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Opinion: One fighting team, mustached or not

Apr. 1, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Maj. Deirdre Gurry writes: 'We don't need to point out the ways that women differ from men. ... Instead we need to recognize that we are all in this together.'
Maj. Deirdre Gurry writes: 'We don't need to point out the ways that women differ from men. ... Instead we need to recognize that we are all in this together.' (Photo courtesy of Maj. Deirdre Gurry)
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Want to hear something shocking? Our squadron had a mustache- judging contest, and everyone enjoyed themselves! I know that is impossible to believe with all the news about how offensive Mustache March was to women. But I’m a woman, and I disagree with those claims.

Starting with an Air Force Times op-ed from Maj. Jennifer Holmes and culminating in another article quoting a retired Navy commander, Sara Zak, somehow the message of Mustache March turned into a war of the sexes.

To some, Mustache March was a seen as a deliberate exclusion of the Air Force’s population of women. Some felt that it was a sign that the “boy’s club” was still alive and oppressing women, and some felt that Mustache March was so offensive that it fell into a category of sexual harassment.

Insubordination ran rampant as many people with strong convictions started commenting on the public opinions of people who out rank them. Unfortunately, everyone was forced to choose a side; you were either with the chief of staff of the Air Force or against him. A line was drawn. It was black and white. The same people who were complaining about the exclusionary nature of Mustache March actually created a bigger rift.

I have been in the Air Force for almost 15 years. As a woman, I am proud to serve my country and be a part of this incredible organization that includes people of all races, genders and beliefs who fight side by side to maintain our freedoms. I can tell you first hand that there is absolutely a “boy’s club” in the military, and I am proud to say that since World War II women have been invited to join.

There is a story I’ve heard about the efforts of the women who were first admitted into the military to try to fit in. They didn’t wear makeup, and they didn’t wear skirts or dresses. They didn’t want to be different. Leaders at the time recognized that this wasn’t necessary and actually started teaching these women to wear makeup and act like women. In reality they were just trying to say to them, “It’s OK to be a woman in the military, and you don’t need to hide your gender to be a part of the team.”

I recognize that there have been some major growing pains over the years, and that there was a time when women were really unwelcome by many of their colleagues. But I challenge anyone who thinks that this is the same environment today. I won’t be so ignorant to say that sexual harassment does not exist in today’s military, but what I do believe is that people who claim things along the lines of Mustache March being a case of sexual harassment and discrimination are crying wolf. I fear that those really in need of help will be lost in the crowd of whiners and complainers.

I am writing this piece to make sure that the country understands that the Air Force is not abusing its women. The leadership of the Air Force is not excluding anyone, intentionally or unintentionally. There are many women who feel as I do, and we fear that the few complainers are tainting our reputation. We feel that those people who play the victim only create more victims. Airing your dirty laundry about how you feel you were harassed but never spoke up about it does not solve any problems.

When I was in pilot training I flew with an instructor who once told me he didn’t think women should be pilots. He wasn’t rude or biased in his grading, but he just didn’t think women could be good pilots. His opinion had been formed some years prior when his female airline flying partner caused both of them to fail their check ride. I wasn’t offended by his opinion. I didn’t agree with it, but he was entitled to it. Rather than dwell on his opinion, I chose to ignore it. I didn’t let it affect my flying, and I didn’t feel the need to “report” his opinion to anyone. Actually, I never really thought about again until, on my last ride in the program, he said to me, “I really didn’t think women should be in the cockpit, but you have completely proven me wrong. You are a talented pilot, and I have really enjoyed flying with you.”

This statement came as a shock because I had never been out to prove him wrong, I just wanted to learn my job. This was a much more satisfactory result than would have occurred having issued a complaint many months prior.

This is the way we need to ensure “equality.” We need to just be equal. We don’t need to look for a reason to be special. We don’t need to point out the ways that women differ from men. We certainly don’t need to point out that we can’t grow mustaches. I know some men who can’t grow them either.

Instead we need to recognize that we are all in this together. We are one fighting team. We are diverse but we have one common focus. If we all show up, do our jobs well, and don’t focus on the fact that there are differences between men and women, most people will forget about those differences.

I can say without a doubt that the CSAF did not declare an Air Force-wide mustache contest to exclude anyone. And I am disappointed that there are women in my service who feel that they are intentionally being left out. I was embarrassed that high-ranking women felt that a morale event was sexist. I lament that not all the women in the Air Force could see that this was supposed to be fun.

I applaud the CSAF for his much-needed attempt to boost the morale of the Air Force.

Maj. Deirdre Gurry, a C-17 pilot and lieutenant colonel selectee, is combat operations airlift/air refueling staff officer at NATO’s Deployable Air Command and Control Center, in Poggio Renatico, Italy.

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