The Quandry of Perception versus reality

SamAca10

10-Year Member
I need someone else's thoughts on this article. As a former male cadet, now male junior officer, I dislike the phrase of "perception is reality". I understand the rigors of being afloat, and how that affects your mental health when you are stuck with superiors and peers who you don't like. And some latent sexism that is still in the military. But not staying true to your values, being driven by external forces, and ultimately proving naysayers right is not the way to achieve things. Though I do commend the author for speaking up. Thoughts?

The phrase was repeated over and over until it seemed more like a joke than advice. We were separated from the male cadets and told to look out for each other, that the enlisted men would try to make us their conquests. We’d heard rumors about female cadet “sluts” caught sleeping around during their summer assignments. Whether the rumors were true or not didn’t matter. Perception is reality, they said.

My first experience on a Coast Guard Cutter was the summer before my senior year as a cadet at the US Coast Guard Academy. I was assigned for an 80-day patrol to the US Coast Guard Cutter Morgenthau, a 378-foot ship with a permanent crew of 162 and an additional 13 cadets for the patrol. All of us cadets were to be fully integrated with the crew for the patrol in the Eastern Pacific Ocean on a Counter Narcotics mission.

The engineers made me feel welcome and put me right to work. As the ship sailed off into the Pacific Ocean on that first day, I was happy doing the simple task of cleaning thick black gunk off a piece of machinery to the comforting rumble of the giant engines, muffled by the double hearing protection of foam inserts and big earmuffs.

Not 24 hours after we’d left California, I was walking through the labyrinth of the ship’s passageways and stairwells with one of the male enlisted crewmembers, completing a task from my Academy summer checklist. He was bringing the Captain’s Night Orders to each of the night watchstanders for them to read and sign. The hallway’s usual florescent lights were turned off and replaced by the dim blue bulbs of a darkened ship after sunset. We climbed into the steel belly of the vessel, to the Combat Information Center where Operations Specialists monitored radars, listened to radios, and gathered intelligence. We knocked on the locked door.

The CIC was lit with the same faint blue lights and everyone was dressed in dark blue uniforms. I could tell where the watchstanders were only by their silhouettes against the glow of computer and radar screens. The man who’d opened the door signed the Night Orders and asked the watchstander who’d brought them, “So dude, we got a bunch of female cadets onboard now. You **** any of them?”

I spoke up out of the darkness, a disembodied, distinctly female voice, “Not yet! Just give us a few days.”

The man spit out a few curse words and stuttered a hasty apology.

The next day he found me in the hallway in front of my living area and apologized profusely, “I’m so sorry, Ma’am. I never would have said that if I knew you were there.” The entire crew had been warned before we arrived that their careers would be in jeopardy if they didn’t treat the female cadets with respect, and he was terrified I’d report him. I said nothing about incident, knowing the entire crew would treat me differently if I did. I already felt unwelcome in my berthing area, bunking with enlisted women several years older than me who worked in different departments and scolded me for bringing oily boots and uniforms into their sanctum. The engineers, who’d begun to act like I was one of them, would label me “overly sensitive” and censor themselves. His comment had annoyed, not offended me. I wanted to be part of the crew without attracting any extra attention, so I laughed it off and accepted the apology.

The next night, the women officers gathered the female cadets in their stateroom to talk about interacting with the mostly-male crew. They told about the time they’d gone dancing at a popular bar in Costa Rica on a port call and had a few piña coladas with some of the crew. Before their hangovers were gone, ugly rumors had begun to spread across the ship the way a drop of diesel spreads its polluting rainbow the moment it touches water. They reiterated the cautionary phrase—“perception is reality”—and told us how they no longer hung out with anyone but the other officers in port calls.

Later, the other female cadets and I made a pact. We would enjoy the patrol, make friends, and look out for each other. I refused to believe that perception was reality.

Two days later, the highest-ranking engineer onboard, the Engineer Officer, took me aside. “I’m concerned that you’re already getting a reputation for being too friendly,” he said. I’d been seen in a public area talking to male enlisted members. “As your supervisor I am responsible for ensuring you don’t fraternize with the enlisted.”

“Sir, we were sitting on the Mess Deck together because they were helping me study firefighting equipment. All of the engineers are men except one, so how can I learn the job without being seen talking to men? I would think it’d be more suspicious to study in secret.”

“It doesn’t matter what you were working on,” he said. “You need to be more careful about who you are seen with and how you are perceived.” I continued to study and work in public, knowing I wasn’t doing anything wrong. I wouldn’t let the Engineer Officer’s wild imagination stop me from learning about the ship.

