It’s November, right around the Marine Corps birthday, and after more than ten years I’m finally sitting down with a counselor to talk about my experiences in the Marine Corps. She is a Marine veteran herself, specializing in counseling veterans dealing with the aftermath of “MST” (Military Sexual Trauma) and the first question she asks is, “Are you here because of a specific instance, or just the every day of being a woman in the Marine Corps?” We laugh, because if we don’t, who knows what will happen next?
I imagine we will spend my next appointment discussing the Marines United scandal. The response I have seen from fellow women who served in the Corps is pretty uniform; we are unsurprised. When we speak in favor of gender integration in the infantry, and we get rape threats, we are unsurprised. When we give a political opinion that veterans “aren’t supposed to have” our service is questioned, or outright denied. When these things happen – we are unsurprised.
Perhaps the most difficult part of being a woman Marine Corps veteran is being faced with constant sexual degradation and harassment, constant denial of our service, constant invisibility, and constant alienation from the men who were supposed to be our brothers, and being completely, totally, unsurprised. I have yet to find an online community that serves Marines that is willing to police the men who joke about our rapes. I’ve stopped looking. What woman Marines have to do, what we have always had to do, is stick together in spite of our small numbers and in the face of disagreements, because the truth is, no one else knows what it is like to spend an enlistment as a woman in the Marine Corps.
Things are changing. The Commandant, Lt. Gen. Robert Neller, and other higher officials are putting plans in place to deal with this kind of thing, but Marines United reminds us that none of this matters unless we are willing to police our own. Of thirty thousand members, most actively serving or veterans only one man chose to come forward and report what was happening in the closed group. Only one man was willing to say it wasn’t acceptable to joke about raping fellow Marines, to steal their nude photos, to degrade them and deny them dignity. Only one.
His reward has been hate mail, death threats, a “bounty” placed on nude photos of his daughter. More will come. He’ll be flooded. Because the only thing a male Marine can do wrong when it comes to interaction with/about women Marines is stand up and say, “This is not okay.” Of thirty-thousand men I am supposed to call my brothers, one man said it wasn’t okay to joke about the assaults many women veterans have experienced at the hands of their superiors and “brothers” in arms. Only one thought it was a bridge too far to post illegally obtained nudes of women that made the same sacrifices and joined the same “brotherhood.” Only one. He will suffer for it.
— Jackie Speier (@RepSpeier) March 5, 2017
When we talk about what should be done to the active Marines involved in this scandal, what could be done, how the USMC can move on from it, that’s what we need to remember – it was only one man. The rest were either completely okay with it or chose to report to Facebook rather than letting the USMC know about it. Perhaps, they believed that this was bad, but not so bad anyone should lose a career over it. Women Marines know this line of thinking too well; harassment, sexual assault, domestic violence, and any other behavior that negatively affects her might be wrong, but are often asked to consider, “do you really want to ruin another Marine’s career over this?”
Here is the part where I tell you I served with great men. I served with men I consider family. I served with men who recoil in disgust at behavior like this, but when I look at the numbers I have to wonder – are they the one?
Because the fact remains, it was only one.
Photo: Getty Images