Saturday, 25 November 2017

Military training through a woman's eyes

When I was a child, the girls in my neighborhood would bring their Barbie dolls to each other’s homes to play dress up. I would stay at home with my little brother to play Hot Wheels and Beyblades. When I was a teenager, my girlfriends would babble all day about the latest episodes of Desperate Housewives and Charmed. I would raise my brows in bewilderment, wondering how on earth could they be as fascinating as going to the arcade to play Time Crisis. In high school, when we were asked to share our aspirations, the girls in class said that they wanted to become businesswomen, teachers, and journalists. I wanted to become a soldier. I was convinced that it was one of the most respected jobs in the world. Yet, all I received were the snickers of my male classmates.

It didn’t bother me. After high school, I went on to inquire more about a career in the military. Instead of finding more incentives to become a solider, I was consistently cautioned about the gender inequality that is pervasive in the military. Being the stubborn person that I am, I went ahead to enlist with the military in spite of the multiple warnings. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Our society tells us that women shouldn’t be rolling around in the mud. Women should smell like daisies in the summer, not wet soil after rainfall. Women should apply facial supplements to maintain their complexions and not camouflage cream to avoid enemy detection. Women should learn social etiquettes and graces, not how to brutally murder their opponents.

If that’s the case, I went against every aspect of societal norms for women. Instead of going to the spa, I went out to the field without showering for days. Instead of healthy greens and protein, I fed on combat rations. Instead of carrying handbags and clutches, I held my rifle and a field pack. Instead of the comfort of a velvety bed, I slept with the ground beetles in my shell scrape.

As time went by, my fellow military comrades started treating me as a brother-in-arms, rather than a lady. Although some found it pitiful, being seen as one of them and partaking in the same experiences was precious to me.

One of the most common warnings about being a military servicewoman is the lack of respect received by male colleagues. The fact that we aren’t as physically inclined as men makes it harder for us to earn their respect. Speaking from experience, it is true that no matter how hard a female solider trains, it is almost impossible that she will be as tough as a male solider with the same amount of training.

Route marches were agonizing for me while it seemed like a breeze for my section mates. Digging a fire trench took me almost twice the amount of time taken by my buddy. Fast marches were equivalent to cross-country races for me, as it required two of my tiny steps to compensate for one of my male comrades’. Physical and combat training never failed to push me to my limit.

Yet, at the end of the day, no matter how hard I pushed myself, I could not outshine their physical performance. It was only during one of the route marches when my fellow platoon mate encouraged me that I realized that it didn’t matter: “It’s so damn tiring! I wonder how you girls do it. I’m so huge and I feel like I’m about to die. I don’t understand how you can carry such a heavy load with that tiny body of yours. You have all my respect.” The fact that I wasn’t as physically able as them didn’t diminish the respect that they had for me. It was the determination and resilience that mattered.

One of the most aggravating comments that never fail to make my eyes roll is “females get it easier in the military.” I can’t comprehend why but assumptions are made that commanders slacken their expectations for women. It is not true. I was the only female cadet in the professional term of my Officer Cadet Course. Contrary to popular belief, I wasn’t given any leeway because I was a woman. I was assigned to one of the most challenging assignments and received twice the reprimand from my Commanding Officer each time I made a mistake. As much as I persuaded myself to stay true to my faith in the military, I was becoming extremely depressed and discouraged. The warnings were true after all. There wasn’t any room for women in the military.

As I was plagued with more and more unpleasant situations, I started considering the option of leaving the military altogether. It was not until I confided in a fellow female officer who was years ahead of me in the military that I was reassured of my convictions.  “As a female in the military, your every single action warrants twice the amount of attention – regardless of whether it’s good or bad. When you perform, your colleagues are going to show you twice the respect. When you falter, you will receive twice the contempt. It’s up to you how you react to such situations. Make use of them as opportunities to prove your mettle and worth.” 

Ever since the conversation, I’ve been earnestly holding on to her piece of advice. I stopped hating the attention and pressure that were on me. I refused to believe that I was being picked on because I was a woman. Instead, I saw those situations as opportunities – opportunities to testify that women not only deserve to have a place in the military but to also be looked upon as valuable assets. I wouldn’t say that I have been completely successful in each attempt but I know for sure that the military isn’t as it was years ago. More women like myself are breaking the stereotypes that women aren’t made for the field, and society is becoming less and less appalled at the news of a lady joining the military.

The military is a special place. It is not for everyone, but it is definitely a fallacy to say it is not for women. There are women out there, like myself, who harbour similar or different aspirations that are against social conventions. To my fellow sisters, do not be afraid of what society tells you. Do not let anyone or anything belittle your ambitions. In the words of Mariah Carey,

“There’s a hero 
If you look inside your heart 
You don’t have to be afraid 
Of what you are.”

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