When female service members receive special attention, they should be grateful for what they receive instead of complaining that it isn’t good enough.

Female service members have more in common with military spouses than they think

When servicewomen and military wives are “lumped in the same category,” it acknowledges that we are all women and should face our challenges together. The sad irony of the article is that the authors don’t want to be lumped in with military wives because they look down on them. According to the authors, having a family demonstrates weak and undesirable behavior. They blame the Pence family for “reinforcing outdated views about appropriate gender roles and interactions.”

By assuming that all military spouses are old-fashioned female homemakers, these authors demonstrate the very stereotype they find undesirable in the military. Are military spouses all stay-at-home moms? Some, but certainly not all. What about male spouses? What about military spouse entrepreneurs who start their own business? Some female spouses are more educated and have higher salaries than their service member. Instead of acknowledging these similarities, the authors try to distance themselves from military wives by lumping all wives into a domestic homemaker category that is not an accurate portrayal of the modern military spouse.

Female service members face the same challenges most women do

The authors explain the catch-22 female service members face: Societal ideals of masculine warriors and female caregivers. A woman in the military who chooses not to marry or have children is viewed with suspicion. A female service member who becomes a mom is considered inferior and unable to fully serve the military mission. This is a lose-lose situation.

While I sympathize with these struggles, they are not unique to military servicewomen. And they are certainly not Mrs. Pence’s fault. Most professions started out dominated by men and were slow to integrate women. Women everywhere face a glass ceiling, sexual harassment, and negative stereotypes. Just because these problems are particularly prominent in the military doesn’t mean servicewomen are unique in the struggle. Military wives know them, too. Servicewomen would make more progress by uniting with other women instead of alienating them.

Every woman faces the dilemma of choosing family, career, or some mixture of the two. Women choose a career based on their priorities. In our fully-volunteer military, every female service member is aware of the cultural perceptions before she joins. If she isn’t comfortable being a warrior female and a minority in a man’s field, then she doesn’t have to volunteer. The best way to beat a lose-lose situation is to avoid it. Women who volunteer to join the military cannot blame the White House.

Does the military need women?

The article ends with one more outrageous claim: “Without servicewomen the military, and our nation as we know it, would cease to exist.” This frankly shocked me. While I believe women are absolutely essential to society for numerous reasons, it is harder to make that argument about the military. Until this year, the Marine Corps infantry was 100% male. They have functioned without women–winning battles and wars–for hundreds of years. The other branches have done a better job of integrating women but all branches have operated without women for a majority of their history. Do servicewomen perform important necessary roles in the military? Absolutely! And they should be allowed to do so. But their jobs were formerly held by men. If the military truly needed women, then it would have the ability to draft them. Since women are exempt from the draft, then their absence from the military would not make it cease to exist.

Being an unappreciated minority member is a problem that servicewomen seek to change. However, it is the same plight women face in many professions. Women need to work together to bring about change and stop complaining about being “lumped in the same category” with women who aren’t exactly like them.

Lizann Lightfoot is an associate editor at Military One Click and a Marine Corps spouse. She can be reached at lizann@militaryoneclick.com.

