Earlier this week the Stars and Stripes posted an article that read, “Female veterans, service members not seeking needed services.” It spoke on the growing issue of women veterans ignoring their veteran status and all available support and benefits, but it never really answered why.
Sure, we can make some obvious conclusions, like the percentage of females who have experienced sexual trauma while in the military will often choose to avoid anything affiliated with their service. There is also the theory that women tend to put their needs last and neglect to acknowledge their military experiences due to family obligations. But I think that there is another reason we are we distancing each other to our own demise.
The military instills in us the importance of teamwork and unity. It builds a sense of comradery greater than you will find in any other institution. So why are we not seeing sorority sister-like bonds flourishing in the military and post service? Shouldn’t we all be prospering in our ventures and optimizing our successes through the aid and support from fellow veteran mentors and peers? Or has the military trained us to snub each other.”
Many women who have served in the military would contend that they would rather take a bullet than show any sign of fragility among your male peers. You are always over compensating for the fact that you are an equal, and needlessly for that matter. How many guys passed out while getting their vaccinations at Basic Training? Or how many males would regularly fail a PT test, or attempt to get out of field training, or do anything that discredits them? The answer is a lot of them, and all of the time. So why do women get so queasy at the thought of one of their female peers pulling a sissy move? Easy: because that makes ALL of us look bad. When you are a female in the military, you are representing ALL females in the military at all times. The guys have 40 others in a formation that they can hide behind when they want to take a slack day; YOU however, stand out like bright red nail polish in uniform. Just one mention of a menstrual cramp and you shame the entire female population in service, and they will all hate you for it. Managing that daily fear of failure and extremely high self-efficacy starts to create an anxiety in all of us that undoubtedly contributes to the higher rates of transitional issues our female veterans are facing. When you are constantly protecting your image and defending your worth, self-doubt is inevitable, and that will only tenfold when you leave the structured military life.
With more women not seeking assistance perhaps we are witnessing just how damaging those higher expectations we set for ourselves can be, and how our stubborn unwillingness to admit any weakness can go dangerously beyond military service.
We need to abolish our destructive behaviors learned from our service and start standing up for ourselves and our fellow female veterans. Regardless of branch of military and service time, we are all women who have survived the hell of training, for many of us combat, and have stood their ground in a male dominated field.
So my sisters, remember this: next time you have the opportunity to reach out to another female veteran understand that you have more in common with that other women than you do the entire population, and you both need to give each other some recognition, support and serious credit where it is due.