Some people might think that living as one of 748 women in a community of more than 23,000 men would be delightful.

They are not the women at Fort Benning, who could do without the 32-to-1 ratio.

"When I first drove on this post I thought there was something wrong with my car," recalled Lt. Ann Clawson, 24, an Army intelligence specialist. "Guys just stopped what they were doing and stared, like they'd never seen a female before."

Clawson said that in her two years here little has changed. "The guys are really crude. [I] always feel naked or like a piece of meat. In general, women are just not accepted."

Many women at Benning, home of the infantry and one of the nation's largest military bases, say that sexual harassment is one of the most pervasive and degrading facts of Army life.

They complain of unsolicited and unwelcome advances by male soldiers that go unpunished, of verbal abuse by obscenity-shouting men, of messhall stares that force many to eat off base, of male officers who tell them they have no place in the Army and the constant feelings of conspicuousness.

The prevailing attitude of the commanding officers, the women say, amounts to a tacit appearance that "boys will be boys."

"Deep down there's this feeling that women who join the military are asking for it," said retired Air Force Gen. Jeanne M. Holm. "There's still this feeling that this is a man's Army. I don't think that's going to go away for a long time."

Women who have been at Benning for a while -- particularly officers who have the protective advantage of outranking enlisted men -- say they cope with harassment by trying to ignore it.

"I used to feel like I was in a cattle show," said Lt. Sandra Cigainer, 23, "but I got over it. I don't think women in the Army are any more harassed than they are in civilian life."

But women who have been stationed at other posts, or who joined the Army after holding civilian jobs, disagree.

Sgt. Sharon Calabrisi, 25, said she did not encounter harassment at Fort Belvoir, the Fairfax Country, Va., base where she was stationed before coming here.

"I never eat in the mess hall [near her barracks] because . . . they all stop eating and watch me. I said, forget it, I don't have to put up with this," she said. Instead Calabrisi said she eats her meals at other on-post cafeterias or drives off the base into nearby Columbus to buy a fast-food dinner, which she sometimes eats in her room back in the barracks.

Army women put on a brave face about harassment, but most admit it is difficult to ignore.

"When I was going through OCS [Officer Candidate School] my platoon leader used to call me in and say that women have no place in the Army, so what was I doing there," recalled Calabrisi, who broke her foot 10 days before finishing the grueling 14-week course, only to be told she would have to start over if she wanted to receive a commission.

Although Calabrisi protested, pointing out that a man in a previous class had graduated with a cast on his foot, OCS stood firm. Calabrisi refused to repeat the course, and after negotiations with officials was promoted one grade, to sergeant.

Two female intelligence specialists attached to the 4,400-member combat-ready 197th Infantry Brigade say they were discouraged from participating in an upcoming field exercise by a warrant officer who asked them not to go on manuevers because their presence would be an "inconvenience."

"The only place we get to [practice] interrogation is in the field," said one of the women, PFC Eva Dickerson. Dickerson and Sgt. Debbie McCormick said that the officer told them not to tell the men in their unit that they were going to miss the manuever because the men "would be mad if they knew we were getting out of field duty."

General Army officials in Washington acknowledge that harassment and discrimination force a discouragingly high number of women out of the Army before completing their tours and keep others from reenlisting.

Earlier this month, after the publication of reports of sexual harassment at Fort Meade, Army Secretary Clifford L. Alexander and chief of staff Gen. Edward C. Meyer issued orders to commanders reaffirming Army policy that harassment was not to be tolerated and that offenders should be "swiftly and fairly" disciplined.

"Harassment has always been a problem in the Army, but the increase in the number of females makes it more of a problem," said the Army's acting assistant secretary for manpower and reserve affairs, William D. Clark. "There's a lot of institutional prejudice. Leaders can get up and say all they want, but the direction must come from the command" at the base level, Clark said.

Fort Benning's commanding officer, Gen. David E. Grange Jr., said directives like the ones recently telegraphed from the Pentagon annoy him. "I've been in the Army 36 years, and these people are my charges. I don't need to be told about that." Grange, 54, said he was aware that harassment existed but did not think it was a major problem at Fort Benning.

Grange said he was unaware that women were discouraged from participating in field exercises. "If I find out about that guy he'll be in big trouble. I'm deadly serious. That kind of thing just won't happen. These [women] have got to be trained."

"I don't think anyone's intimidated from going to the mess hall though," he said. "I ate in a mess hall the other day with the girls and no one said anything about it." Although he said he wants women to come forward and report incidents of harassment, Grange added: "You've got to watch out that you don't do too much [encouraging] or there could be a backlash."

While it is official Army policy that equal treatment of women is "mandated by law, is the proper thing to do and anything less cannot be tolerated," some senior officers here say that men who harass women simply reflect their upbringing.

"What we have here is a bunch of high school kids in green," said Col. Michael Spigelmire, commander of the 197th Infantry Brigade. "It's the same thing you'd find in any high school."

And while Spigelmire and other officers admit that harassment exists, they seem to regard it as a considerably less serious problem than do officials at the Pentagon.

"It's a hard darn thing to nail down," said Fort Benning inspector general Col. Dan H. Ralls, whose office investigates harassment complaints. "You know, you're dealing in perceptions. It I say to a woman, 'Hey, you look really pretty today,' and she feels good, she might smile and go on, but if she doesn't, she might think, 'I'm going to nail that guy.'"

