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May 21, 2013

UmbrellaGate

Grim makes an excellent point regarding Obama's Marine umbrella kerfuffle:

We can see the inequality inherent in the system in Marine Corps regulations on umbrellas:
Per Marine Corps uniform regulations, the men are not allowed to carry or use umbrellas while in uniform. Female Marines can carry “an all-black, plain standard, or collapsible umbrella at their option during inclement weather” but not with combat uniforms.

At their option? What kind of nonsense is this?

...If it's winter and your hands are cold, are female Marines permitted to put their hands in their pockets 'at their option'? If not, why the discrepancy in the pursuit of female comfort? After all, the new primary mission of the US military could reasonably be defined as ensuring the psychological comfort of female servicemembers. Why not their physical comfort as well?

At first glance, it's not hard to see reasonable justification for the disparity in umbrella regs. After all, women wear their hair longer than men even in civilian society and longer hair is harder to keep neat. Women also wear makeup.

For a male Marine, getting caught in a downpour while in uniform may make him wet and uncomfortable, but it will have little effect on his appearance. Most uniforms are wool or wool blends and they stand up well to water, and the ubiquitous "high and tight" haircut is so short that even a thorough soaking doesn't affect it.

For a female Marine, getting caught in a downpour while in uniform can result in mascara smudges/raccoon eyes reminiscent of Alice Cooper and bedraggled hair that is no longer neat and military looking.

But this raises a question: what is the justification for the high and tight required of male Marines? Certainly it carries practical advantages. In hand to hand combat, a shaven head offers no handhold to the enemy. Shaven heads are easier to keep clean than long hair, and make it difficult for lice (who lay their eggs about 1/2 inch from the scalp) to establish themselves.

These are unisex considerations: they apply equally to men and women. So what is the justification for holding men to a different (and more rigorous) standard than women?

This is the problem with the "only as equal as we wanna be" ethos. When it's not calling time tested restrictions on male soldiers and Marines into question, it creates the appearance (and the reality) of preferential treatment for female soldiers and Marines.

That can't be good from either a morale or efficiency standpoint.

Posted by Cassandra at May 21, 2013 06:38 AM

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Comments

Cass,

I've got a couple of questions and comments. First, do you have any idea which reg prohibits male Marines from carrying umbrellas? I never thought that it was prohibited, merely that it flew in the face of tradition. And I was told that it was okay to hold an umbrella over my spouse's head, but not over my own if I was in uniform. If this was made into a regulation, I wonder when and why.

Second, high and tights are a matter of tradition, not regulation. The haircut regulation states that hair on top must be no longer than 2.5 inches long and taper evenly down the back and sides. As you can imagine, this had been interpreted and misinterpreted in many ways. When I was in TBS (late 60's to early 70's), some of the JAGs in the company preferred regulation haircuts to the high and tights that the rest of us had. The company commander saw it differently, but the JAGs prevailed--because they were right. I've seen many variations depending on the duty station and assignment and rank--but they were all regulation, that is, no longer than 2.5 inches on top and tapering evenly down the back and sides. It never troubled me to go with the flow, because hair grows back relatively quickly.

As a side note, extreme high and tights, approaching Mohawks, are non-regulation because they don't taper evenly, but most commanders won't call out their Marines on it.

Posted by: Rex at May 21, 2013 12:08 PM

First, do you have any idea which reg prohibits male Marines from carrying umbrellas? I never thought that it was prohibited, merely that it flew in the face of tradition.

The Navy had the same rule (or tradition) - male servicemembers were not to carry umbrellas. My husband's understanding, however, was the same as yours (it was OK for him to hold an umbrella over my head - he just couldn't hold one over his own while in uniform!) That's why I didn't write about this when everyone else was fulminating over it :p

From what I can see, it's not so much a matter of umbrellas being specifically prohibited for men as it is of them not being specifically authorized, unless you're female:

http://www.marcorsyscom.usmc.mil/sites/mcub/library/MCUR/URTOC.htm

3035. UMBRELLAS (Female Marines). Female Marines may carry an all-black, plain standard or collapsible umbrella at their option during inclement weather with the service and dress uniforms. It will be carried in the left hand so that the hand salute can be properly rendered. Umbrellas may not be used/carried in formation nor will they be carried with the utility uniform.

