An ROTC Recruit Says Joining the Military Is Her Ultimate Form of Feminism

Feminism means different things to different people.

It might seem surprising, but for some girls, feminism means joining the military. So, we decided to talk to a girl in the military who believes whole-heartedly that enlisting in the armed forces is the utmost form of girl power.

Penny* is a female in the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) at her college in Washington, D.C., and she doesn’t take any shit from the guys she has to train alongside.

She didn’t always want to be in the military. Penny grew up loving music and wanting to pursue it as a career, but in her senior year of high school, she decided to take a different path.

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After not getting into West Point Military Academy (which btw is harder to get into than any Ivy League school), she started looking at other routes.

“So I began looking for other ways to become an officer and I learned about ROTC,” Penny said. “I applied for an Army ROTC scholarship in high school as well, however I did not get it, and I was surprised. But I joined the program when I came to [college], did very well, and received the scholarship my sophomore year.”

ROTC is a training program offered in college for students who eventually want to go into the military. The program offers scholarships, and will basically pay you to go to school in return for service after college.

In order for her to get that prestigious scholarship though, Penny had to meet the same physical requirements as the guys she trains with, which, even though earns her respect, makes the difference in gender much more noticeable.

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But Penny doesn’t love the special treatment she gets when she hits the same targets as the guys.

“The only way that I have ever felt treated differently is that they sometimes give me more respect or praise for doing the same thing as my male counterparts,” Penny said. “For example, I can do 86 pushups in 2 minutes, I feel like I get more respect for that because I am performing to same standard as a male.”

Even when Penny tells people that she is in ROTC, the reactions are varied too. “I think women are more impressed and look up to me for it, and men are more surprised,” according to Penny.

“Mostly [I’m met] with respect and sometimes awe,” said Penny. “However, I think that I get that response not because it is service or a potentially dangerous job, but because it is not ordinary, it’s a fact that only 1% of the population is in the U.S. military.”

And she gets all the advantages that men do for being in the Army: money (though not a ton), respect, discipline, and service.

But there are definitely drawbacks to being a woman in ROTC. She is constantly reminded of the difference between men and women, and has to work harder to perform at the same physical standards that men do. It’s not her fault either, it’s biology.

And because she is a woman, she has an even higher risk of having to deal with sexual assault.

“I know that the risk is there and is especially high for me because I plan on going combat arms which is 99.9% male dominated,” Penny says, “but fear should never stop anyone from doing what they want. That only gives the perpetrators more power.”

Combat arms is the portion of the military that’s on the ground and directly involved in firefight — anyone in the military who is on the front-lines and fighting the enemy.

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Even though she said the risk of sexual assault won’t keep her from participating in ROTC, that doesn’t mean Penny hasn’t actually experienced harassment during her time in ROTC.

“My freshman year, there was another cadet in my platoon who was a freshman as well,” she said. “He was a four year scholarship winner in which he received the scholarship in high school… At the beginning of the year we became friends, but to him, it became so much more than that. I told him that I was not interested and that having a relationship would be a conflict of interest.”

Regardless of how many times she told him to stop, he didn’t listen to her. Crazy, right? A man not listening to a woman when she says his advances are unwanted?

“He was following me around campus and to parties, he would wait outside my dorm room for hours waiting for me to come back, text and call me everyday,” Penny told me.

Even though he was basically stalking her, Penny didn’t report him because the asshole got himself kicked out of ROTC for different reasons.

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In fact, being a woman is the most empowering part of who Penny is, especially going forward with her career.

“Being a woman is the favorite of my identity. I am passionate about women’s issues and that is part of the reason why I am joining the service in the first place. I feel that we live in a time where men are not really the problem anymore in regards to women’s issues, and that we (women) are,” she said.

Well, we can’t say we agree with all that. But Penny has really strong views on feminism even though some people might not agree with them. She believes the feminists who are doing the jobs that are normally held by men are making the most change.

“It’s not Rihanna, its not the stripper bragging about how she’s an independent woman and shakes her ass because she wants to,” Penny said. “It’s the women in war dying for our country, it’s the women that are presidents of major companies, its the women working for overseas for NGOs helping others that are deprived of human rights.”

We would also argue that strippers, pop stars, and other women in typically female-dominated fields are also helping the feminist cause. But for Penny, it’s all about leaning into her male-dominated field.

“I just want other women to know that if they work hard and put their minds to it, they can do anything,” Penny said.

*Name has been changed.

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