The first women to serve on U.S. submarines will begin officer training this summer. Although the cadets and their officers are excited about the historic change, not everyone is excited. Navy wives, worried about their men, have begun to complain.
Around 20 women will begin a 15-month training session this summer, which will end with their first trip on a submarine in early 2012. The history-making officers are all set to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy this spring. The Associated Press interviewed some of the female sailors, and their quotes are downright heartwarming (watch a video of the first women chosen for sub duty here). "I didn't want to get excited yet," said Midshipman Abigail Gesecki, of when she first heard that a policy change might allow her to serve on a sub. "And then it happened, and I was like: Wow! I'm in shock. It was a little bit of a feeling of shock that everything that I really wanted I got. It doesn't always happen that way in life." However, they also briefly note that wives of sub sailors have questioned the new policy, and taken to message boards to voice their concerns about having their hubbies in such close quarters with women for up to 90 days at sea.
Back in February, a thread started at CinCHouse.com (tagline: "Where military wives and women in uniform are 'Commanders in Chief'") about the change in navy policy. User "Jimmy's wife" began by asking:
I am sure you all heard. Women will now be allowed on subs. What do you other submariner wives think. I personally don't think it is a good idea because our men suffer enough down there and shouldn't have to deal with women on top of it. Obviously there are a lot of other reasons I am against it but more because of the problems in general and not on a personal level. What do you other subby wives think?
It is unclear what she means by "deal with women" on top of it (maybe because we're the weaker sex?), but other commenters weren't so cryptic. A couple women bring up practical concerns, like the issue of using the same bathroom (the Navy has already addressed this concern by adding two-sided gender signs to the doors, which will allow sailors to know who is using the facilities and give them due privacy) and differences in medical needs. A couple users, like "eodwife" express their happiness about the "push toward equality for female service members." And then there are comments like this:
I would think about how would she shower, the times where she is on her cycle, and yes, the moral side would be the tempation to cheat on wives. Yeah it takes 2 to tango, but there are just as many women as men that like to get down. I have come across a few ladies in the service that will make it loud and clear she wants your man and will get him too! However, if he really is your man then she can want him all she wants and he will never cheat on you. BUt on the flip side, some women will flirt and occassionally "accidently" rub against the guy, or "accidently" allow her chest to rub up against his... I think that is where the moral issue may come into play [sic].]
You actually have to feel a little bad for this commenter. If she thinks all it will take to get her husband to cheat is a woman in close proximity, she might want to reexamine her relationship before turning on the enlisted ladies. Strangely, the question of whether women should be allowed on subs is often spoken of as though it is a "moral issue." Jason Mason, a retired officer who served on four submarines, wrote in a letter to a Navy blog that he, too, fears physical contact with women. "It is impossible to pass in most passageways or working areas without turning sideways to pass one another. It is almost inevitably that some form of physical contact will occur [sic]." He goes on to point out that one can't very well ask men to keep their hands off their woman co-workers because that would be telling them "don't act human." Under the guise of "realism," Mason puts voice to the same fears that many navy wives expressed; they expect sex to take over in the place of reason, and for the submarine to act as a catalyst for hedonism and harassment. It is as though the very presence of women is considered a corrupting agent, an evil temptation that will bring down the upstanding men with their breasts and menses and whatnot.
Oh, and did I mention they're worried about periods? Commenters over at NavyForMoms.com brought up a couple issues, including the fear that women won't have proper hygiene. They also batted about the idea of having all submarine women on birth control. "Arwen" said:
If you can't keep your legs together (and there are always a few to give all women a bad name), it only makes sense to be on birth control.
However, there is another VERY good reason to be on birth control while on a ship. Birth control pills also keep cycles stable. Even if I wasn't going to be stupid and have sex on a sub (there really are no private places on a sub for such a thing to happen) I would use the birth control pills just so my cycle would remain under control. Even better is Depo Provera, which, in many women, completely eliminates the menstrual cycle.
Leaving aside the get on birth control, sluts message, there could very well be an issue with women becoming pregnant on board. But would this really be any worse than female soldiers becoming pregnant in a war zone? And, as Rear Adm. Barry Bruner pointed out in an interview with FoxNews, less than 1% of women in the Navy have become pregnant while on surface ships, so the medical aspect of their protests may be largely unfounded. And fortunately for the 20 women set to serve in 2012, the Navy seems dedicated to making things work, even if that means taking a little extra time to iron out the details. "Anytime our culture has made progress there are challenges associated with it," Bruner said. "So there are challenges with this. But if there's anything that I've learned in my time in the service, it's that we make no changes without a lot of forethought and a lot of detailed planning."
First Female Officers Headed To Subs Feel Blessed [AP]
Women To Start Serving On Submarines - But Not Everyone's On Board [FoxNews]
First Women Chosen For Sub Duty Excited [Washington Post]