During that patrol, I sketched system drawings by hand, memorized operating parameters, conducted maintenance, and passed an oral examination in order to earn the qualification of Generator Watchstander. One day, one of the Ship’s Service Diesel Generators was shut down for routine maintenance. Two of the other female cadets came to the Engine Room with me to watch as I started it back up. I climbed on top of the machinery and pointed to a lever as the Engineer Officer walked past us and into the soundproofed control room. “Is anyone out there even qualified?” he asked the head engineer on watch.

The man replied sarcastically, “Well, Sir, sometimes we have qualified watchstanders.” Then in a more serious tone, “You signed her letter. You didn’t think we’d let her stand watch on her own?”

The EO left the Engine Room while I completed the starting procedures for the engine. When I returned to the control room, the head engineer was angry, defensive of my abilities, and in disbelief that the officer would treat me that way. But after two months at sea, I was more surprised by the ferocity of his defense of me than I was of the EO thinking I was incompetent.

By the end of the patrol, all the female cadets were friends with crewmembers and many were rumored to be sleeping with them. It felt like if we had any casual conversation with a crewmember, let alone a friendly relationship, we would be judged as sluts. One female cadet told me before our last port call, “Everyone already thinks I’m ****ing Mikey, I might as well have some fun.”

After 30 straight days at sea, the ship pulled into San Diego for a final port call. As the cadets and crew headed off the ship, I noticed all the female cadets staying in San Diego for a short vacation before school started had paired up with enlisted guys. I’d spent the entire patrol fighting for a good reputation as a woman engineer. I was frustrated with how poorly I had been treated by the officers onboard and I knew that I no longer cared what they thought of me.

I stood on the pier by the ship and watched as my friends, enlisted and cadets alike, began walking toward downtown San Diego. In spontaneous rebellion against the expectations placed on me as a future officer, I ran after them, not caring who saw me. We all ended up hanging out at a hotel that afternoon. I picked a mechanic who was decently looking, got drunk, and spent the next two days having my way with him.

After that, I returned to the Academy for my senior year. None of the female cadets on the Morgenthau told anyone else about our illicit relationships with enlisted men, no one found out, and no one at the Academy called us “sluts.” I was proud of the bond we’d formed on the Morgenthau. But then again, the women couldn’t tell anyone else or risk all of us getting a bad reputation. I wanted to believe that I hadn’t let those onboard the ship dictate what I could or couldn’t do. But the truth is I wouldn’t have had sex with that enlisted guy if the officers hadn’t tried to isolate me from the crew.

Perception is not reality.
http://www.thewarhorse.org/our-stories/the-quandary-of-perception-versus-reality
 

LineInTheSand

USCGA 2006
10-Year Member
Her first time on a cutter was 1/c summer? Huh?

She did exactly what she was rumored to do.... whether it's a self-fulfilling prophesy or not, it's on her, not on the officers who may have identified the path she was headed down before she realized it herself. Perception is reality. But, how the author SHOULD have finished her post, "REALITY IS REALITY." The reality was she was doing exactly what she was told not to do, since she started at the Coast Guard Academy.

Do I think she was standing on the pier thinking long and hard about what she should or shouldn't do? No. I think she was packed and ready to go. It was after weeks of building relationships, likely inappropriate, with members of the crew.

"I picked a mechanic..." Probably safe to assume this wasn't the first time she met this mechanic.... who had been on the same 378' radius as her for the last 30 straight days... the language would have me believe that she just "picked" someone.... but I'm not sure I'm willing to bite.

And yes, male enlisted are far to friendly with female cadets. We called (in not an affectionate way) the enlisted guys "Teds" aka "Typical Enlisted Dudes."
 
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SamAca10

10-Year Member
"And some latent sexism that is still in the military."

Some? Child, please...
You're right, I'm being too politically correct here. There is still sexism in the military being exercised, in different ways and varying degrees.

But you're right! She made that phrase into a reality, and seems to me that she is shifting the blame on her actions to others rather than herself. Back at USCGA there were a few sayings about this. EAGLE is the tall ship cadets go on during the summer between 4/c and 3/c years. Sometimes it'd be joked that that is an acronym for "Every Academy Girl Loves Enlisted" since so many of the female cadets would face NJP after sleeping with an enlisted member during that summer. What's crazy is that these things happen still to female junior officers and male enlisted members. Female JOs get punished, but I believe that if a male JO was placed in the position of sleeping with a female enlisted member he would be charged with sexual assault, since he clearly used his position of authority to influence a subordinate into sleeping with him. Yet we don't charge female officers with this offense, instead shifting the burden of blame onto the male party...

