Coast Guard falls behind on Gender Equality

Our highest leadership is 93.3% men. We are proud of our continued success in equality!

This is exactly what the United States Coast Guard boasted about on August 26, 2011 on their official blog. According to the Coast Guard this is what equality looks like:

  • 13.7% of the Coast Guard workforce are women
  • 13.2% of the Coast Guard enlisted workforce are women
  • 18.4% of the Coast Guard officer workforce are women
  • 6.7% of the Coast Guard warrant officer workforce are women

These statistics were not something that I had to dig far into getting. I kid you not but those statistics were in the article on Women equality in the Coast Guard. Those statistics were used by Coast Guard public affairs to show us all that they believe that women are equal.

Now let go back to third grade. The definition of equality is the state or quality of being equal; correspondence in quantity, degree, value, rank, or ability. Equality is 50/50. Equality is not 81.3% of the workforce being of the same gender with a disproportion difference in gender as they increase in rank. 93.3% of all warrant officers being MEN is not equality. Reminds me of the pre-Civil Rights movement of “separate but equal” Women are not even close to being equal. Enough with the Coast Guard propaganda. It is hurting women.

The Department of Labor reports that women consist of 46.8% of the entire workforce. That sounds more like semi-equality (solely in terms of numbers) than 13.7%. So women in America are working, now that we got that out-of-the-way let examine why the Coast Guard is so damm behind on gender equality in the workplace.

Women started serving ‘officially’ in the Coast Guard in 1942 with the creation of SPAR. Women may technically have been ‘serving’ but not without strict laws. Women were forbidden to be in command of men. Women were giving considerably less pay than their male counterparts. Women were forbidden to give orders to men. So while, yes SPAR may have opened a door for women, it did not open every door, and the Coast Guard still in 2011 does not view women as equal.

Because there is not anything on the books that “forbid” women from having certain careers in the Coast Guard does not mean that everything is peachy keen. In the history of the Coast Guard we have yet seen a woman Commandant nor a woman in the highest enlisted rank of Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard. Instead what we see are women disproportionately losing their jobs for reason of “mental illness” , women being victims of violence at a higher rate than those in the civilian sector, women not being able to have their basic health needs met at Coast Guard medical facilities and women being often overlooked for promotions.

From 2006-2007, 32 women lost their career under the approval of Captain Dr. Carl Tjerandsen for reasons of having ‘mental disorders’. These women were often referred to Captain Tjerandsen after reporting sexual harassment, sexual assault or rape. As a result of their allegations they were viewed as being mentally unstable and psychotic (similar to the female hysteria from the Victorian-era). This was just one doctor at one unit but this practice of women being labeled with having ‘mental illness’, often without following proper procedure to diagnose someone is happening service-wide.

The Coast Guard has a system in place that allows one in three women to be sexually victimized. That in itself is gender discrimination. However it is only the beginning of the problem; In a 2007 study conducted by the Military Rape Crisis Center, 92% of all women who report a sex crime in the Coast Guard are involuntarily discharged from service for reasons of personality disorder or adjustment disorder (i.e; having problems adjusting to being raped). A 2011 follow-up to that study shows that the number of sexual abuse survivors in the Coast Guard who lost their careers after reporting the assaults has increased further than any other military branch of service. We see this is the case with first-persons accounts from Coast Guard sexual assault survivors. You can read about it here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. No wonder 90% of all rapes in the military are never reported.

The Coast Guard is sending the message to the fleet that women are “psychotic.” The Coast Guard is sending the message that survivors of sex crimes are “crazy.” The Coast Guard is sending a message to women that if you are raped that you are mentally unhealthy. This can be very dangerous to women who have been assaulted. Add “my command thinks that I am a whacked job” to the long list of emotions that a woman who just been raped often feels. This makes a woman who report sexual violence to be further traumatized by slut-shaming, victim-blaming and their allegations not to be taken seriously. Women are the ones losing their jobs for being victimized. Now imagine if those women who report a sexual assault or rape were able to keep their jobs and the rapist are instead the ones sent to the brig or kicked out of service? The number of women serving in the Coast Guard would be closer to being equal. Women can not gain equality in the workforce when they have 1/3rd of a chance of being sexually victimized.

In 2010 a woman who served in the Coast Guard that only identified herself as “Coast Guard veteran”commented in response to a Veterans Day post on the official Coast Guard blog. In the comment section of this post the veteran wrote: “It took me years to finally feel like i am a “veteran” even though I have served honorably with the United States Coast Guard. This veteran day let not forget the veterans that are often shun out because they been discharged for reporting a sexual assault…” Coast Guard public affairs officer Christopher Lagan wrote in response “the commenters assertion that she was “discharged for reporting a sexual assault” is an attack on the service and has been determined to be a false accusations” Mr. Lagan, how do you freaking know that the person who signed their name only as “Coast Guard veteran” has falsely claimed a sexual assault? How do you know she was not instead one of the 92% of women that reported an assault and was discharged from service? Oh, wait all women who report rape are lying, right? Well that is exactly what the Coast Guard is making us believe when Coast Guards members are witnessing roughly 8-10% of allegations ending up in trial. That is not gender equality. Reporting a sexual assault or reporting the aftermath of a sexual assault is not an attack of service. RAPING A WOMAN AND THE DISCHARGING HER FROM SERVICE IS AN ATTACK ON WOMEN AND THE SERVICE. But women, especially rape survivors are to be silenced, right? Women are taught that if they report a rape that they are crazy and lying. Women are also put in further danger for having to serve with men that have a history of raping women. The Coast Guard is not known for being in touch or with when it comes to treating rape survivors with dignity but this is had gotten out of hand. In the 1970s, the Coast Guard came under fire for saying that “only women who found sexual discrimination were those who looked for” You can still find that comment on the Coast Guard’s official website. It was a bad idea in the 1970s to think women who were victimize was just looking for it and over 40 years later it is still a bad idea.