Ralls said his office received three harassment complaints last year, all of which were substantiated. Two involved solicitation of sexual favors by a senior enlisted male from junior enlisted women. Ralls refused to say what disciplinary action was taken, but punishment for harassment ranges from a verbal repirmand to a court martial. Ralls said the man was not court-martialed.

"The services only collect data on official complaints, and you know and I know women aren't going to report [harassment]," said Holm, formerly director of Women in the Air Force (WAF). "In the military a racist is not allowed to act like one, but it's still sort of winked at to be sexist."

Army women say that junior enlisted females who tend to be the service's youngest and most naive members are most often the victims of sexual bullying. "A lot of them are away from home for the first time and scared, and if it seems like someone in an authority position is interested in them or is being nice, well, they'll just give in" said one senior enlisted woman.

Many say they entered the service unprepared for what they would face as women.

"When I got to Germany I thought I was God's gift. I got 16 phone calls a night, just like my recruiter said," said McCormick, an interrogator previously stationed in Germany. "I never had that much attention in high school or anywhere else, and I thought, "Wow, I'm really loved.' It didn't take long before I wished they would just leave me alone. Here at Benning, if you're nice to guys, they'll say you're sleeping with everybody."

Some women say harassment is an outgrowth of the popular belief that women who join the military are sexual deviants.

"The military lives by all these shibboleths," said Holm. "One of the ways the culture has kept women in their place is to say that anyone who'd join is either a nympho or a lesbian."

Just as there are homosexuals in the civilian world, say Army women, so, too, are there homosexuals in the military. It is not something that seemed to bother any of the women interviewed.

"My mother told me I'd meet a lot of lesbians and prostitutes if I joined the Army," McCormick recalled. "I met a lot of lesbians in Germany, but then there are a lot of gay men in the Army and men who like to mess around, and no one says anything about them."

While some officers at Benning say the harassment problem will dissipate as more women join the military and assume leadership roles, other soldiers take harassment to be an intractable fact of Army life.

"Harassment will exist as long as there are women in the military," said one camoflage-fatigue-clad Ranger instructor interviewed at a base club as he sipped a beer. "The only place an infantryman gets to see a woman is his mama or a stripper. Guys will go as far as a woman allows, and I think we're getting women into the Army with very low moral standards."

In addition to harassment, the Army is grappling, and none too well, with another sex-related issue: fraternization, specifically romantic ties between male and female GIs.

While policy is intentionally vague on this issue, relationships between "service members of different rank which involve or give the appearance of partiality" are clearly proscribed in the interest of "good order" discipline and high unit morale."

Still, enforcement of the directive is arbitrary and, say both men and women at Benning, too much is left to the discretion of commanding officers.

"The objective . . . is not to dictate morality, but to eliminate the fact or appearance of impropriety," said Army manpower chief Clark. "Clearly, if a leader is seen to be dating a subordinate in a unit, the perception on the part of others is that the junior party has the advantage."

One senior enlisted woman who is secretly dating an officer said she thinks the fraternization policy is ridiculous and harmful to her relationship. "Even though we're not in the same unit and it's supposedly okay to go out, he doesn't like for us to be seen in public because he thinks it will hurt his career."

Another enlisted woman said, "I don't think what you do off duty is the Army's business. The policy has such huge gaps it leaves everything up to the commanding officer. Of course, it still goes on a lot."

Some women deal with the issue by simply avoiding relationships with men on base.

"Lord knows everybody zooms in on everybody," said Pvt. Beverly Lass, 21, whose boyfriend is stationed at an Air Force base in Texas. "I just don't go out with people here. Besides, I wouldn't want to go out with anybody I work with."

Fraternization has other consequences, among them the Army's pregnancy rate of about 15 percent, the highest of all the services.

"These kids are making out like rabbits, but many of them are really very ignorant sexually," said one Army expert, who favored improved sex education programs for recruits. The Air Force, which offers such programs, currently has a 4 percent pregnancy rate, the psychologist said.

The women at Fort Benning say that sex education in the Army is virtually nonexistent and that sexual ignorance is widespread.

"I've talked to people in my unit who say they don't have sex very often so they don't need to use any birth control," said Clawson.

"We had one quick film about VD in basic training," said Dickerson, "but a lot of the kids were too embarrassed to ask any questions, so I ended up asking them, even though I already knew the answers. I just felt somebody should."

Some military observers believe the pregnancy rate at a given base is inversely proportional to the morale of women stationed there because pregnancy is one of the easiest and most acceptable ways a woman can get out of the service.

"Where morale is low, you have higher pregnancy rates," said Holm, former director of Women in the Air Force. "Whereas men go out and get hung up on drugs, women go get pregnant."

Last year at Fort Benning the pregnancy rate was about 18 percent, according to Dr. Nicholas Khoury, chief of medical services at Martin Army Hospital.

Khoury, who said he knows of no sex education program at Benning, denied that sexual ignorance is responsible for the base's high pregnancy rate.

Khoury said he thought the far lower pregnancy rate of the Air Force stemmed in part from the "different caliber of people" that service attracts.

"You have to be very careful about sex education programs, because if you have them for the females, then you have to have them for the males," said Khoury, who added that such programs were available off post.

Perhaps the best advice for prospective Army women was offered by a female sergeant: "One of the things about the Army is that you learn how to take care of yourself real fast. Either you learn that, or you get stepped on."