In the near future, the Navy will be taking a huge step backwards in their social attempt for gender equality. They are changing the women’s uniforms to be like the men’s. This is their attempt to “neutralize the work force”. Though it seems like a small change, it sends a huge message. They are stripping women of their femininity. They are not changing the men’s uniforms. They are not creating a new gender neutral uniform. They are simply making the women wear the men’s uniforms. They are implying that to be successful at our jobs and successful in the organization, we must dress like men.
As a woman, I am proud to have the opportunity to serve my country and wear my uniform. Women from other generations did not have this chance to give back and stand up for freedom as we do today. One of the first women to serve in the military was Deborah Gannet in 1782, enlisting as her brother. Later in 1917, the first woman, Loretta Walsh, enlisted in the US military. Women were not officially permitted by law into the military until 1948. This long, uphill battle was met with challenges I cannot imagine. These brave women paved the way for me to be able to have the career I do today. Being an American woman is a blessing in many ways. Women from other countries do not have the opportunities available to American women. I recently took care of a little girl from a Middle Eastern culture in the emergency room. She was brought in by 4 or 5 men from her family, including her father and grandfather. After suturing up the child’s laceration, the grandfather said to me with tears in his eyes, “You did a wonderful job. Thank you. In my country, women cannot do your job”. What I love about the Navy is getting to protect these rights that women have worked very hard to obtain.
Though I will wear whatever uniform is required of me in order to continue to do a job that I am passionate about, I do not have to agree with the changes. Men have always been able to have a tailored uniform that makes them look successful, put together, and sharp. Women have struggled with ill-fitting uniform designs that make them look less successful, unkempt, and frumpy. It has always been a challenge for women to wear their uniform as proudly when they do not feel they look decent in it. In an environment that is male dominated, we have to battle for maintaining self-confidence in our work, despite not always being able to look the sharpest in our uniform compared to our male counterparts. But the Navy has always allowed us to look and identify as women. Old arguments used to be that having women in the work place is distracting. Now we appear to be returning to past eras by removing female identity from the work place rather than acknowledging it.
The uniforms did perhaps need to be altered because they were not the most flattering on women. However, the trials indicating women preferred to wear the men’s uniforms has major potential to be biased. When you desire to be a member in an organization that you are dedicating your life to, you will wear whatever you are instructed, you eat what food is put in front of you and you get up whenever you are awoken for the day. Many women in the fleet see this change, though appearing minor, as an insult to our identity as women and an out-of-pocket expense for many of us to “upgrade” our uniforms. It is highly possible women did not speak freely when interviewed about the uniform changes, concerned for negatively impacting their careers or appearing to be disobedient over something as minor as new uniform cover. Now, based on these trials, all women are to dress as men. The uniform change did not include that men begin to wear the women’s uniform items because that would de-masculinize men. But the other way around is equalizing rather than de-feminizing women.
As gender fluidity becomes a more relevant issue in our society, I can understand the Navy’s attempts to implement this concept in the fleet. However, changing the uniforms in this fashion is not the answer. Changing the titles of jobs to be “gender neutral” is not the answer. Most women in the fleet are proud of their career, regardless of if the job title has the suffix “man”. It is true that some traditions in the Navy need to change. But uniform traditions and rate titles are not the traditions that are worth spending time on to change. Changing these can undermine morale and pride of the troops. Let’s change traditions like hazing those who are new to a division or simply separating those who majorly fail at their duties from the Navy rather than holding them accountable for their actions. How do we include those who do not identify strictly with male and female into the Navy? This is a challenging question, one I do not have the answer to. But what we should be focusing on is acceptance of gender-neutral or transgender individuals into the work place, incorporating them into the current male/female PRT standards, how to provide berthing for them where they feel safe and untargeted, and helping the medical staff learn the best practice ways to care for these individuals and their unique healthcare concerns. These are bigger issues that we need to be focusing on as an organization rather than ridding the females of their uniforms to gender neutralize the fleet.
Gender equality does not mean stripping people of their gender identity. It means giving them the same opportunities to be successful, regardless with what gender they identify. It is accepting that people are different, but that they can still be equally successful professionally. Forcing everyone to wear a male uniform does not address gender equality. In essence, it tells women that to be successful professionally in the Navy, you must look and dress like a man. These changes beg the ultimate question, is the Navy implying that I am not a good sailor if I look female?