Today is gonna feel a little left fieldy from my usual posts but it’s what’s on my mind so leggo.
A few days ago someone added me to a Service Academy Women Grads Facebook Group. I had to click join or something to actually be added to the page from someone’s invitation or whatever. Listen. I’m not a technological person. You know what I mean. Anyway, I almost didn’t join because the last forum I was on with Army grad women soured quickly when a group of them decided it would be ok to make fun of a cadet who wore low quarters with a skirt. I will include a picture in case you don’t know what that means. Would I wear those with a skirt? Probably not. Do I give a flying flip if someone else does? Nope. This particular cadet was a senior and had JUST joined the alumni group and got to see first hand the comments these women made on a cell phone photo someone had secretly snapped while she was walking by. Y’all. The comments were NOT nice. I’m a 36 year old woman with 4 kids and haven’t had to be subjected to mean girl behavior in a minute but I can tell you that they were bullies. It was jarring enough to me that I reported the post BEFORE I saw where one of the girl’s friends said “you know she’s on the page, right?” and then it was on another level awful. Can you imagine sticking it out at a male dominated school where 25% (yes, 1/4) of the people there don’t think you belong just because of your gender – only to join what you assume is an empowering women’s group with potential mentors- to then see where someone took a picture of you without your consent, put it on Facebook, and then made fun of you behind your back with other people who had been through the same things as you? I can. And I think it’s disgusting. It wasn’t the whole group, obviously, but we all know what they say about bad apples.
I only talk about my time at West Point when I’m in the mood – which isn’t terribly often- and today I’m in the mood. It’s story time. Get your tea. I’ll wait.
Before I went to West Point, I knew very little about the military. Ok. Strike one. My parents are not active duty, my grandparents weren’t, and the nearest I lived to a base of any kind was Kessler AFB 45 minutes away and as far as I knew the rank on their uniforms was like the flair Jennifer Aniston wears in Office Space. When I got to West Point I had a hell of a learning curve. I was super not stellar at being a cadet in general (in the eyes of MANY that were more than happy to tell me about myself). I wasn’t great, but I was trying and I was getting the hang of things cruising into my plebe (freshman year). Up until this point I had had a direct interaction with exactly ZERO Woman Officers. That’s right. ZERO. I could not wait to meet a woman to mentor me and was STOKED when I got a female CPT for Math. I felt like I needed direction and I just knew she’d be the one to give it to me.
She was the very FIRST female officer I EVER met in my entire lifetime. She was a tiny thing- maybe 5’0” with a thick regional accent and she referred to my entire class as gentlemen. One day after maybe class 2 or 3, I worked up the courage to talk to her about mentoring me and in my own silly Meagan way trying to politely bring up that maybe she could call us cadets instead of gentlemen since – ya know- I’m not a man. I’ll spare you the whole of the conversation but here’s her answer to calling us cadets instead of gentlemen (we can safely assume that I didn’t ask her to be my mentor): “NO. Absolutely no. You don’t belong here. Women don’t belong here. YOU DONT BELONG HERE AND I WILL NOT ACKNOWLEDGE YOU.” To. My. Face. How she got through the interview process is beyond me. I don’t think I have to tell you that class was a pass n go for me and I never asked her for anything again.
I could regale you with stories all night long about stupid things I said or did and horrible things (echelons worse than this example) that were said or done to me, but I don’t have the mental energy or the thumb strength in which to do either. The West Point files used to be in an emotional vault and thanks to Tricare I spent many many many years unpacking it and putting it neatly on a shelf. The fact that I can talk about any of it just goes to show you that therapy works. This is my nightly reminder to reach out if you need help. Do it. But, in this case, I don’t want to reunpack it all, I just wanted to make a point to support my passion about women backing up women. If that Captain (CPT) had taken even a slight interest in me, I feel like my trajectory might have been vastly different.
I learned early on that there was no unspoken lady code about backing each other up. In fact, I would argue that there was a undercurrent of competition and perhaps? inadequacy that exacerbated it where many women were concerned. Some might argue that point and I am happy to concede to that their experience was different from mine and wish them fair winds and following seas. Maybe you were a better cadet than me (likely), maybe you had better luck or did less stupid things. No matter the circumstance, I’m happy that your experience wasn’t mine.
Social media makes it easy to see who is holding on to their 20 year old self as an adult. With this other West Point Facebook group: me, Mark Zuckerberg, all the FBI, Bill Gates, and God saw clearly 14 years after my own graduation and 18 years after my first encounter with a contentious female that the old rules do still apply. It’s sad and gross.
So, I don’t know if it’s COVID softening my heart or pure nosiness, but I hit join on the new all academies group. I am so thankful that I did. I have never felt more uplifted and supported by a community of women and I haven’t even posted yet! The stories of these women are incredible. Many of them have expressed similar feelings to mine about so many things (no matter which Academy they hail from) and I have been able to watch healing happen before my very eyes. It’s beautiful. I am so touched by the openness and courage by the women posting and the positivity and love from the group. I hope and pray that this means a tide is turning and that future women who endeavor to attend service academies will have it better than I did, as I know I had it better than those who came before me. I wasn’t sure that was happening after my experience with the Army group, but I have renewed hope! I am going to continue to cheer on all these ladies and watch other people do it too! For once since 2001, I can say I’m PROUD to be part of such an amazing group of service academy women.
Final Notes: 1. This is public so if you’re coming here to do the old copy/paste so you can share this with people who knew me way back when for whatever your reason good, bad, or otherwise- it’s much easier to just share my link. 2. If you were one of the people who had a bet going in college or high school that I wouldn’t make it, sorry to disappoint. 3. I was prejudged by my appearance for only 4 years of my life and my life was never in danger and it almost broke me. I cannot imagine the strength that POC have to have to live their whole life like that. I promise to do my part so that it’s not the way it always has to be. If you don’t see how they’re connected: you’re missing all the points.