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Widespread sexism and gender bias in the Marine Corps hasn't stopped hundreds of female Marines from striving for the branch's most dangerous, respected and selective jobs.
Six years after the Pentagon officially opened combat roles to women in 2013, 613 female Marines and sailors now serve in them, according to new data released by the Marine Corps.
"Females are now represented in every previously-restricted occupational field," reads a powerpoint released this month on the Marine Corps Integration Implementation Plan (MCIIP), which notes that 60% of those female Marines and sailors now serving in previously-restricted units joined those units in the past year.
An internal investigation spurred by a nude photo scandal shows just how deep sexism runs in the Marine Corps
"I will still have to work harder to get the perception away from peers and seniors that women can't do the job."
Some years ago, a 20-year-old female Marine, a military police officer, was working at a guard shack screening service members and civilians before they entered the base. As a lance corporal, she was new to the job and the duty station, her first in the Marine Corps.
At some point during her shift, a male sergeant on duty drove up. Get in the car, he said, the platoon sergeant needs to see you. She opened the door and got in, believing she was headed to see the enlisted supervisor of her platoon.
Instead, the sergeant drove her to a dark, wooded area on base. It was deserted, no other Marines were around. "Hey, I want a blowjob," the sergeant told her.
"What am I supposed, what do you do as a lance corporal?" she would later recall. "I'm 20 years old ... I'm new at this. You're the only leadership I've ever known, and this is what happens."
She looked at him, then got out of the car and walked away. The sergeant drove up next to her and tried to play it off as a prank. "I'm just fucking with you," he said. "It's not a big deal."
It was one story among hundreds of others shared by Marines for a study initiated in July 2017 by the Marine Corps Center for Advanced Operational Culture Learning (CAOCL). Finalized in March 2018, the center's report was quietly published to its website in September 2019 with little fanfare.
The culture of the Marine Corps is ripe for analysis. A 2015 Rand Corporation study found that women felt far more isolated among men in the Corps, while the Pentagon's Office of People Analytics noted in 2018 that female Marines rated hostility toward them as "significantly higher" than their male counterparts.
But the center's report, Marines' Perspectives on Various Aspects of Marine Corps Organizational Culture, offers a proverbial wakeup call to leaders, particularly when paired alongside previous studies, since it was commissioned by the Marine Corps itself in the wake of a nude photo sharing scandal that rocked the service in 2017.
The scandal, researchers found, was merely a symptom of a much larger problem.
It may take up to five years to finalize the standards for the Army Combat Fitness Test as the service struggles to address the performance gap between male and female soldiers on the service's first-ever gender-neutral fitness assessment.
The Army just completed in late September a year-long field test of the ACFT, involving about 60 battalions of soldiers. And as of Oct. 1, soldiers in Basic Combat Training, advanced Individual training and one station unit training began to take the ACFT as a graduation requirement.
So far, the data is showing "about a 100 to a 110-point difference between men and women, on average," Maj. Gen. Lonnie Hibbard, commander of the Center for Initial Military Training, told Military.com.
MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. -- The Marine Corps could train as many as eight co-ed companies at boot camp each year, and the general overseeing the effort is hitting back against those complaining that the move is lowering training standards.
"Get over it," Maj. Gen. William Mullen, the head of Training and Education Command told Military.com on Thursday. "We're still making Marines like we used to. That has not changed."
Mullen, a career infantry officer who has led troops in combat — including in Fallujah, Iraq — said Marines have likely been complaining about falling standards since 1775.
"I'm assuming that the second Marine walking into Tun Tavern was like 'You know ... our standards have gone down. They're just not the same as it they used to be,'" Mullen said, referring to the service's famous birthplace. "That has always been going on in the history of the Marine Corps."
She's photographed every major war of the last 20 years. Marine Corps boot camp was something else entirely
Conflict photographer Lynsey Addario has seen a hell of a lot of combat over the past twenty years. She patrolled Afghanistan's Helmand Province with the Marines, accompanied the Army on night raids in Baghdad, took artillery fire with rebel fighters in Libya, and has taken photos in countless other wars and humanitarian disasters around the world.
Along the way, Addario captured images of plenty of women serving with pride in uniform, not only in the U.S. armed forces, but also on the battlefields of Syria, Colombia, South Sudan and Israel. Her photographs are the subject of a new article in the November 2019 special issue of National Geographic, "Women: A Century of Change," the magazine's first-ever edition written and photographed exclusively by women.
The photos showcase the wide range of goals and ideals for which these women took up arms. Addario's work includes captivating vignettes of a seasoned guerrilla fighter in the jungles of Colombia; a team of Israeli military police patrolling the streets of Jerusalem; and a unit of Kurdish women guarding ISIS refugees in Syria. Some fight to prove themselves, others seek to ignite social change in their home country, and others do it to liberate other women from the grip of ISIS.
Addario visited several active war zones for the piece, but she found herself shaken by something much closer to home: the Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island, South Carolina.
Addario discussed her visit to boot camp and her other travels in an interview with Task & Purpose, which has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
The Marine Corps made an 8 minute birthday video with only 6 seconds of female Marines. So we fixed it for them
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 [recruiting] handouts that go out in schools," she said. "They don't see themselves as having a place [in the Corps]."
Jeff Schogol contributed reporting.