Sunday, October 30, 2016

Uniformly conflicted

The end of my beloved "bucket" combo cover is near.  As of Oct. 31, 2016 it will no longer be authorized for wear and females will wear, well, male covers.  How do I feel about it?  Conflicted!  The cover on the left has been with me since 1995, through ROTC, my commissioning, and the first 15 years of my career.  In 2014, Frank placed the one on the right on my head as I promoted to Commander.  They both hold many memories.  

But they don't define me.  I swore an oath that requires me to abide by all sorts of rules, and the uniform is just part of that.  If it changes, so be it.  I'm not a huge fan of the new style, but none of my daily menswear is especially stylish!

But here's the rub--this latest uniform change woke me up to just how naive I've been.  For the better part of two decades I've felt like the pay equality issue wasn't one I had to think of.  I've worked in a field where pay tables based on rank and time in service are publicly available.  I never felt that I was treated differently or was at a disadvantage as a female.  I promoted in stride with my male peers.  Life is good and I love my job.  But to put it bluntly, my pay is anything but equal.

Officers get a one-time uniform stipend upon commissioning.  Males and females get the same amount, only one time in their career, and any changes big Navy institutes following that are out of your own pocket (enlisted sailors get a uniform allowance for each new idea).  So when the NWU came to the fleet, my male counterparts and I both had to dip into our own funds to pay for them.  So far, so good.  When I was promoted to O-2, I had to buy new insignia just like my male counterparts.  But when it came to dress uniforms, I had to stripe (put the new rank stripes) on two jackets (Service Dress Blue and Dress White) while the males only had to stripe one--they could use their shoulder boards from their Summer Whites for their Dress Whites whereas I couldn't.  No biggie, right?  Well, it costs $40-$65 to stripe one jacket depending on your rank and seamstress.  You own Mess Dress Whites and Blues? That's two more for the females to stripe, one more for males (again, the Whites reuse shoulder boards).  So let's just say it double for females to stripe dress jackets for ease.  Promote to O-3?  Double for you again!  Promote to O-4?  Congrats and double again, sister!  You're so successful!  Then I made O-5.  At this point, both males and females need to buy a new cover with "scrambled eggs" on the brim.  It was a big achievement in my career and I paid ~$200 for that baby. My male counterparts?  They paid ~$100 for their O-5 cover.  Oh, and I still got to pay twice as much to stripe my complete set of dress uniforms.

Then in 2015 the Navy announced that female-specific covers would be going away.  Enlisted junior sailors would wear the classic "Dixie cup" and female Chiefs and Officers would begin wearing a cover styled like the males for a "more uniform, professional appearance" across the service.  Enlisted sailors would receive a uniform stipend to cover this expense, but not Officers.  This is the first mandatory uniform change that I'd witnessed in almost two decades of service that only affected one gender.  Only female officers will have to bear this cost on their own.  You may be asking, "how much is this new cover?"  It's only ~$100.  Only ~$100 to replace my perfectly serviceable damn near new ~$200 cover.  Every single female officer that wasn't issued a male-style cover at their commissioning source will have to pay ~$75-100 (depending on rank) to execute this mandatory change.  And that just makes me angry.  As if I didn't look professional enough already?  Just because SECNAV likes how all West Point cadets wore the same cover now I have to pay to make the Navy the same?  You've lost me here.  And for years I spoke about how great it was to be a female in the military because pay inequality didn't exist here, only to see that I've been duped.  I am naive.  And now I will pay more to follow the orders I am sworn to.  

So how do I really feel?  Conflicted.  Can you see why?

This inequality will continue.  By 2019, all females will have to wear "choker" dress white jackets, just like the men do today.  Whether your current jacket fits and is serviceable or not, if you're a female officer you will have to shell out a few hundred bucks for the new style so that we are a more uniform, professional service.  Why?  Some archaic law that limits all officers to a one-time uniform stipend.  Why not change the law to allow for an additional payment of the service enacts a mandatory uniform change that only affect one gender?  Seems fair me me, and I would champion it for the males if they were getting hit with some bill I wasn't.  According to the head of Navy Uniform Matters (real office and yes I contacted him), this impact to female officers was considered in the decision.  Gee, thanks.  

Bottom line--I love my job, but I'm awake now and a little less naive.  Enjoy a few pics of my bucket cover--I think it looks damn professional!