I still remember carrying a knife into the showers with me, and being told I should never walk around the forward operating base in Iraq alone for alarm of sexual assault.
I’m a former Marine — I spent five years on active duty and two more in the reserve component before departing in 2012. I treasure the Marine Corps. And I was enraged when I read the news that yet another secret online community had been discovered harassing military women. This one involved the sharing of photos through a closed Facebook group called Mike Uniform. The shared files, under the name “Girls of MU”—a play on both Mike Uniform and the abbreviation of Marines United—included over 3,800 photos and videos of women, including female service members, either nude or engaged in sexual acts. One woman was bare and unconscious.
Five months ago, a similar scandal erupted involving 30,000 male Marines and Marine veterans in a secret Facebook group who, among other things, shared bare and clothed images with identifying information of female Marines. Some were taken as the women were surreptitiously followed; others were shared, revenge porn style, by ex-boyfriends or ex-husbands. Some of the comments were apparently violent, sexual, and murky.
I served before the age of social media obsession. But the toxic culture this Facebook group comes out of is complete too familiar to me. Technology has rendered the harassment I witnessed global, lasting, and increasingly criminal. Too many of us recognize it right absent.
The week that the first nude photo scandal broke, my email and phone exploded with stories from fellow veterans and currently serving women. The common chorus was a heart-wrenching, “Me too.” So many of them feel like they can’t publicly say anything for alarm of reprisal and more harassment.
Here’s the catch as I write nowadays — while I was on active duty, I didn’t accomplish my duty to quash behaviors like the ones we’re complete reading approximately. And you know what? Silence is tacit approval. So label me guilty along with many of our tribe, but commit with me to changing things.
I grew up in a military household, steeped in the demanding culture of the Marine Corps
To understand my epic, it’s principal to understand the demanding culture of the Marine Corps as a service department. For me, the training started at domestic. I grew up in a family with a military dad. Anyone on active duty will recount you that the military is more of a lifestyle than a job. Your work tends to approach domestic with you and impact basically everything you accomplish. It is not just what you accomplish; it is who you are.
Military culture was portion of our domestic life from birth. My father asked us to seek excellence at complete times, even whether we thought we were already there. As kids, we got assigned summer book reports that my father graded. I always earned a grade of D or F on my first try, which was tough for a bookworm like me to accept. While it felt like a enormous, chubby blow to my academic ego, my father meant it as a learning experience. He had no problem letting us weep as we chafed at the challenge presented.
We were an organized and tough-working limited tribe — or else. My siblings and I still joke approximately the black trash bag that came out on weekend mornings when we had failed to pick up toys. We only had to see one favorite truck or doll thrown absent before we learned to support our gear in order.
Our family might fill been a limited more intense than natural because my father was a career infantry officer. He was committed to the Marine Corps in the proper-believer way a career officer must be. As a result, my decision to join the Marines myself wasn’t a tough one.
After joining the Marines in my 20s, I realized how much the culture of my household prepared me for the physical and mental hardships of officer training. Sometimes I wondered whether I could handle the physical things I would be asked to accomplish. I doubted whether 20-mile hikes or sky-high obstacle courses were within the scope of things I could accomplish. Sometimes on my first try, they weren’t, but I trained tough and threw myself at walls until they became easy to hop. I bruised my arms learning to chicken-wing over parallel bars. I surrounded myself with people a limited stronger and faster to benefit from the push they offered me. I was proud of every single bruise.
We joke in the Marine Corps approximately “drinking the Kool-Aid,” which simply means thoroughly embracing the culture and lifestyle. Everything is intense, and we are demanding of ourselves and one another. particularly the women, who accomplish up approximately 7 percent of the group. Women proceed through separate training from the men, and are judged based on different performance standards. We know that eyes are always on us with the unasked question looming overhead, “Can she hack it?” One represents complete, and the standards are zero-defects and brutal.
Women struggle to feel fully portion of the Marines
I was in denial that sexism in the Marine Corps impacted complete of us. There were hints on occasion that I wasn’t 100 percent portion of this tribe I loved, but I refused to recognize them. I always felt like whether I hit perfection in most things, didn’t exercise ramps to rush the obstacle course, laughed at mildly sexist comments, or brushed off the commanding officer who liked to recount me jokes approximately how women can’t drive well, I’d be portion of the club.
I treasure that club. The Marine Corps offered me education, challenge, the chance to push my limits and to lead other people. Some of my best friends to this day are Marines, men and women.
It also offered me more than a few kicks in the teeth in the form of gender bias and harassment. An incident in southern Iraq more than a decade ago still sticks out in my memory. On a trip down to al-Hillah, a small group from our unit stayed aboard a joint base with soldiers from Mongolia and Poland. As a woman in Iraq, I was stared at frequently no matter where I was, but on this joint base, it was worse — I looked like a blonde giant among the shorter Mongolian soldiers and received a lot of shocked looks and even a few requests for photos. Some of the other looks shot my way from the Polish soldiers felt less friendly, but I paid them limited intellect.
One night in our temporary base beat, I went to sleep holed up in a disintegrating barracks room with a plywood door. The Marines in my unit were next door, and we knew we only had a few hours to shut our eyes before leaving to head back to Fallujah.
