“Is your husband in the military?” My Experience with Gender Bias

A repairman came to fix our fridge today, and I knew what was coming as he glanced at the military pictures and framed documents that dominate our decor. Hey, flight school was f*cking hard; damn right I’m gonna show that sh*t off! Wouldn’t you? Anyway, I knew that he was going to ask the question, and sure enough, there it was.

“Oh, is your husband in the military?”

I smiled, thinking I know you didn’t mean to sound like a sexist jackass, and I said “we both are.” Then came the usual ill-concealed surprise. But this time, he shook my hand and thanked me for my service. Which I appreciated.

But I’m sick of it.

It’s a question I get every time we move, or every time a stranger is in our home. And it’s not just from old men; guys in their twenties and thirties see our “We love us” wall covered with various mementos of our years in Naval aviation and just automatically assume it all belongs to my husband. It was kind of fun ten years ago when I still liked surprising people, but now? I’m an accomplished veteran, mother of two, and forty(-ish) year old woman.

I’m sick of being underestimated just because of my gender.

Well-meaning people make excuses for the question. They talk about how female military members are still a new thing.

No, we’re not.

There aren’t enough of us, but it is not a new thing. Women were finally allowed (on paper) to fly into combat in 1993. Over two decades ago. That’s like saying the CD is a new thing. (Aside: my daughter asked me the other day, “What’s a CD?” We stream a lot of music.)

Here’s why I think some people “just need time to get used to it,” a phrase I detest when it comes to women in historically male roles.

We don’t need time to adjust. Men need our help to catch up.

Oh, great, another woman saying that men can’t help it because they’re men and it’s up to us to do the work and change the world.

Well, yeah. Kind of. I believe that men tend to resist change more than women. It’s in their DNA. The primal hunter needs to be in control of his environment and surroundings so he can adequately protect his mate and offspring from enemies or predators. He needs time to suss things out and make the cave defensible. Absolutely fair. The problem is that we are not in caves anymore.

I’m not saying men should change, nor am I saying that it’s on women to speed things up.

What I am asking women to do is stop giving a sh*t what people think of who you really are. And I aim this challenge at myself, too. I’m constantly working on letting my true colors fly.

It’s my life, and I’m the one that has to live it as authentically as I can.

How many of us have backed away from our goals because of too much flack or negativity from people? I know that I have silenced myself for fear of offending someone who probably ends up offended anyway. I have listened too often to the inner critic saying shut up shut up. How often have we not spoken our mind because we don’t want to be called bossy or bitchy? And here’s a thing:

There is no male equivalent to the word “bossy.” A man can be “boss” but that is considered a compliment. That’s f*cked up, y’all. Not right at all.

I wish that I had said “in the future, you might not want to assume that the man is the military member.” Because if we don’t start calling out the gender bias that is endemic in our society, it will continue. Yes, we have made progress. But not enough. And definitely not fast enough.

I’d love to kick things up a notch. Who’s with me? Are you sick of staying quiet to avoid pissing anyone off? Are you fed up with being called bitchy or egotistical because you’re good at your job? I’d love to hear your stories!

Love and purple,