Another week, and another explosive headline that cements the #MeToo conversation as relevant, worthy, and necessary.
I continue to be in awe of the brave individuals who have come forward. Yet instead of getting stuck on whether this is a watershed moment, reckoning, or awakening, I can’t stop thinking about how this conversation can stick, so that change is lasting. And that got me thinking about my final combat deployment in Afghanistan in 2010.
As in combat, we need good men to be by our side in every aspect of life. Men have been my champions and they are unequivocally responsible for so many of those cracks in that glass ceiling: They stood up for me, they asked for me to be on their teams, promoted and mentored me. Enough with only women in women’s groups—we need man-bassadors.
An epic transformation took place in our military after 9/11, and policy caught up with reality in opening all jobs to women — a change that came about because men were engaged.
In the fall of 2010, my unit had been in country only a few weeks, and my teams were settling into various areas of operation that were spread across eastern Afghanistan. One night, finishing a phone call with one of my team leaders providing a battle update, he said, “Ma’am, I also gave your contact information to the ODA commander, Jason. He wants to talk about synchronizing our collection effort and utilizing a few of my team’s interrogators, especially Lauren.”
Perfect, I thought. ODA is jargon for a Special Forces team, and having spent time working in the special operations community, it came as no surprise to me that these guys were reaching out to a new intelligence asset in theater, especially one that had female soldiers. After talking with Jason, my presumption was confirmed, as one of the first things he said to me was, “I am so excited your unit has female interrogators! Finally, we can now add roughly 50 percent of the population to the table.”
Jason knew from previous deployments that the prohibitive culture in the Middle East did not allow men who were not family to talk with women. Thus, when female soldiers participated in missions, whether they were village patrols or attending tribal meetings, they could at the very least talk and interact with the women — the other half of the population we desperately needed to reach.
Perhaps it was his devotion to his own two daughters back home, but Jason understood women were just as important as men, and he saw firsthand how that translated on the battlefield. Just as the Navajo Code Talkers, a group of Native Americans who served in the Marines during World War II, offered a unique skill set that aided combat operations, so, too, did women in the Middle East post 9/11. Women helped change the war’s tide.
Indeed, there are remarkable examples of women out front, and there were good men who, like their female battle buddies, maintained their military ethos every service member is ingrained to hold firm: “Mission first, people always.” We didn’t look at the situation and ask if we were setting up women for failure; we asked ourselves if we were setting up our mission for failure if it were performed without women. This is an essential angle to consider outside of the military, too, which has proven to lead to success from top Fortune 500 companies once they have more women on their boards, to longevity in post-war stability when women are part of peace talks.
Today we must ask ourselves if we should be solely relying on women to be the impetus for change in our culture? Or, to help change the tide of this conversation to lasting progress, shouldn’t we be enlisting men?
The paradigm shift will occur when both women and men stand and work together — because sexual harassment and assaults are not women’s issues or a women’s problem. Furthermore, just as a woman is someone’s daughter, mother, or sister, a man is someone’s son, brother, or father. Which is perfectly relevant when remembering the following piece of history that changed everything for women and men.
In 1920, the youngest member of the Tennessee legislature, Harry T. Burn, cast the tie-breaking vote to ratify the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which granted women the right to vote. This is germane to the point being made today because he was swayed to vote for suffrage by a letter from his mother. He concluded that it was a moral and legal right, by viewing this issue through the eyes of a son. “I know that a mother’s advice is always safest for her boy to follow,” he explained, “and my mother wanted me to vote for ratification.”
I am not so naïve to stake that this will all be better if every mother wrote a letter to her son this very instant. Enlisting men is not a singular solution, as data shows we must move the needle on adding more women to male-dominated industries and institutions. Yet as this moment has shown, there is strength in numbers. Not limiting ourselves to our half of the population makes sense. Furthermore, a swell in reinforcements for this cause would buttress the effort of those who have been advocating for this for many, many decades.
If you are a woman reading this, seek out those honorable men in your life to be your mentors, and ask them to advocate for you. If you are a man reading this, know you are the other half of the population we so desperately need to advance; each of you has a sphere of influence. Use it. The mission is lasting change, and I know there are more than a few good men out there ready to answer the call.
Eastman is author of “The Frontline Generation: How We Served Post 9/11.” She served 10 years in the Army Reserve, completing two combat deployments, and is recipient of the Bronze Star and Combat Action Badge.
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