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Shannon’s Soapbox: The past struggles of female Marines

By Shannon Taylor

When I was a Senior in high school in 1998, I decided that I wanted to be among the few and the proud-one of the “bad a**es” as my recruiter at the time so eloquently put it. So, I signed up to join the United States Marine Corps. Joining the Marines was a decision to be better than the best. It was a decision to be tough, independent and join something only very few were able to endure. 

I trained on my own and through the delayed entry program (DEP) to prepare for what I was told was the most intense boot camp of any armed forces branch. There were three requirements for the personal fitness test (PFT) and that included an arm hang (only required for women, males had to complete pull-ups) for 60 seconds, 200 crunches in one minute and running three miles in 18 minutes for a perfect PFT score. I had the arm-hang and crunches in the bag but running was something I had to practice.

The USMC weight-scale was also extremely strict and I was 5’8” and weighed 155 pounds. According to the USMC scale, I needed to get down to 145 pounds, which I achieved before I enlisted. 

I was ready to ship off to Parris Island, South Carolina, where all female Marines went to boot camp. Little did I know how many differences there were for female Marines compared to their male counterparts.

When I arrived at Parris Island the first thing I encountered was getting yelled at repeatedly by drill instructors two inches from my face. You aren’t allowed to make eye contact either, which is fun when someone is slobbering all over your face and yelling unintelligibly, but I endured. You also have to refer to yourself in the third person so for the next three months I was “this recruit.”

I think, for me, the most shocking part of my experience was not the intense training, waking up at 4 a.m., no contact with the outside world aside from letters and packages or even drill training, which I found to be really irritating because it’s just fancy weapon dancing, but what I found most shocking were the special classes that female Marines were required to take.

These classes included makeup, hair care, poise and etiquette. This seemed to be a way to “feminize” female Marines and make them adhere to standards as to not make the USMC look bad. One of my drill instructors told us “It’s so you don’t look like sluts and represent the Corps in a bad way.”

These classes included showing female recruits how to apply make up conservatively so that it wasn’t too loud or showy. The classes included showing females how to style and cut their hair so that they looked feminine and not like a “tomboy.”  There was also a class showing females how to act around men to enforce the female Marines not to be promiscuous. 

It was an eye-opener for me because the men had no such classes like these. I checked to see if these are still on-going presently, but couldn’t find anything related to makeup and etiquette classes for female Marines, so one could only hope that these are so outdated that they have chosen to get rid of them altogether.

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