I am a Sailor.
I went through boot camp. I wore the smurfs, tackled the gas chamber, survived battle stations. I switched my ball cap from Recruit to Sailor with pride. I did what Sailors for generations have done.
So why do I feel like I’m never good enough?
I’m told to “man up” and leave my emotions at the door. I’m told to blend in, work harder, be better. Why? Because I’m a female. And apparently being a female means I am not good enough.
From my fellow sailors I get criticized for wearing make-up, braiding my hair so there are no fly-aways, making sure my nails stay clean and even wearing the authorized skirt/heels combo with my NSU’s. Apparently being a girl is a weakness. Apparently because I’m a girl I can’t do my work as well as my male counterparts. Apparently being a girl means I’m allowing myself to be insulted, ridiculed and judged.
I never knew being feminine was a problem. I don’t use it to get my way. I don’t cry at traffic stops. I don’t love getting dirty but if pt is in the muddy soccer field then I’m right there with the rest of my command, doing what I have to do. Doing what I was trained to do. Doing a job I have wanted to do for years. I didn’t know the fact that I take pride in my appearance at all time and prefer a pair of pink sneakers to black ones made a difference in my ability to do my job.
In my office I’m laughed at because I don’t curse, I use proper manners that my Sailor dad taught me, I am proud of my education and speak in a proper manner. Oh and I am rarely found with a drink in my hand. Sure I enjoy a glass of wine now and again but I’ll never wear the title of “drunken sailor.” Because I don’t act like a Sailor is supposed to act, I am not good enough. I don’t fit in.
As a wife I don’t fit in either. My husband is military as well. I don’t get to go to the FRG events because I work. And not just work, I work in a different state. I rarely see my husband. So when I do get to go to an event, a homecoming, a ball, I feel like the odd woman out. Wives ask me what I do and when I reply with my job I get THE LOOK.
I’ve learned that THE LOOK means one of two things. I’m not a good enough wife because I work too much to take care of my husband OR it means I’m the evil Sailor girl who is about to seduce their husband while we are on a boat for months at a time. There is no understanding in THE LOOK. There is no compassion for what I do. There is no emotion that shows they want to be friends with me or want me to be a part of their wives group when I am in town.
In the rare moments that I find a wife who is compassionate it’s often because she has been there. She’s been on my side of the military community. She knows what it’s like to sit through yet another SAPR brief because another female in our community has been assaulted. She knows how often we are warned to not have male liberty buddies in port because someone might make an assumption about the relationship between two co-workers. She knows how hard it is to fight to make rank while people joke that the only reason you advance quickly is because of sexual favors for your higher-ups.
So how am I supposed to be good enough? How am I supposed to be a good enough Sailor when my male co-workers think I’m a joke, when my female military spouses think I’m about to become Lolita? How am I supposed to be a good enough wife when the government says my job comes first? How am I supposed to measure up to being a strong female role-model when I’m told that I can’t be that when I believe being feminine isn’t a weakness?
The only way I know how to do that is by standing behind what I believe in. By being the type of Sailor I was trained to be, by not letting my morals and personal beliefs slide because someone else tells me they aren’t good enough. And by surrounding myself with those rare people who have been there. Those with compassion and understanding for the people who serve in our armed services, regardless of gender.
photo: Ansel Adams