As it does every year, the Marine Corps recently published its birthday message video highlighting Marines past and present, but as Newsweek's Jim Laporta noted on Monday, it has just six seconds of footage of women in an eight minute-long video.
The video, which begins with footage from America's heartland before moving on to cuts of Marine infantrymen loading up on an MV-22 Osprey and carrying out an air assault, features narration throughout from Gen. David Berger, the Marine Commandant, and Sgt. Maj. Troy Back, the top enlisted Marine. It frequently transitions from footage of Marines in combat to interviews with former Marines.
But there were no interviews with women, or much more than quick clips of women's contribution to the Corps in the 2019 birthday video, disappointing former Marine Sgt. Erin Kirk-Cuomo, cofounder of “Not In My Marine Corps,” a group that sheds light on stories of sexual assault and harassment in the ranks.
“The Marine Corps still has a huge culture problem,” Kirk-Cuomo told Task & Purpose. “A culture where a large number of vocal active duty and veteran males treat women who serve with disdain and hatred. This video is just one more confirmation of the Marine Corps bias towards the women who serve.”
In a phone interview, retired Marine Lt. Col. Kate Germano, who authored a book about the training of female Marines, said that she didn't think there was any “evil intent” by Marine Corps leaders during the making of the video. The lack of women in the video boils down to lacking knowledge — call it a blind spot — that often comes when groups lack diverse input. Perhaps simply telling the video editor to make sure there are plenty of male and female Marines in this video would have resulted in something that all Marines could identify with, while not favoring one specific group.
So that's exactly what I told Rebecca Rosen, a video editor at Task & Purpose, who re-edited the video to add in more instances of female Marines. The additions of just over a dozen clips of women and a female voiceover are so subtle that it's hard recognize many of the changes. “That was the idea,” Rosen told me. “To make a video they should've made all along.”
Rosen couldn't do much about the fact the Corps only interviewed men, which takes up a lot of the video. Nevertheless, you can watch the re-edited video above, or a side-by-side version below.
'There was no deliberate intent to include women'
The issue of culture is reflected in polling conducted by the DoD's Office of People Analytics in 2018, which showed a “substantial increase” in sexual assault against female Marines. And when asked about their unit's overall climate and hostility in the workplace, the report said, “Marine Corps women rated every aspect of the unit climate as significantly lower, and the level of hostility as significantly higher, than men.”
Maj. Melanie Salinas, a spokeswoman for Headquarters Marine Corps, declined to comment on criticism of the video, and would not say whether any female Marines were involved in its creation.
Still, a defense official who would speak only on condition of anonymity told Task & Purpose there was “no deliberate effort” to exclude women from the video, but said it was part of a series intended to focus on the new direction the Corps is moving in. “The intent is to include everyone,” the official said.
But the key word is “deliberate,” said Germano. “There was no deliberate intent to include women,” Germano told Task & Purpose. “When you flip the language … you see there was no one looking to include 51 percent of the talent pool.”
Female Marines are often more educated, more likely to finish their first enlistment, and less likely to get in trouble than their male counterparts, according to Germano, making them more desirable from a recruiting standpoint. But the Corps doesn't acknowledge that, she said. “How many more times am I going to see a billboard and not see a female Marine?”
“I'm disappointed that yet again so few women were highlighted in a year where women have broken down barriers and pushed into new areas of the Marine Corps,” said Kirk-Cuomo. “For so many of us that is super motivating. I don't understand why it is so hard for the Marine Corps leadership to get that.”
That could be due to the Corps lagging far behind the other services when looking at female representation in senior leadership positions. As a recent Congressional Research Service report noted, as of Aug. 2018, just 13.6% of Marine senior enlisted and officers were women, compared to 30.7% for the Army, and 41.5% for the Air Force.
Overall, females represent just 8.6% of the Marine Corps — which often means women stand out and feel isolated among their male counterparts, according to a 2015 Rand Corporation study. “Research has demonstrated that the impact of integrating women on the cohesion of traditionally male groups depends on the culture of the group — groups more hostile to women experience lower cohesion after gender integration than do groups less hostile toward women,” the study noted.
In other words: The success or failure of women in the Marine Corps often depends on whether their male counterparts view them as equals and treat them as such — especially their senior leadership. The 2018 birthday video, for example, showed far more footage of female Marines in various roles, to include recognition from then-Commandant Gen. Robert Neller: “One hundred years ago they answered the nation's call,” Neller said in the video. “And they've been serving faithfully ever since.”
But the 2019 video, which shows few women Marines, carries with it an unspoken message, according to Germano.
“They don't see themselves in the handouts that go out in schools,” she said. “They don't see themselves as having a place .”
Jeff Schogol contributed reporting.