Lt. Col. Ann Bernard and her peers spent more than 20 years trying to ensure that the next generation of female Marines would be judged on merit, not gender.
"That's where we came short," Bernard, a Marine Corps reservist, said on Tuesday.
She said she thought all the hard work and contributions by female Marines would put the issue to rest. But recent allegations that Marines shared nude photos of female troops, veterans and civilians on the Marines United Facebook page, and even made rape and death threats against some of those women, prompted Bernard to do more, she said.
"I'm not going to have the next generation of Marines dealing with the same thing that we've had to deal with," said Bernard, who will soon deploy to Okinawa with III Marine Expeditionary Force.
She reached out to her fellow female field grade officers, and they formed the Facebook group called Actionable Change to combat the culture of misogyny in the Marine Corps, Bernard said. The group is currently categorized under "secret," she said, which means only users invited by a current member can join. The group is expected to become "closed," where any user can request approval to join.
"We're established in our careers; we've proven ourselves within our careers in the Marine Corps; and we are leadership positions," Bernard said. "So our peers are the ones that we need to bring on board. We need them to join with us and for them to really understand what this is about."
The group now has more than 400 female active-duty Marines, reservists and veterans, Bernard said. The Washington Post first reported about Actionable Change on Tuesday.
One of the group's goals is for the Marine Corps to fully integrate recruit training so that male and female Marines train together from the very beginning, Bernard said. Group members also feel the overall number of women in the Marine Corps needs to increase, she said.
The group has issued an open letter to all Marines, vowing to speak on behalf of women and to advocate for changes in Marine Corps culture.
"This is about the time you said, 'We don't need any more females in this section,' as if there were a quota," the letter says. "It's about the time you made the joke about the female Marine and her face, her hair, her voice, her private life, or her sexual orientation. This is about pretending you don't hear women when they speak. And about looking only at men when they speak. Or treating sexual assault training as a burden."
Nearly 100 currently serving Marines and veterans signed the letter, including retired Lt. Col. Kate Germano, who was in charge of training female recruits at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina.
Ending the type of behavior shown on Marines United will require female Marines to speak out against misogyny, but for decades, female leaders in the Marine Corps have remained silent to order to fit in, said Germano, who is not part of the Actionable Change group.
"The burden ends up being placed on the shoulders of junior officers and junior enlisted Marines because no one is willing to be their voice," Germano said. "That's the true definition of leadership: to advocate for people who have less of a voice. I think this is a good first step."