Women in uniform, attending a ‘university’ that is 82 percent male

Editor’s note: This week (on March 9) marks the anniversary of the acceptance of the first female cadets to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. The first class to include women enrolled at the academy in 1976. In this post, CDT Brianna Anglin, a member of the West Point Class of 2012 and 2011 student Fellow of the Peter Jennings Project for Journalists and the Constitution, shares a personal perspective on what it’s like to be a woman at West Point today.

Wearing the uniform is a responsibility in itself, regardless of sex. But being a woman in uniform means more than doing your job on a day to day basis. It means proving you deserve to be wearing that uniform. Regardless of the fairness of it all, it is a fact. And every day I strive to demonstrate just that: I am worthy of this, I deserve this.

For close to three years now, I have been attending a ‘university’ that is 82% male, wearing a uniform clearly designed for men, and know that when I graduate, I will enter a profession clearly dominated by the male sex. Many would think that this would cause me to lose a sense of my femininity. But honestly, this isn’t the case at all.

Since I came here, I have learned to accept myself, to embrace being a woman, and to utilize those things that make me different to create an individual leadership style. I’ve found that I can be a woman and still be respected by my male counterparts without having to actually play the part of a guy just to fit in. This is not to say that this is always the case. There is an underlying sexist belief system throughout the corps of cadets, but the way I see it, you can whine about how mean the boys are, or you can prove them wrong.

While I have mentioned proving myself multiple times, I believe it is important to point out that the Army is not at all about individual effort. One should prove themselves worthy by being dedicated to the job, cooperative with peers, and knowing your information, not by singling yourself out and trying to look better than everyone else.

I’ve found that I can be a woman and still be respected by my male counterparts without having to actually play the part of a guy just to fit in.

The structure of the Army is set up to reward unit success, not individual success. Interestingly, Secretary of Defense Gates, who recently spoke to us at West Point, discussed how this collective attitude, and the strict promotion system deters competitive behavior.

Young leaders who crave recognition are getting out after their initial commitment is done to venture into the high paying, incentivized world of private enterprises. Secretary Gates believes that through this process, the Army is losing some of its ‘best and brightest’. While I definitely see the validity in his point, and realize that the personal knowledge that he has outweighs my own, I cannot help but wonder, are we losing the brightest, or are we keeping those most dedicated to the Army mission, and to selfless service and sacrifice?

Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government