Triple Threat

Monday, October 17, 2011
When I was on active duty, my promotion trajectory was quite fast. Due to a now defunct program called "accelerated advancement," my ability to test well, and a sufficient number of openings in my job title, I was able to achieve the rank of First Class Petty Officer (E-6) in 4.5 years, at the age of 23.

And I took no end of shit for my accomplishment.

Nearly every non-commissioned officer with whom I had contact had the following opinion:
  1. I was far too young to have been awarded the rank I had achieved.
  2. I had not been in the Navy long enough to have been awarded the rank I had achieved.
  3. A woman should not have been awarded the rank I had achieved ahead of a man.
  4. The rank I had been awarded was obviously the result of my looks, or who I had slept with, or some other non-merit based criteria. 
  5. Some combination of 1, 2, 3, and always 4.
I was promoted because I was smart, and worked hard, and learned the technical knowledge I needed in order to do well on the advancement exam. But I didn't "deserve" it because I was young, female, and attractive. And people - both men and women - felt perfectly comfortable saying this to my face, secure in the knowledge that their behavior was acceptable in  the culture in which we lived and worked.

And it made me think, "I wonder if their attitude would have been different if I'd had a penis?" I think you can guess the answer. Because there was a man in my command who was equally smart, worked just as hard, learned just as much, and got promoted almost as fast. And he was described as "ambitious," "someone to watch," and a "triple threat." I can guarantee I wasn't described in those terms by my peers, even though we shared the attributes that made him praiseworthy. Yeah.

I'm happy to say that the Navy has made some progress in changing the culture so that the assumptions that were made about me are not necessarily the norm anymore. The fact that women are equal in fact rather than only in policy helps tremendously, as did the post Tailhook house-cleaning. But I wonder...how many high quality sailors were run off because staying wasn't worth the grief they took whenever they excelled? Being constantly marginalized - especially as a result of excellence - wears a person down, and I can't blame my sisters-in-arms who made the choice to leave rather than continue to deal with that bullshit indefinitely. I personally consider my experience worth it, and I don't regret it. But that doesn't mean it doesn't still piss me the hell off.

11 comments:

The Mechanicky Gal said...

I guess it is a good thing that I was (and probably still am) somewhat oblivious to what people think? Not intentionally, I just have other things to think about. Because I, too, made rank fast. I test well in the morning, and I actually READ the books. And I am sure that reading thing had a lot to do with it (shoots eyes at complainers. Let's compare standard test scores, shall we? Oh wait, of a possible 80 you got a 50? You suck, shut up).
But yeah, I am SURE that was the same with me. Glad I was too out-of-it to notice. Not so glad that you had to notice, though.

Janiece said...

MG, it's hard not to notice when people share their opinion with you to your face. I'm sure what was said behind my back was far worse, but what people actually felt comfortable saying to me directly was kind of appalling in retrospect. Examples:

"Whose dick did you suck to make First in less than five years?"

"I guess if I looked like you, I'd have made First that fast, too."

"Nobody should be a First Class before they're 25, especially not a girl."

True stories.

Phiala said...

Academia too, though maybe not as blatantly. I'm sure there are other areas that are similar, I just don't have personal experience with them.

The Mechanicky Gal said...

Sigh. I KNOW it was all said behind my, and others backs. Maybe being tall meant that the potential ass-kicking kept it there? Although it would have been me getting my ass kicked. Glad no one ever called me on it. Whew.

Jerry A. said...

Do the loudest complainers usually seem to be the worst performers and or the least secure? Some folks have little to no problem acknowledging when someone does better than themselves. Others feel threatened and need someone to tear down. Is there a parallel between the poor treatment of women and homosexuals in the military? (Just thinking out loud here.)
Jerry A.

filelalaine said...

I have no experience with the armed forces, but almost everywhere else, it is still not-all-that-unusual to call a man ambitious and a woman a bitch for the same exact behavior.

Warner said...

I made E-5 in 50 weeks, entirely skipping the rank of E-4.

I caught holy hell from all but two of the E-6 in my unit and the E-7 despised me.

Of course I didn't spend my off duty evenings at the NCO club buying them drinks.

I was under strong pressure to not re-up as I would have received a promotion, sans promotion board, to E-6 upon doing so.

Janiece said...

Jerry A., I honestly don't know. The dynamic is somewhat different, since you can't really be in the closet about being a woman.

filelalaine, you are so right.

Tom said...

"Of course I received my promotion(s) because of who I slept with. I slept by myself."

Huh? What did she just say???

Jeri said...

Very insightful, Janiece - and Amy! I'm glad that things have changed since then.

Anne C. said...

At the very least, the Navy has quantitative methods of advancement. In my profession, if you have a sexist boss, you get pigeonholed as a worker bee, rather than being a lead on anything. Advancement in that case would be achieved by starting your own business.

So, go Navy!