Female United States Marine Michelle* was interviewed by The Salt Collective’s Nathan Roberts on her experience of sexism and harassment as a Marine.
Michelle: They told me when I joined that “A Marine is always a Marine”, but I am here to tell you about the hidden truth of how Marines treat female Marines.
I started out as what is called a “contract PFC”, meaning if you had enough college education, you were entitled to skip the rank of private to Private First Class.
What made you decide to serve in the Marines?
I wanted a fresh start. I was not ready to go back to school and I wanted to try something new and exciting. I wanted to serve my country and the Marines are known as the strongest, most difficult, most elite branch of the military and I wanted in. I had never met a female Marine in real life but I didn’t think it would be difficult for me as I was in very good shape going in. I always strive to be the best and am a very competitive person.
I thought it would give me the opportunity to help those who are oppressed and hopefully make a positive contribution.
The Marines recruitment facility was in a small strip mall, where most recruitment facilities are placed. There were no other women at the time in the office. I didn’t think too much of it as the office was usually pretty empty anyways. It also did not occur to me that it was a big deal to recruit a woman until I already signed up and overheard my recruiter brag about signing a woman to another one of the recruiters.
The recruiter ended up losing my birth certificate and high school diploma, claiming he gave them back to me. They both showed up in my mom’s mailbox with a post-it-note attached about a month before I graduated boot camp.
My recruiter also lied to me. He told me that I could drive a tank.
Why did you want to drive a tank?
The same reason someone would want to drive a Porsche 911 or a 1986 Corolla (best drifting car ever made); they are vehicles few people get a chance in their lifetime to drive. (In actuality, driving a tank is a male only position within an entirely separate job field).
Were you surprised when you found out that driving a tank was a male only job? How did you feel?
I was irate. I felt duped by my recruiter. Driving a tank is male only because it is considered a combat job, and those are for males only. It is very common to have male only jobs in the Marines and I’m okay with that.
I don’t want to be living in a dirt hole, where showers are a rarity. I like my clean bed, my showers and I hate camping. However I didn’t know that I wouldn’t be allowed to drive a tank. And I signed up.
What was your experience at boot camp?
Boot camp sucked. Our drill instructors hit us and starved us; our platoon leader was so malnourished that her hair started falling out.
This was late 2011-early 2012. I vividly remember one of the drill instructors named Cerda. She was a sadistic woman that never met the “build them back up” part of the deal. We were called “sluts, whores” and in my case “caveman” because I dared to have any muscle definition. She left me with rope burns after tightening my ropes for a repelling exercise as well as a fat lip for a rifle “correction”. She once placed her boot on top of a recruit’s head while lying flat on the floor, pressing her boot further and further down as the girl whimpered.
I believe soon after I was there that investigators came in and things changed.
Do you know how or why things at boot camp changed?
I couldn’t tell you that. That’s above my pay grade. I am only speculating about how things changed. There was a female assigned to my duty station roughly a year after I got there. She was fresh out of boot camp. She was lazy, meek, unmotivated and rude. I asked her what company in boot camp she came out of, as they each have their own qualities associated with them. To my surprise, she said she was from the same company that I came out of. I couldn’t believe it as we were known to be the most disciplined, a quality she was severely lacking. I began asking her questions about her experience at boot camp. She said she was never hit, she got to eat all of her food and was completely unaware of the “games” my D.I.’s played with my platoon.
Did things get better for you after boot camp?
Once assigned to my duty station, I was met with constant sexual harassment and backlash. I exceeded in all the tests, yet my male counterparts were recommended for promotion. I did not try and flirt, or look pretty.
Were their female Marines who “tried and flirted or looked pretty” to get ahead?
Some others did to various degrees. I never wanted to water down the standards. I wanted to be taken seriously and be an equal.
I simply did my job to the best anyone could, yet time and time again, the males that got invited to the BBQ’s or the females that flirted and caked on makeup were put up for promotions. I felt left out, like I wasn’t really accepted. Instead I stayed in watching movies or went to the gym. It wasn’t just the make-up, wearing make-up to an extent is fine, but when it’s coupled with flirting and trying to get standards waived, that behavior crosses the line. I find that behavior disgraceful.
This was my life for two years 24/7. I could not simply walk down the sidewalk wearing a t-shirt and shorts, without being catcalled or having my picture taken without my permission for a website dedicated to shaming female Marines (where people added disgusting and inappropriate captions to photos of female marines). One of these sites is Just the Tip of the Spear or you can Google search the term Marine/Wookie (a derogatory word for female Marines).
When we (Female Marines) were finally given the chance to voice our thoughts to the higher ups, we were basically told it was our own fault that this all occurred… I’m still in awe of their reaction, years later.
Stateside was better, but not by much; for me it was two more years of the “boy’s club”.
When did you decide you needed to leave the Marines? Was there a moment that was the breaking point?
Breaking point. Let’s see. Imagine you are number 2 in your shop as far as best scores. You can shoot, you can run, you can do it all really well. You are ranked number 2 out of roughly 40 Marines, male and female. Yet you are continuously passed up for promotion and it’s given to that cute little female Marine who never shows up to PT, who has sub-par scores, or to one of the good ole’ boys. Again mediocre scores, at best, but he’s one of the guys.
Coupled with that, you get out of work and you can’t simply walk down the street, on your own time, without hearing something derogatory about you, whether or not you were the intended target. This is your life for four straight years. My breaking point was more like I started out as a block of wood and over four years, every single day, someone took fine grain sand paper to me until there was nothing left.
I’m out now, honorable discharge.
Sometimes at school, while at the Vet center a curious student walks in, wondering about the different branches. If it’s a female, I warn her to NOT join the Marines. If it’s a male, I just feel sad that after a short time of brainwashing, he will undoubtedly come to see women as inferior to men.
I don’t necessarily regret my service, I’m just saddened. Men learn to hate women. Women learn to hate women. This is the Marine Corps.
*Michelle is a pseudonym used to protect the Marine’s identity.