10 Comments

  1. I think this speaks to a systemic problem with the feminist movement. I am an active-duty female military member and I have never experienced sexual harassment during my 14 years of service. Some of you may dismiss me right now as an outlier and say my experience doesn’t speak for the majority of female servicemembers. However, I challenge that opinion. What HAS happened to me is what I CHOOSE to let happen to me. By that I mean all of us, men and women alike, have the ability to shape our own lives. Truthfully, I can think of one time in my military career when perhaps I was “technically” sexually harassed. It was from another student during my technical training. He knew I was married but continued hitting on me. Finally, one day, I just told him to knock it off or I was going to report him. He promptly apologized and never hit on me again. In fact, we are still friends to this day and I never had any other issues with him. My point is this: stop playing the victim. In this day and age, women are almost considered superior to men in many areas. Sexual harassment is treated with extreme seriousness (as it should be) but the real responsibility lies with the individual. Obviously, if the person in my story hadn’t stopped harassing me, I would’ve escalated it to leadership, but it never got to that point. We all have the power to control our lives, no matter what other people do “to” us. I understand many women have horrible situations with bosses and/or co-workers who sexually harass them, but there is always a solution. It may not be the ideal solution but it’s there. I don’t believe in giving anyone control over my life or career and I’ve maintained that attitude throughout my time in the military. Is it difficult being a female in the military? In my opinion, no. As long as you’re aware you are bound to the same requirements as the men, you should understand your position. As stated in the article, the military today is an all-volunteer force. Being in the military means you have to live up to higher standards than other professions. As such, I expect a higher level of character from my brothers and sisters in arms. If you’re a dirtbag, I’ll work to either improve your attitude or get you discharged. The military has no room for sexual harassment or any other immature behavior. But I’ll say this: one person’s sexual harassment is another person’s flirting. And it’s up to you to determine your level of tolerance. I feel like we live in a culture where everyone is just waiting to be offended. And let’s face it: people suck. So are you going to face sexual harassment in the military? Maybe, maybe not. Are you going to face sexual harassment in the civilian sector? Maybe, maybe not. But I believe it’s how you choose to react that’s what counts. We can’t control what other people do, only our own reactions. Stand up, take charge and let people know what is unacceptable to you. Don’t be weak or try to be a victim.

  2. I’m sorry but as a SM, and spouse to a disabled vet, your title pisses me off.
    I don’t want special treatment. I’ve done my assigned and unassigned jobs damn well with no one concerned about my sleeping with their spouses. My actions proved I didn’t need special treatment nor did I want it and I rage against females who behave otherwise.
    I don’t need the WH to notice bc I can look at myself in the mirror and I’m good.
    While I’m sure the article gives an explanation….I only got as far as, Shouldn’t getting attention be enough?
    Seriously? You are joking, right? If this is what we females, who bust our ass, should be thankful for, by all means, keep ignoring me.
    We deserve the CIC. On that point, they’re right. So, you misunderstand the point. Sending us to a spouse is insulting. Not the VP’s wife making her position known.

  3. Ms. Lightfoot,
    Regarding your claim that the military has functioned without women for longer than women have served, I would suggest you check your history. Women have served with this country’s military as long as the country has existed. While it is true that they were uncredited, without rank and many times without compensation of any kind, they did serve. Moreover, as a 15-year Navy veteran and a Sailor’s spouse, I find your article quite insulting. I tried joining a couple of spouses associations only to be marginalized and my service often minimized or even forgotten. Association members were shocked when I wasn’t available to volunteer any/every day of the week at any time, and the fact that I didn’t drag my family to their events. In my family, I have been the deployer and have not had much experience being the one who stays behind. I have also noticed quite a hole where there should be recognition for the husbands who support their wives who deploy. In fact, it is not surprising to me that you do not even mention supportive husbands in your article as it is unfortunately what is expected in this type of biased forum.

    1. Male military spouses are mentioned in this article, specifically as a group who are often forgotten about – for what that is worth.

  4. If you serve, follow the rules! I have 2 daughters that serve, Hooah and Oorah! One serves, is married to a fellow Marine and bore 2 beautiful children. She still serves. She pays for her own pampering on down time and adhers to standards otherwise. Once,,while on seperate bases, she got to dress up in something other than her dress blues for the ball. My other daughter continually picks up the slack of her male counterparts. Neither ask or desire SPECIAL TREATMENT. They both peed in a cup and took an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States of America. How about doing something special for our Beloved veterans? Stop worrying about ridiculous stuff and make things better!

  5. What a poorly written and logically flawed article! It’s a proven and well-documented fact that diverse organizations across all industries – civilian and military alike – are more effective at accomplishing their missions. Viewpoints like yours are contributing to female service members feeling ostracized by spouses. Trust me, we don’t want to be singled out for women’s initiatives or luncheons! As a 10-year veteran I have happily joined corporate America within the past year and I have found it to be a much more supportive environment of working women, mothers, and wives! 🙂

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