Another important topic to cover when talking about joining the military is what being a woman in the military is like. And while this is a topic I wish I could ignore and not talk about. It is vital that we talk about some of the challenges women can face while serving just because of their gender. The military is working to make things better for women and unlike in the past there are more women who serve and also women who have moved higher up in rank. But the truth is women haven’t been able to serve for very long compared to the history of the military so while a lot of positive things have happened there is still a long way to go.
Being a Woman in the Military
First, I think we should start by talking about the history of military women. Women have served in the U.S. military since the Revolutionary War. Although not former members of service women were in military camps helping with nursing the men and helping to keep morale up. Women also served disguised as men. The most famous of these was Deborah Sampson.Through the years the role of women stayed primarily in the nursing field, but during the Civil War along with women serving once again disguised as men. Harriett Tubman was a vital spy for the Union Army and also helped organize and led an expedition along the Combahee river into Confederate territory.
The role of women continued in the same capacity. But in World War II there were not enough men to fill roles and women began to take up roles as pilots and other career field formerly reserved for men.
After WWII women continued to serve but were limited in how they could serve and they could not serve if they had children. There were even limits on how many women could hold certain ranks. It took a long time for things to change. Today women can serve in every career field and there are no limitations based on gender. If you want to learn more about the history of women of the military you can check out this article here.
Single in the Military
While I think being single is great. When I was a young person I really struggled to find happiness being single. It took a lot soul searching to realize that I was a strong, confident, amazing person. I did not have to pretend to be someone else and I could just be myself. It was actually a few months after this realization after I had sworn off dating I met my husband. But I was so happy with life and didn’t want to complicate it with a relationship I held off on becoming a couple. And we became friends and dated for a few months. My point isn’t to say be happy with yourself and then you will find your life partner.
Even if I hadn’t met my husband. I had found happiness with who I was and the freedom to be myself and not worry about if other people liked me or not was the true gift. When you join the military, you will likely be surrounded by more men than women. Sometimes you might be the only woman in your section. This can give you a lot of attention.
And while that can seem like a good thing. It can also lead to men seeing you as someone to conquer and not truly someone who will be your life partner. That is why I suggest being friends first and working on getting settled at a new assignment before you dive into dating. Figure out what works best for you. It can be a set number of months or weeks depending on your personality and where you are at. But focus on you first. Then once everything is settled you can decide if dating is right for you.
You also may find yourself at the center of rumors. And while it can be challenging if you can ignore it do that. But if you feel the rumors are affecting you personally or making the work environment not feel safe you can go to your supervisors, reach out to a mentor from the Women of the Military mentorship program, talk to Chaplin, meet with a behavioral health representative. There are a lot of options. You should know you are not alone and you do not have to work in a place that you don’t feel safe (mentally or physically).
Military Sexual Trauma (MST)
Rape and Assault are what MST is talking about. And yes, it is a problem in the military. But I also believe that women are often led to believe the military is a safe place and they put their guard down or don’t take precautions like they would in other areas. So it important to know that while the military is working to change the laws to protect women for years they were written in a way that protected not the victim but the predator.
If you do find yourself a victim of sexual assault or rape know there are resources to help you. And people who should be advocating for you. The military Sexual Assault Response Coordinator should be able to help you report your case and also help connect you with resources. If you feel you are not getting the help you need please reach out to me. I can help connect you with someone who can help advocate for you.
Being a mom
It is possible to be a mom and serve. And the military is working to make it easier to serve. In the last ten years, the military has reorganized the maternity program. Allowing women to have 12 weeks of maternity leave. Along with giving women one year after birth before having to leave for a deployment and pass the physical fitness test. I really love Rojan Robotham’s book Working Moms How We Do It. In it, she shares how she balances a career in the military and being a mom. It is a great resource for anyone considering military service and motherhood.
Many moms are single parents and that add an additional challenge to military life. But I have interviewed a number of single moms who talk about the challenges and how they overcame them. You can check out their stories here:
Cathy-Ann M Alexander
Dr. Ann James
Being married in the military
It can be challenging to be married in the military. Along with the challenge of being in the military moving can make things harder. If your spouse is a service member getting stationed together through your whole career can be a challenge. It is also challenging for service members to be married to civilians (those not serving) because of the moving and having to start a new career.
What I do know about being married to someone in the military both as a service member and now as a spouse. Is that it takes a lot of communication. And a lot of sacrifice. It is important to service members to keep their spouses in the loop. Make sure they have a voice in the decision making process. Just because the military has the ultimate say on where you go. Does not mean that your spouse should not be included in the conversation when it comes to career choices.