Let continue. Women in the Coast Guard can not have their women specific medical needs met at a Coast Guard medical facility. Women in the Coast Guard often can not get mammograms, Plan B, abortions, or testing for STDs after a rape just to name a few. A medic in the Coast Guard can not collect time-sensitive forensic evidence from a rape survivor. The Coast Guard does however routinely and without question or reprimanding would test men for STDs . Many of these men have bought sex while on port call in a foreign country. In 2011, a group of Coast Guardsmen have allegedly paid underage girls at a port call in Golfito, Costa Rica to perform sexual acts. After this was brought to the attention of the command and Public Affairs they denied a request to speak to the media about this issue and swept it right under the rug. (this is a story in itself) What message is this sending Coast Guards members? Women are to be objectified. Women are there for the morale of men. If a member of the Coast Guard pays for a blowjob from somebody that happens to be 12 years old girl, oh well the Coast Guard would just look the other way and ignore local laws to protect the men. The male’s needs comes before the safety of females regardless if they are girls in a foreign city or the women wearing the uniform of the United States Coast Guard. This is what we call male privilege. This is not what we call gender equality.

Back to the statistics, 6.7% of the Coast Guard warrant officer workforce are women. In other words 93.3% of the highest ranking Coast Guard personnel are MEN. What is happening? Why are women not advancing to the rank of Chief Warrant Officers? After discharging the rape survivor, those who must be “too crazy to serve” and add those who choose to leave the service for reasons of being fed up with the sexism or for other personal reasons we are still left with what is probably a considerable amount of women. What is happening? Why are women not able to advance at the same rate as men? The formula for advancement in the Coast Guard for an enlisted personnel, in simplified civilian terms is determined as follows:

  • Amount of sea time earned.
  • Time in service and Pay Grade
  • Grade on a service-wide examination (questions about your specific job and general questions about the Coast Guard)
  • Performance Marks
  • Medals and Awards

Then they calculate all of those and the Coast Guard have a special formula on determining who gets to advance to the next pay grade and who does not.

Assuming you survived all the bullshit reasons why a woman is often kicked out of the Coast Guard and you are still in. Gender should not be an issue on the time in service part of the evaluation nor your grade on a service-wide exam.

Amount of sea time earned is just what it sounds. How many hours you spend afloat. Simple enough? Get yourself assigned to a ship and do a few tours? Well, not that easy for women. Women have significantly less, if any, berthing area on ships. Sure there were several-experimental “all women boats” but that did not hold on for long. What we are seeing now is less billets for women to serve out at sea. Even if a woman wants her sea time she needs to compete in a larger pool to get those sea time billets. This in turn affects a woman’s chance to advance.

My command at my small boat station loved going to Hooters At any chance he got, including his wetting down ceremony (promotion party), he would be at Hooters. Some at the station chose to go to Hooters with him, others did not. When it came to time for performance evaluation, his drinking buddies scored significantly higher than those that were not. Maybe all that beer and seeing big breasts in tight shirts makes you a better employee but I have a feeling that was not the case. I am not saying that everyone in the Coast Guard operates a station the same way that my Chief did but the Coast Guard is sure not doing anything to stop those who are. What is the point of this story? Aside from the problem that Hooters objectify women and may contribute to a rape culture (we had a rape under his command as well, yes they swept it right under the rug) there is also a Catch 22 for women. While men that go out and get shit-faced with the guys are viewed positively for bonding with their drinking buddies/shipmates women on the other hand who choose to go out and party all the time with the men in the crew build a reputation that is not the most positive (I’ll leave it to your imagination what may be said). Ideally what a woman chooses to do won’t be viewed negatively on her however in a society that is so damm backwards on women equality a woman’s success is often determined not by her work ethics but by frivolous reasons such as rather or not she goes out to party with the men at the unit.

I won’t even touch on the fraternization policy or lack of support for service members with children which disproportionately affects more women than men. This in parts often affects a woman’s career. These are just several reasons from dozens more that women does not have the same privileges to succeed in the Coast Guard as men.

If only the Coast Guard put enough effort into Women’s rights as they do in the propaganda to make us believe that everything is “equal”. We need the few women in leadership roles to challenge the sexist culture however not every woman in a leadership position is willing to take the step to ensure that the women who are serving under them have the same opportunities and luck that they might have. For example rape survivors are being blamed by their female shipmates often even more than their male shipmates. Women who volunteer to serve their country should be treated with respect, in fairness and with full dignity and not just pretend that they are.

Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

Panayiota Bertzikis enlisted in the United States Coast Guard in 2005 and served at Coast Guard Station Burlington, VT and Coast Guard Boston. While on Active Duty she was repulsed in the way that sexual assault survivors were treated in the United States Coast Guard and founded the Military Rape Crisis Center from her barrack room to offer support and assistance to her fellow shipmates/survivors.

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