“Oh, you were in the Army? I could never do that. I can’t even do a pullup. And, I like to wear makeup.” I might be paraphrasing just a bit, but it’s pretty similar to the response I hear after a new female pal learns that I’m an Army veteran. No questions or curiosity regarding what life in the military is like, just that immediate barrier thrown up between us. On one side there’s me and my experience, on the other, someone who’s removed herself from the conversation by a life choice she could never imagine herself choosing.
She doesn’t know that you don’t have to do pullups in the Army and I’ve seen some soldiers wear more makeup than you’d think anyone would wear in public; what matters is that she removed herself from even having the opportunity to have a conversation about what we do have in common. Aside from feeling slightly dismissed, the rejection to my experience bothers me because it signals perhaps a lack of empathy, or more specifically, a lack of understanding. If someone can’t see themselves in you, you’re immediately different. And yes women in the military are pretty rare, I do get that. As a female Army Officer, I was .00005% of the U.S. population, but that statistic doesn’t have to build a wall between us. This country is a melting pot and everyone is part of some underrepresented demographic—whether it’s religion, ethnicity, college major—whatever it is, you’re usually part of something that’s specific to your background, and that can differentiate you from your peers. But we should use that as a launching point for conversation, not as a place to dismiss someone’s experience, just because it’s not one you’re familiar with.
And usually it is; there are many instances in my life where I’ve had fascinating discussions with someone who grew up as a missionary’s child, lived in a commune, or who served in the Peace Corps—experiences that I have no familiarity with, and loved learning more about. But for some reason, bringing up the military to most civilian women my age adds an obstacle between us. The media might partially be to blame in this instance as the average modern military experience is sorely lacking in mainstream media. Movies like Hurt Locker, American Sniper, and Zero Dark Thirty account for roughly less than .05% of veteran’s military experiences. Largely, the day-to-day life of a soldier is a lot more similar to civilian counterparts than people realize. Those stories aren’t captured in the media because they’re mundane and boring. Who wants to watch soldiers count inventory, write reports, or clean rifles? Of course the entertainment industry wants to tell the most extreme stories within the community—it’s what sells tickets.
I guess what I’m aiming to do is open doors between civilian and veteran women, specifically millennials, possibly on the grounds of shared feminist sentiments. It’s one of the most discussed movements lately; every day I’m bombarded with images of female empowerment, activism, and a call-to-arms for feminism from the media as well as my social networks. Well, what about those women veterans who lived those strong female values, surrounded by men, often in harsh environments, responsible for the lives of their soldiers? They might not all consider themselves feminists, and I know many who hate that word and refuse to call themselves one. Regardless, they’re doing more for the cause by showing up each day, than the women who posted proud pictures of themselves at a Women’s March. What about us and what we did, showing up every single day, proving that women have a place right alongside men? Why can’t that be our foundation for friendship? That’s my call to action.
Nina Semczuk served as an Army Officer in various locations and units from 2011-2016. Prior to military service, she attended Boston University and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in TV and Film production. She now writes articles for the web and enjoys reading and exploring New York. Say hi on Twitter @ninadawdles.