One hundred years ago, on Aug. 13, 1918, Opha May Johnson was the first woman to enlist in the Marine Corps. As a female Marine, I can only imagine the torrent of criticism Johnson faced after she entered the ranks. If social media existed at the beginning of the 20th century, I imagine the heckling would have sounded almost exactly as it still does today for women in the Corps.
On Instagram and Facebook, following the celebrating of the 100-year anniversary of women in the Marine Corps and the announcement of the first female infantry officer, 1st Lt. Marina Hierl, degrading comments appeared immediately, seething about women in the infantry and the fact they can wear the uniform at all.
These outdated opinions are not rare. These and other similar remarks plague the comment sections of the verified pages that are supposed to represent our entire Marine Corps. That means 1.6 million followers and countless other viewers, including our enemies and future Marines, have access to some of our most glaring problems when it comes to diversity in our ranks.
As a sergeant of Marines, I know these comments are damaging to the morale of the young female Marines I lead and serve beside. The vast majority of them put their all into the Corps, only to hear that they should not be there in the first place. It is not only the comments dismissing their service, but also the comments from their brothers in the same uniform wishing threats of sexual abuse, harassment and violence against them.
If the Marine Corps is constantly training in order to fight and win wars, how are female Marines supposed to trust those to the left and to the right of them if they cannot even trust them in garrison?
All I know is that these problems — both online and off — affect Marines at every rank, and our leaders are not doing enough to stop it.
While Aug. 13 marked 100 years since women became a part of the Marine Corps, I wish I could have sat back, watching how far our great organization has come. Instead, the same criticisms of women in uniform from years past continue, not just unabated but now amplified across social media accounts that bear the Marine Corps’ name.
In an organization where females make 7 percent to 9 percent of the ranks, they cannot stand up alone. It takes the rest of the Marines to hold the toxic members accountable. Marine-to-Marine, we all need to step up whenever we hear and see comments that are detrimental to troop welfare and mental health.
We all preach that we want to end veteran suicide and that we want to stop burying our friends. If that’s truly the case, stop being complacent in the abuse and mistreatment that directly correlates with depression and self-inflicted harm. Does the popular saying “Got your six” only apply to the other men in our ranks? It shouldn’t. And as an organization and as human beings we must do better.