The Few, The Proud: Women Marines Define Themselves

It’s never been easy to be a woman in the Marine Corps, which is the most physically demanding branch of the military and the one with the smallest percentage of female service members: 7.6 percent. Disturbing revelations in March made it even tougher: Male members of the 30,000-strong Marines United Facebook group had been soliciting and posting explicit photos of current and former female Marines without their permission, often accompanied by violent and obscene comments.

The Corps continues to grapple with the fallout. Thus far, it has disciplined 44 Marines, strengthened its policies for addressing social media misconduct and established a task force to look at how it recruits, trains, assigns and mentors service members in an effort to eliminate gender bias. As it was taking these steps, we reached out to current and retired female Marines to find women interested in posing for photographs that would let them define how they were portrayed, as service members, left, and as individuals, right. We also spoke with them about their experiences in and out of the Corps, and about what they hope the photographs convey. (The interviews have been edited and condensed.)

There were areas of commonality: All but one said they were inspired to join the Marines in part because they had relatives who were in the Corps or another service; some said they’d had this desire since they were tiny children. All spoke about becoming a Marine in terms of the challenge — of proving they had what it takes, and often, in the process, proving others wrong. “It just always seemed like if you could do the Marine Corps you could do anything,” said Capt. Lauren Finch Serrano.

To varying degrees, being a woman in the Marine Corps has tested all of them. Stephanie Schroeder said she was discharged after reporting a rape and spent years fighting for the Veterans Affairs disability benefits she now receives. Others have stories of enduring insults, being propositioned, being stared at, feeling like they couldn’t be themselves, having to prove themselves over and over. “As a young woman in that time, you were easy prey,” recalled retired gunnery sergeant Carrie Ann Lynch, who enlisted in 1990. “It would have been easier to be a Marine if I was just invisible,” said Justine Elena, a captain in the reserve who left the service a few years ago. Five have combined their careers with parenthood. Four are married — all to current or former Marines, which comes with its own set of complications.

Even women with negative experiences said the Marine Corps gave them a lot: It made them tougher and more disciplined; it provided meaningful, rewarding work. Several cited supportive commanding officers. Many mentioned military benefits that have allowed them to further their educations. There were mixed feelings within the group about changes such as more-demanding physical fitness standards for female Marines and opening all combat roles to women, but also excitement about advances such as the first female graduate of the infantry officer school and the first recruiting ad featuring a woman.

All of the women were outraged by the Marines United scandal, though some weren’t surprised. Elena started a “Female Marines United” campaign to raise money for Headstrong, which provides mental health support to military members. But many in the group also noted that most Marines don’t engage in that behavior. “I’m proud of my service,” said Schroeder. “I respect my service. I have honor. I respect the Corps values. And a lot of Marines do. Just some don’t. And the some that don’t f— everything else up. I don’t know any other way to say that.”

As we prepare to mark Veterans Day on Nov. 11, here are the stories of eight dedicated Marines.

To read the stories of these dedicated Marines, click here.

Source: Washington Post article from November 2, 2017