As for her first time being on a cutter, a lot of cadets get sent to small boat stations instead of cutters during that summer after freshman year. There's not a lot of female rack space on those older cutters. But that's most likely shifted somewhat with the newer National Security Cutters and Fast Response Cutters that have less people per berthing area.
 

Hurricane12

USNA 2012
5-Year Member
It happens with Navy ships as well (though not as commonly as Coast Guard, apparently) and it's unacceptable.
Part of the problem is on the Navy: they pair new 3/C MIDN fresh out of plebe year with junior Sailors (normally a PO3 or PO2) and there's extremely limited O/SNCO involvement. I think I saw the DivO for the shop I was with once or twice during my youngster cruise, and spent most of my on-duty time with the enlisted guys. Off duty I hung with other mids.
It's not rocket surgery that frat happens between enlisted guys who view mids as sport and mids who are getting their first taste of both the fleet and freedom (and who haven't had many chances to interact with junior and NCO-rank Sailors). Yet, every year, it's an issue that leadership tends to turn a blind eye to. The Navy seems chronically unsure of how to handle women in these scenarios.
Part of the problem are the mids: they know it's unacceptable and it happens anyway. Mid on mid frat (and general bad behavior) during summer training happens much more than mid-on-E dog, also with terrible results. Mids have a tendency to look at summer training as a vacation (see: west coast PROTRAPARTY) after a long and strenuous academic year and don't take it seriously or act their best. That's a culture that should change, but I doubt it will.

And, part of the problem is that perception is reality. I work exclusively with men: there are no other female pilots in my squadron and there are only a few female Marines, period, almost none of whom I work with. I have to walk a line my male peers do not with how I interact with other junior pilots, instructors, and enlisted Marines.
I'm lucky (I guess?) in that I'm not attractive and am married. I've also been told to my face that I'm a "good one," normally right before the other person says something bad about "normal female Marines." I know how a lot of my peers think and talk about female Marines. It's not pretty, and it's something I am very conscious of when I interact with male Marines.
 

scoutpilot

5-Year Member
You're right, I'm being too politically correct here. There is still sexism in the military being exercised, in different ways and varying degrees.

But you're right! She made that phrase into a reality, and seems to me that she is shifting the blame on her actions to others rather than herself. Back at USCGA there were a few sayings about this. EAGLE is the tall ship cadets go on during the summer between 4/c and 3/c years. Sometimes it'd be joked that that is an acronym for "Every Academy Girl Loves Enlisted" since so many of the female cadets would face NJP after sleeping with an enlisted member during that summer. What's crazy is that these things happen still to female junior officers and male enlisted members. Female JOs get punished, but I believe that if a male JO was placed in the position of sleeping with a female enlisted member he would be charged with sexual assault, since he clearly used his position of authority to influence a subordinate into sleeping with him. Yet we don't charge female officers with this offense, instead shifting the burden of blame onto the male party...

As for her first time being on a cutter, a lot of cadets get sent to small boat stations instead of cutters during that summer after freshman year. There's not a lot of female rack space on those older cutters. But that's most likely shifted somewhat with the newer National Security Cutters and Fast Response Cutters that have less people per berthing area.
The fact that you can quote a well known "saying" about what "every academy girl" does with her vagina should tell you all you need to know about the pervasive depth of sexism in the military.

I spent the first year of my command integrating the first female officer in our community. Ever. She was a model officer. She'll be better at this than I ever was. She made sure, like this author, to avoid any hint of impropriety. And yet I'd still hear talk about how she "was ****ing so-and-so."

Perception isn't reality. Maybe we should stop being so ****ty about how we perceive women.
 

LineInTheSand

USCGA 2006
10-Year Member
The fact that you can quote a well known "saying" about what "every academy girl" does with her vagina should tell you all you need to know about the pervasive depth of sexism in the military.

I spent the first year of my command integrating the first female officer in our community. Ever. She was a model officer. She'll be better at this than I ever was. She made sure, like this author, to avoid any hint of impropriety. And yet I'd still hear talk about how she "was ****ing so-and-so."

Perception isn't reality. Maybe we should stop being so ****ty about how we perceive women.
We also have a saying for the men, so I'm not sure it's quite as pervasive as it may be in the Army.