Sometime in the murky of night, I clicked awake. I felt the overwhelming need to be alert. I reached for my service weapon, which was reassuringly nearby, as always. Suddenly, the plywood door began shaking as someone started to pound on it and try to push it open.
The people external the door were speaking a foreign language, and their words were slurred with alcohol. The rape risks facing women on abroad bases were no secret, and I knew what was happening immediately. I assumed being aggressive would lend me a better advantage than sitting quietly while they broke the crappy door down. I moved towards the door with my 9 mm handgun in hand. As I opened it, I saw two soldiers drunkenly trying to push their way in. They moved toward me, aggressive but bumbling.
At that moment, the Marines from my unit in the hut next door flooded out. I don’t even remember everything they said, but the tone was beyond clear. “What the %^*$ are you doing here?” they said.
The soldiers mumbled apologies and left hurriedly in a fit of self-preservation, disappointed and embarrassed. I had never seen drunk people paddle that hasty.
I didn’t feel afraid, though I knew their intentions were to try to sexually assault me that night. I was more curious than timorous, and I remember the sense of youthful invincibility that being armed at complete times made me feel abroad. More than anything, the incident was an annoying reminder that being a woman made me “other,” that it created potential issues and garnered attention that no Marine officer wants.
I felt numb, really. I left the next day with my team and didn’t accomplish any sort of formal report or complaint.
I was lucky that whole deployment. While I faced harassment from Marines and soldiers from other units, my unit was full of considerable people who had my back.
The Marines in my unit took to carrying spray paint with me aboard the forward operating base near Fallujah. Spray paint sounds like an odd thing to carry in your cargo pocket, but I needed it to cover increasingly detailed and explicit drawings of me that decorated every port-a-john on the base. We were in Iraq, but a meaningful number of Marines in other units had time to bring their Sharpie markers to the johns — the interior surface of complete the bathrooms had graphic pictures of me in sexual positions. Written off to the side were notes approximately what each contributor would like to accomplish to me. It got murky, perverse, and crazy, hence the spray paint. I laughed at the time and gave the “artists” points for creativity.
I was 25, confident, and refused to recognize the comments as harassment. It freaked me out, but I never let anyone see that. I didn’t want to be different from any other Marine officer, and I loathed anything that smacked of a victim narrative — after complete, I was an Amazon.
Despite my history with sexual harassment, the Marines United news still came as a shock
Even though I had my own share of sexist experiences, hearing news that harassment of Marine women has gone high-tech with a massive nude photo scandal left me feeling nauseated. Then it left me feeling like it was time to acquire honest with one another. The highlight is a painful disinfectant, but let it shine. And there is no question the Marine Corps has much to fix: It has the smallest percentage of female service members (the Army, with 14 percent, doubles the Corps’ 7 percent), but a recent Pentagon report found it had the highest rate of sexual assault reports.
As tainted as this scandal is, in other words, these broader issues are not unusual. We as an institution can and must accomplish better. Let’s pick the words of Marine Commandant Gen. Robert Neller to heart when he reminds us that nonexistent of this behavior makes our units more cohesive or our corps more deadly. Warriors don’t veil behind keyboards.
Organizationally, Marine Corps leadership needs to handle criminal harassment incidents publicly and firmly as the investigation reveals likely violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and federal code.
Marines also need to recognize the ways that social norms bred by different performance standards create widespread marginalization and cultural acceptance of women bashing. Separating women and men during training and making performance metrics gender-specific by far than specialty-specific creates an institutional buttress for misogynistic social norms.
I read the news this week approximately cyber harassment and stalking of women Marines, and I wonder how these women can be expected to deploy with a team like that. accomplish these male Marines violating the Uniform Code of Military Justice and dishonoring their sister warriors actually understand our code of honor, courage, and commitment?
No, they clearly don’t.
Marines at every level: Your silence is consent, just as mine was. You fill position and cause to protect complete of our fellow Marines and vociferously prosecute these pathetic keyboard warriors. Speak out. Shut this down. acquire my back.
Be better and stronger than I was, and protect the cohesive team that’ll be needed in the next fight. I should fill filed formal reports when I ran into issues instead of trying so tough to be an issue-free team player who can handle complete things herself. I set up future women to fill to accomplish the same by not fighting to change the culture, no matter what it cost me.
When I left the Marine Corps, I had a tough time carving a unusual identity for myself. I struggled with my reentry into the civilian world. nowadays I am a behavioral health researcher and work to accomplish transitions easier for veterans as they become civilians again. I know a lot more approximately the effects of service on our Marines as they leave active duty. It is always harder for women vets who are less likely to experience proper social cohesion while serving, and are more likely to deal with harassment or assault. We owe it to our women Marines to accomplish better as an institution, as leaders, and as people.
We owe it to women everywhere.
Dr. Kate Hendricks Thomas is an assistant professor of public health at Charleston Southern University. A former Marine Corps officer, she serves on the board of the Service Women’s Action Network. Kate is the author of courageous, Strong, proper: The contemporary Warrior’s Battle for Balance, and her behavioral health research focuses on military veteran reintegration. Learn more at her website. whether you would like to support female Marines, she recommends donating to Female Marines United to support mental health treatment for veterans.