Women serving in the United States Navy is not a new concept. It began in 1908 with the “Sacred Twenty,” a group of female members who formally served and represented the Nurse Corps. Close to ten years later, Secretary of the Navy, Josephus Daniels, announced that the Navy would enlist women.
Does the name Alene Duerk ring a bell? She became the first female admiral in the Navy in 1972. She also served as the director of the U.S. Navy Nurse Corps from 1970 to 1975. How about Michelle J. Howard? In 2014, she became the Navy’s first four-star admiral and the first African-American woman to command a ship in the U.S. Navy. According to history.navy.mil, “Today, women serve in every rank from seamen to admiral and in every job from naval aviator to deep-sea diver.”
Navy.com shares, “Serving in the Navy is challenging, exciting and rewarding – and for women it’s incredibly empowering. Your responsibilities are significant, your respect is well-earned, and your lifestyle is liberating. This is the chance to push your limits personally and professionally.” Increasingly, women are serving in high-impact positions as gender stereotypes are “overridden in the Navy by determination, proven capabilities, and a shared appreciation for adventure, adrenaline and hard work.” While the Department of the U.S. Navy wholeheartedly supports opportunities for women to serve, it may take longer for general public stereotypes to be broken, particularly regarding female sailors on submarines.
The Navy lifted its ban on women on submarines in 2010. The Michigan was the first to integrate female crew members. Per Navytimes.com, as reported in 2017, “About 80 female officers and roughly 50 enlisted women are now serving on subs, and their numbers are expected to climb into the hundreds over the next few years.” The Navy began retrofitting subs to accommodate women by designating washrooms and sleeping quarters for privacy and making modifications to submarines to accommodate the height and strength of women. Currently, the Navy has extended an April deadline for female enlisted sailors to apply for submarine service. Navytimes.com shares, “Sailors ranks E-1 through E-8 now have until June 1 to submit their applications, according to a Navy release.” Per the article, this is the fourth round of applications for female-sailor conversion to submarine force non-nuclear ratings. Those selected will fill positions on previously integrated subs or on the Ohio-class submarine Georgia.
On Facebook, Navy Times wrote about the extension of time for female sailors to apply for submarine duty. One comment read, “No. No! No females on submarines…or any warships for that matter. Yes, I am a male chauvinist, and women do not belong on warships or in active combat areas.” A few shared concerns over the possibility of an increase in sexual harassment cases. Another wrote, “This is progressive social engineering, designed to infiltrate our armed forces and reduce readiness.”
In the eight years since the Navy lifted its ban on women serving on subs, female submariners have assumed significant roles and have proven to be valuable crew members. In addition, they also are keeping in step with male retention rates. While scrolling past the barrage of negative comments, this message appeared, “Female on sub here. Doing just fine. Crew has been awesome. Very glad to be here.” Perhaps it’s time to stop the gender stereotyping and get with the times. Tell us what you think!