Being a woman in a man's world. It's not really a 'man's world', there's just a lot of men in it. I remember when I was deciding to join, there was a lot of unease from people about sexual assault and sexual harassment in the military. I was warned many times about being taken advantage of, or being assaulted during my time in the military. I remember looking at the statistics and stories, researching it, before I committed to joining. There were some fucked up stories. Maybe in the past before SHARP and EO I should have been more worried about it. But have those people [those who warned me] ever been to South America!? I couldn't walk a block without getting cat called or having men lick their lips in my direction and shout inappropriate things to me. I have never felt more equal to men than when I joined the military.
While serving in South Korea, I went out for Korean BBQ with someone of the opposite sex, like usual. As we went up to the cash register to pay, I told the cashier we were paying separate. While doing the mental math of splitting the check evenly in half, the cashier jumped ahead and charged me the lesser amount of the half, and said, "I charge the woman less only because you asked to pay for half, the man should pay for the woman". I burst out laughing. As much as I would love to eat for free, we both earn the exact same amount of money. Yes, in the past when women would stay at home, bearing children, cleaning and cooking, the husband would pay for the wife. But lady...it makes zero sense for a man to pay for all my meals when I earn just as much as he does.
Okay, I'll admit, it's still not that easy to be one of the only women amongst men. Speaking only for myself, I'm definitely more high maintenance then my counterparts. I love fashion, and dressing up. I learned my lesson the other weekend when I went out to Seoul with the guys. 1) Bring comfortable shoes and 2) wear compression shorts/spandex under your dress. Seoul entails a LOT of walking, and when the guys are wearing sneakers or leather shoes, and you want to wear heels, you better bring a big enough purse to put some flats in. Not only did my feet kill from trying to wear cute shoes, but the chafing! Do guys ever experience chafing? I used to be able to wear dresses and skirts with no problems, maybe when I was able to drive places. Walking around Seoul for an ENTIRE day in a dress, sweating, and with my thighs rubbing against each other was super painful. Half the night, I would try to walk with my thighs pressed against each other, and just moving the bottom half of my legs from my knees down. It slowed me down a little bit, but at least my thighs weren't scrapping my skin off. I'm walking behind the guys, feet hurting, thighs pressed against each other, caring a heavy purse, and they look so relaxed! As soon as I mentioned chafing, one was them was like "what's chafing?" and the other one looked disgusted as if I was explaining how a baby was born. I could tell it wasn't a comfortable subject for them. But it was all I could think about while we were walking to the next bar. While standing on the sidewalk, I stood with my legs a little further apart than normal to let the breeze ease the pain of my thighs, only just for a moment, before we continued walking again. The agony, that no one else noticed.
At the end of the night, on the hour subway ride back home, I deserved that pregnancy seat on the crowded train, while everyone else stood up. The inside of my thighs were burning, my feet were swollen, and I was so uncomfortably bloated. The guys went along with the idea that I was "pregnant" to allow me to sit there. One of the guys drunkingly walked back up to our group, to find out that I was "pregnant". His response?..."ohhh my god! I thought she was just getting fat!"... WOW! Do guys ever get bloated? On a regular basis? Like every month? Women typically get bloated around the time they have their periods every month. Do I have to type that? I feel like if I didn't say that directly, some men would never think about how women's bodies change every month. And it's usually not in a good way. Did you know that women also have to be extra careful in parking lots at night? And just walking anywhere at night? I also can't seem to be able to sit on a stool in a bar talking to my two guy friends, without a stranger sliding his hand up my thigh on his way back from the bathroom. Did he even wash those hands...? Oh don't worry, that guy and his friend left the bar as soon as they got a piece of my mind.
The following weekend, we headed back out to Seoul. We hit up Gangnam this time. Let's see what I learned this time. I wore the same little black dress, because my clothing selection is limited at the moment. I threw a pair of my Keds into my purse for walking purposes. And this time, I wore my black Under Armor compression shorts under my dress. The ones I wear under my uniform during long ruck marches to keep from chafing. The shorts also help keep the dress from riding up too much. And I kind of just had to deal with the fact that my stomach isn't flat, and my ass is huge. I actually like my body, and I still felt confident despite one comment of someone else's opinion. While we were out shopping, the same guy who commented on my weight, asked if he bought something, if I would carry it for him in my purse. The heavy purse I had to carry to carry comfortable shoes to walk in. GUY, KINDLY FUCK OFF! I am your co-worker, not your mother.
Last month, at a sophisticated bar in Gangnam, the waiter was handing me a wet towelette with silver tongs. As I looked up from my phone, my male friend was already reaching for the towelette. The waiter yanks the towel back, and like a sad puppy, my friend looks startled, and the waiter shouts at him, "ladies first". With a smile on my face, flattered, I take the wet towelette. I rarely get treated that well, and it's even better when it comes from a stranger. My mom also said that no matter if a man outranks me, he should always hold the door open for me if we were both walking through the door at the same time. I love getting the towelette first, but do you think chivalry belongs in the military? How do you feel about that? Should I hold the door open for a male CPT, MAJ, LTC, or someone higher? I'm not so sure I agree with my mom on chivalry in the military. I think I would get my ass handed to me if I expected a male LTC to get the door for me. Thoughts?
Since joining the military, my mind doesn't separate women and men like it used to. I don't sit in meetings anymore thinking "hmm, how many other women are in here?" nor do I feel uncomfortable about going into the weight room at a gym. We have equal pay, and equal responsibilities.
As for the dating scene,
You'd think it would be a lot easier for a woman to date, when she works with almost all men. However, I've never gotten to know guys better than I know them now. I used to only be friends with girls, until now. Now, I have a ton of guy friends. Sometimes, when I first meet a guy, I'm like "wow he's really cute", and then a week into working with him, I'm like "wow, I'm really glad I got to know him before I made that mistake". You really get to see a more intimate side of people when you work around them, than when you just hang out with them in a social setting.
There's also still a social stigma that when I hang out with a guy, people will assume we are dating. One night, on our way to Korean BBQ, my friend wanted to avoid the restaurant because he saw his co-worker in there who had seen us together before and asked what was up with us. He didn't want his co-worker to see us together again, afraid that he would get asked about us again. So we went to another restaurant to avoid getting seen. I was actually in a long distance relationship at that time, with his best friend, which was why we were friends.
In the military, you usually have to deal with dating long distance sometimes. It's one thing if you date someone and you have mutual friends who he knows and trusts. But it's another thing, if you date someone who doesn't know your guy friends. I had a guy tell me once, "you know why I don't mind you hanging out with those guys? Because I trust you". Gee, I didn't know it was a big deal having friends. Sometimes I have to deal with hidden jealousy and insecurity from the person I'm dating, which sucks for me while I'm trying to enjoy myself. Having guy friends makes it harder to date, but having guy friends has been more rewarding than most of my failed relationships.
Last thing about being a woman in the military. When I'm just hanging with the guys, or even NOT hanging out with a male, I usually always get uncomfortable around their wives. I can sense wives or girlfriends judging me, and their feeling of unease about their husbands hanging out with me, a female Soldier. Or unease about their husbands just working with me on a daily basis. I have to go out of my way to get to know their wives, just so they will stop hating me for working with their husbands. It's like I'm getting punished for being friends with the people I work with. Or for just working with them, and not being friends.
I grew up with three sisters, and all my friends were females. Joining the military has really shown me what equality feels like.