In practice, I'm not sure what the distinction is. Clearly they intended to make an exception from the general rule for female Marines. I don't think men are specifically prohibited from wearing earrings while in uniform, but women are specifically allowed to wear them. It's an interesting question.

re: high and tights. I know that the regs don't require a high and tight (in fact, they discourage them). The spousal unit hates the high and tight, though he wore his hair so short as to make almost no difference while serving. He just thought an even taper looked better ... and so do I.

I agree that it was sloppy of me to use 'high and tight' interchangeably with the shorter than regulation haircut we usually see on most male Marines (with the possible exception of 2nd Lieutenants). They're not actually the same thing but I still think it's a valid point that female Marines are not required to keep their hair as short as the men are.

2 1/2 inches on top is pretty long. I used to cut my boys' hair and didn't taper it to the skin except at the nape of the neck, and that was plenty long on top for what amounted to a Navy haircut. I could be wrong, but suspect most Marines don't wear their hair that long on top. It's just too hard to blend in with the shorter parts on the sides and back.

But I could be wrong! :)

Posted by: Cassandra at May 21, 2013 12:33 PM

According to the Army regulations governing wear of the uniform, AR 670-1 (http://www.apd.army.mil/pdffiles/r670_1.pdf):
27–27. Umbrella
a. Type. The umbrella is an optional purchase item.
b. Description. The umbrella is black, plain, with no logos or designs, and is of a commercial design.
c. How worn. Females may carry and use an umbrella, only during inclement weather, when wearing the service (class A and B), dress, and mess uniforms. Umbrellas are not authorized in formations or when wearing field or utility uniforms.

So at least in the Army, there was no permission to hold one for someone else. Not that I can imagine any commander seriously dinging someone for doing so.

Now for the funny. Apparently, they fixed the following paragraph (27-28) from how it read back in my day (1992-1997) where it said "brassiers and underpants will be worn with all uniforms" with no specification as to "by females". It led to jokes about how you could always gig a guy for being out of uniform if he wasn't wearing his bra.

Posted by: MikeD at May 21, 2013 01:22 PM

...at least in the Army, there was no permission to hold one for someone else. Not that I can imagine any commander seriously dinging someone for doing so.

Lord, I hope not. But the human propensity for idiocy never ceases to amaze and confuse me :p

Now for the funny. Apparently, they fixed the following paragraph (27-28) from how it read back in my day (1992-1997) where it said "brassiers and underpants will be worn with all uniforms" with no specification as to "by females". It led to jokes about how you could always gig a guy for being out of uniform if he wasn't wearing his bra.

Kind of gives a whole new meaning to going Commando, doesn't it?

/running away

Posted by: Thong of Ice and Fire at May 21, 2013 01:56 PM

I can't take seriously any woman (or president) who can't survive a little rain without extensive repair, and that goes double for one that purports to be a member in good standing of the armed services. Will be worrying next about female snipers who ruin their manicures every time they take a shot? There are customs that can be tolerated among decorative but useless creatures, like bound feet, that have no place in the military.

Posted by: Texan99 at May 21, 2013 01:59 PM

Hey! Who you callin' useless????

Posted by: Tammy Faye Baker's Mascara at May 21, 2013 02:19 PM

In fairness, Tex, there's certainly an aesthetic element to Marines not being able to put their hands in their pockets when it is cold, or male Marines not carrying umbrellas in dress uniforms. It's not that carrying an umbrella would really impact their capacities as a warrior; indeed, if it were the right umbrella, it might improve those capacities. It's that we like the image of the man whom even the harshest storm cannot bend in the slightest degree. He takes no notice of the downpour. His will is indomitable.

So the question -- linked, as it is, to uniforms other than the utilities you wear in the field -- really is a question of aesthetics. It doesn't actually strike me as at all surprising (or improper) that we should have a different aesthetic standard for men and women.

