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Military women often cite that they feel slighted in comparison to their male counterparts, that they don’t get the same promotion opportunities or the same recognition.This is not surprising—they are competing on standards that were designed and built by men to bring out the best in men.The military doesn’t just urge women, it them—especially if they want to succeed—to view themselves on the same playing field as their male counterparts.They are also expected to behave and perform in traditionally masculine ways—demonstrating strength, displaying confidence in their abilities, expecting to be judged on their merits and performance, and taking on levels of authority and responsibility that few women get to experience.The uniform and grooming standards work to downplay their physical female characteristics. military’s first female combatant commander, put it: “I’m a general, a commander, an airman.Additionally, the expectation—explicit or implicit—is that they also downplay other attributes that are traditionally considered feminine, such as open displays of emotion. And I happen to be a woman.”When many women leave the service, they expect that being a woman in the civilian community will be easier, but that isn’t always the case. The difference, this time, is that the individuals on the other end are not prepared for them to do so.
Today, women veterans are still facing a number of challenges, including being three to four times as likely as their civilian women counterparts to become homeless and 2.5 times more likely to commit suicide.
That’s not to say that gender isn’t going to be noticed or that others aren’t going to make it an issue—they will. They have to prove their abilities all over again, earn their place at the table again. They proved themselves every time they arrived at a new duty station. There are roughly 2 million women veterans in the United States and Puerto Rico, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
But highlighting female characteristics is undesirable. As veterans, they’re not afraid to prove themselves. Without the uniform, there is no outward indication that these women are veterans.
Other women veterans have also reported negative experiences with civilian women, ranging from lack of understanding and inability to relate to cold shoulders. Moreover, the behaviors—male behaviors—that women veterans learned were correct in the military are now at odds with the expectations civilians have for women.
In a 2015 study on how female veterans cope with transition, one participant said: “When I first got out of the military, I had a hard time with [women], civilian women. Instead of helping them fit in, these same behaviors now make them stand out, often in ways that make other people uncomfortable.
This kind of exchange, where a woman’s connection to the military is assumed to be earned by another, most likely male, individual can be insulting and disheartening to a woman who has served.