I attended a lunch to honor our nation’s veterans last week. A beautiful lady – a generation or so past her prime but still beautiful – pinned a red carnation on my lapel and thanked me for my service. It was a nice gesture.
The luncheon featured a panel discussion. Three impressive, successful female veterans sat behind a long table and told us of their experiences in the military. Had I been the moderator, I might have kicked off the discussion by asking how their military experience prepared them to succeed in civilian life. Or, perhaps, I would have asked what made them most proud during their military careers.
But, that’s not what happened.
If an extraterrestrial had beamed down to our lunch, it would have returned to the mother ship reporting that Planet Earth’s most powerful military promoted a culture of rape and drug addiction.
If the goal of the luncheon was to make the veterans present feel proud of their service, the organizers truly missed their mark.
The military wasn’t co-ed when I served. So, I couldn’t identify with much that was said.
There was, however, one comment that resonated. One of the veterans, a retired Air Force Master Sergeant with 33 years of service, told of a senior enlisted man referring to her as “honey” and telling her he would knock her down a few pegs. “I showed him,” she snorted by way of a punch line.
Perhaps, that’s just what he wanted her to do – show him!
I could easily imagine a salty, old sea dog saying the same to me 40 years ago – only substituting some epithet for Italian-Americans in place of “honey”.
To me, her story was an example of a woman being treated the same as a man.
It’s fair to say that referring to a woman as “honey” in a professional environment is not exemplary leadership. It’s also fair to say that, in an organization of roughly a million people (like our military), there will be lapses in behavior, many of them egregious.
However, when our retired Master Sergeant “showed him”, she embraced a valuable lesson that, I am sure, has served her well in her successful civilian career: (As John Wayne once told Barbara Walters) “Don’t let the bastards get you down.”