Now as to whether the short hair is really a battle-proven design that shouldn't be questioned, well... maybe. We can certainly name the advantages of it. But I notice also that the Spartans, who engaged in even more physical hand-to-hand combat, were noted for long and flowing hair.

In fact, long hair was the usual standard during the period when combat was less likely to be conducted at range, and more likely to be up-close and personal. I suspect the short hair is more a reaction to the larger armies that began to form in the Napoleonic period, when the mass encampments gave rise to diseases encouraged by lice and other pests.

In support of this, I'd add that short hair has a famous connection to the Revolutionary movements out of which Napoleon himself came. The old guard against which these forces struggled in Europe generally wore their hair long, but the revolutionaries cropped it short. In Ireland there's a famous loyalist song that plays on the likelihood that revolutionaries will have short hair, called "Croppies Lie Down."

So anyway, I was having fun with this story. I think this whole story is about aesthetics, which is not a light matter necessarily, but it's also not strange to find aesthetics at work in military uniforms intended for dress or office duty. If it intrudes into the field, that's another question.

Posted by: Grim at May 21, 2013 03:59 PM

I suspect the short hair is more a reaction to the larger armies that began to form in the Napoleonic period, when the mass encampments gave rise to diseases encouraged by lice and other pests.

Me too.

Posted by: Cass at May 21, 2013 04:38 PM

Kind of gives a whole new meaning to going Commando, doesn't it?

What's truly funny is that going commando puts one out of regs.

But something just occured to me...

"For a female Marine, getting caught in a downpour while in uniform can result in mascara smudges/raccoon eyes reminiscent of Alice Cooper and bedraggled hair that is no longer neat and military looking."

Why DO female Marines have different grooming and makeup standards to male Marines? Male Marines may not wear mascara or have their hair long enough to get bedraggled by the rain. What readiness increasing reason is there to allow female Marines those things? How does make up improve combat performance? If the purpose of the military is to defend and protect the Constitution, and the purpose of uniforms to present a UNIFORM APPEARANCE... why are there two different standards? You can't even chalk this one up to "women have different skeletomuscular builds than men" (which is true, but is used to justify why women's PT standards are lower... BUT DON'T YOU QUESTION THEIR EQUALITY!!!), mascara doesn't have a blessed thing to do with anything but making women prettier.

Posted by: MikeD at May 21, 2013 04:54 PM

Why DO female Marines have different grooming and makeup standards to male Marines? Male Marines may not wear mascara or have their hair long enough to get bedraggled by the rain. What readiness increasing reason is there to allow female Marines those things? How does make up improve combat performance?

Let's face it, buddy boy - I make women feel FABULOUS.

Seriously, that was one of the things I thought was so amusing about Grim's post. You're right - makeup serves no real purpose except to make women feel better about themselves/feel more attractive. Or to make women more sexually attractive to men, which will just cause you Big Brutes to rape us 24/7/365, instead of only on lunch and cigarette breaks :p

I wonder what the justification will be for this discriminatory treatment now that makeup for men is all the rage?

Posted by: Tammy Faye Baker's Mascara at May 21, 2013 05:00 PM

Most likely makeup for men will be made mandatory. There's some synergy here with the post-DADT military, too. We may even go back to Mike's unisex standard on brassiers.

Posted by: Grim at May 21, 2013 05:43 PM

now that makeup for men is all the rage?

Well, if you try to put make-up on me, I'll certainly rage.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at May 21, 2013 05:56 PM

It depends on how you apply it. I've always favored a ring of lipstick around... um... never mind, just a little lost in thought there for a minute.

Posted by: Bill Clinton at May 21, 2013 05:59 PM

I dunno - I won't consider it a just (much less verdant) world until you menfolk are allowed to indulge your beautiful and natural right to carry bumbershoots :p

Posted by: UMBRELLA EQUALITY NOW! at May 21, 2013 05:59 PM

It depends on how you apply it. I've always favored a ring of lipstick around... um... never mind, just a little lost in thought there for a minute.