It's probably important to mention that the "sleeping around" isn't extremely common. I'd say 378's have reputations (some at least), but that also have to do with the commands. When I got to my first cutter, a 210', there were 2-4 female officers (out of 13). None of them had reputations for sleeping around. As they rotated out (with my arrival), it became an all-male boat. When I was leaving a female EO came in. She didn't have a bad reputation either.

These sayings are based in reality, and that reality is often rightfully perceived. Eagle is also called the Dirty Bird.... it that's not gender-specific.

Why do female JOs usually have the reputation? Because, in general, there are very few women on cutters, and when they are there, they're often officers. Its more likely that you'll have a few female officers on a large boat that's 90% male than a few male officers sleeping with females on a boat that's 90% female...



Frequently cadets (male and female) want to get close to the crew.... to learn about what they do and to really experience the Coast Guard. Those relationships CAN cross a line. And I'd say, in general, the officers can see it better than a cadet.

An example: Me.

As a 3/c cadet I would go by my 4/c's room to see how things were going. I was trying to "lead." My 4/c was cute and so was her roommate, so it didn't make the visits painful. At some point a 1/c cadet called me in and told me that it didn't look right. "I'm just trying to 'know my people'" I thought (and probably said). Well, I thought about it and backed off of the visits. What didn't seem bad to me looked bad to the upperclass. Eventually my 4/c's class got "AOL Instant Messenger" privileges (something like getting Facebook, but before Facebook existed). She IMed me with someone kind of "hey handsome." Well, I told her that we couldn't talk like that and not to IM me (there were only a couple of weeks until it would be OK). A few weeks later, after I had become a 2/c and she was a 3/c, we hung out and started dating.

Point is, that 1/c was more on top of it than I realized and while I didn't understand at the time, the perception was likely closer to reality than I realized.I didn't do anything while she was a 4/c, but it didn't look right, and the fact we dated later, when it was OK, would indicate to me that maybe something was "off" from my self-perception.
 

LineInTheSand

USCGA 2006
10-Year Member
She made sure, like this author, to avoid any hint of impropriety. And yet I'd still hear talk about how she "was ****ing so-and-so."
Except this author was "****ing so-and-so" so there was impropriety, and it it likely didn't come out of no where.

It would be interested to hear how her fellow cadets (male and female) perceived her actions. In this piece we're getting one side of a story that likely has many sides.

The officer in the photo of her at the radar is my classmate.
 

scoutpilot

5-Year Member
Except this author was "****ing so-and-so" so there was impropriety, and it it likely didn't come out of no where.

It would be interested to hear how her fellow cadets (male and female) perceived her actions. In this piece we're getting one side of a story that likely has many sides.

The officer in the photo of her at the radar is my classmate.
Except that the insinuation that she did that had made its trip around the boat before she ever rolled in the hay post-cruise.
 

LineInTheSand

USCGA 2006
10-Year Member
Except that the insinuation that she did that had made its trip around the boat before she ever rolled in the hay post-cruise.
Again, that's what she said, but I'm not entirely convinced hanging out on the messdeck was all about drawing a fire main...

Why? Because I've seen cadets get too close to enlisted crew members on their summer cruises... I'm not saying sexual "closeness," but the more it happens, the more you start to wonder.

This isn't a perception thing. The reality is, they do get to close to "Typical Enlisted Dudes" and they (and the Teds) have to be warned. Some heed warnings. Some don't. When they don't, and it's discovered, cadets can get kicked out of CGA and the Teds might get kicked out of the Coast Guard.

I would guess that the Engineer Officer saw something developing that the author was oblivious to...
 
I tell my son frequently that integrity is doing the right thing regardless of who is watching and even if no one is watching. At the end of the day, regardless what others perceive or believe, we are alone with ourselves when our heads hit the pillow. So, we must learn to respect ourselves and make choices we are proud of, even if no one else notices.

What other people think of us is none of our damn business. What do we think of ourselves? What we think of others (or what we think of what we believe others think of us) can screw us up (as this girl let it do to her). Don't let their opinions dictate your actions. You are better than that. Raise the rent for space in your head and kick those that don't belong right on out.
 

Wishful

"Land of the free, because of the brave..."
5-Year Member
A man approached Dr. Martin Luther King and said he had great difficulty controlling his anger due to all the racist violence occurring. He disagreed with non-violent protesting & wanted to lash out. Dr. King told him that, “As long as you let other people control your emotions, you will never be free.” That man later became the first black mayor of Stone Mountain, Ga.
 
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