OMG. That made me laugh out loud :p

Posted by: UMBRELLA EQUALITY NOW! at May 21, 2013 06:00 PM

FYI, Navy uniform regs permit both men & women to carry a plain black umbrella, but only in the left hand.
don't it it matters in the Air Farce . . .

Posted by: CAPT Mike at May 21, 2013 07:18 PM

Folks are asking what relation there is to makeup and performance in the field (my paraphrasing).

Wrong question, because it relies on erroneous assumptions.

Anyone remember the slogan of the WMs, WACs, and whatever female sailors were called during WW II? The recruiting slogan was "Free a man to fight." That's right. Each woman entering the service could take a REMF job to free a man to fight. We've been slowly evolving since those days, but traditions die hard. And what's wrong with the tradition that women can be pretty and attractive while at the same time being productive members of the armed services? The WMs I knew were quite proud of that fact. Kick ass one minute and look kick-ass the next!

Posted by: Rex at May 21, 2013 09:55 PM

"Kick ass while looking kick ass!"
Now that sounds like a wiener...winner, winner, I meant, winner to me!

Posted by: The Wizzerd of Izz at May 22, 2013 02:04 AM

Female sailors were called WAVES. I still remember looking at them when I was a little girl and thinking how glamorous they looked.

...what's wrong with the tradition that women can be pretty and attractive while at the same time being productive members of the armed services?

IMNSHO, absolutely nothing. We're just having a little fun with the "everything has to be equal or social injustice has occurred" meme.

The rationales used to justify integrating women into the combat arms are flawed. If you apply them evenly, across the board, much of existing policy becomes unenforceable because they rest on the premise that individual aspirations supercede the mission.

The military isn't a democracy - there are all sorts of arbitrary-seeming rules. Shaving, for instance. Shaving your face doesn't make you a better solider, sailor, or Marine... per se. What it *does* do is enforce a uniform standard of appearance. Military hair standards (for men at least) also make military men instantly recognizable even when they're off duty. There's a psychological effect to enforcing a standard/uniform grooming code that differs from that of the general population.

Of course this isn't true of women - there's nothing in the female grooming codes that sets them apart. I don't think it's unreasonable to ask, "Why the disparity?" Nor is it unreasonable to wonder about the practical consequences of that disparity.

Some rules have a practical purpose, some are 'for show' (and having observed the salutory effects of school uniforms as a teen, I don't discount the value of that), and some I suspect are there to remind people that they are part of something larger than themselves... and that this means submerging some of their individuality in service of the larger mission.

FWIW, I love a bit of makeup and almost always wear it when I leave the house. So I have no problem with wearing makeup, but at the same time there is little doubt in my mind that men are being held to a higher standard than women in this regard.

Posted by: Cassandra at May 22, 2013 07:18 AM

Anyone remember the slogan of the WMs, WACs, and whatever female sailors were called during WW II? The recruiting slogan was "Free a man to fight."

I also remember the unofficial Navy slogan of "Join the Navy, ride the WAVES"; which would likely get you charged with sexual harrasment today, come to think of it.

Shaving your face doesn't make you a better solider, sailor, or Marine... per se.

Well... almost. a full beard WILL interfere with the proper seal of a gas mask, so that's an actual consideration.

Posted by: MikeD at May 22, 2013 08:32 AM

Long hair on either men or women isn't an issue as long as the need to keep it decorative isn't so fussy that it prevents your doing such things as enduring some rain.

If women are present in the military as decorative objects to keep up morale, or to relieve men of drudgery so they can fight, then there's no problem with implementing a whole set of rules that treats their mascara with special tenderness. But if women are there to be soldiers, it's all bollocks.

Posted by: Texan99 at May 22, 2013 10:16 AM

But if women are there to be soldiers, it's all bollocks.

Define "soldiers".

If you mean combat troops in theater, it's one thing.

If you mean the REMF sitting in front of a computer writing SQL queries on the Navy Base in landlocked Tennessee, I think the requirements for "professional appearance" are going to be somewhat different.

And that goes for both men and women.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at May 22, 2013 10:49 AM

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