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Workshop addresses gender differences, Soldiers’ sense of place

Five female Soldiers participate in a “Family Feud”-style icebreaker at a BEST workshop April 16 at Wings Chapel. (Photo by Sara E. Martin)

Five female Soldiers participate in a “Family Feud”-style icebreaker at a BEST workshop April 16 at Wings Chapel. (Photo by Sara E. Martin)

Published: April 24, 2014

FORT RUCKER, Ala. (April 24, 2014) -- For decades, female Soldiers have stood side-by-side with their male counterparts defending the United States, but even though strides have been made towards total equality in the ranks, there remain hurdles to conquer.

Although the hurdles are being leaped with strength and resiliency, every now and then a shoe catches and failure follows, but according to Lt. Col. Celia FlorCruz, 7th Infantry Division Sexual Harassment and Assault Response and Prevention program manager, as the Army brushes itself off to continue the race, it always learns something new.

“When we try to pretend that women are the same as men in the Army, we are being pretty stupid,” she said at a Better Empowered Soldiers Today workshop April 16 at Wings Chapel that focused on sexual harassment and assault prevention in the military. “We are different, and we have different capabilities and weaknesses. We have to figure out how to compliment each other’s strengths and weaknesses in the military.”

Col. Stuart J. McRae, Fort Rucker garrison commander, agreed.

“All of our attributes are important to the collective force,” he said. “Even though we all wear green and there is no difference in what we do as Soldiers, there are differences between men and women, and we need to recognize those differences.”

There were many speakers at the workshop who gave personal testaments of why being aware of sexism in the military is important, and how a single Soldier can poison the atmosphere in a unit.

One speaker, Joni Martin, a Family advocacy program social worker, spoke about the differences between men and women and how the sexes think differently. She gave advice to attendees on how to better understand the opposite sex for a healthier work environment, and how understanding how the opposite sex thinks and communicates can help reduce sexual violence.

“From childhood, men are taught to be tough and hide their feelings, while women are taught to talk about their emotions, and be loving and caring,” she began. “Children have to be taught to act like that, and those are the differences society initiates that impact us as adults.

“And those differences play into every workplace, so we have to understand and use our differences to our advantage,” she said. “We have to try to look though the glasses of the opposite sex so we can see it from their perspective.”

A “Family Feud”-style icebreaker helped the Soldiers begin to think about those differences.

The game had  His and Her teams, and asked the teams questions concerning one sex or the other, such as “What did a survey of 100 male Soldiers say they feared the most?” and “What did a survey of 100 female Soldiers say was the reason they joined the military?”

FlorCruz said she hoped the workshop would stimulate a conversation between Soldiers about how they can move forward to change the culture.

“We are requiring people to ask harder questions about themselves and their organizations, and that is the first step in how to change the Army’s culture,” she said. “The mindset of ‘boys will be boys’, which can create a dangerous and unbecoming atmosphere in any unit, is slowly changing. It is a matter of leadership and the Army’s maturing as a modern military force to wipe out hazing of all natures in all military occupational specialties.”

She said the biggest problem with sexual assault is the disbelief that the Army has a problem, and that the bottom line is women need to mentor men about mentoring women.

“We have to raise the professionalism of all Soldiers, and if we do that that will reduce all SHARP issues,” she said. “We all have a part to play in making the Army a more professional place. We have to make the culture change happen, and we can do that by addressing the professionalism of individual Soldiers.”

When the professionalism of Soldiers is addressed and when leaders help their Soldiers find their place in the profession of arms, they are keeping them from being victims of isolation, she added.

FlorCruz said that female Soldiers need to have an improved sense of place – an improved sense of values – in the profession of arms. Sexual assault causes severe isolation, especially when a Soldier doesn’t have a secure sense of place in their unit.

“Victims generally fall into the category of being a disenfranchised, isolated, not-well-regarded Soldier. That is how he or she is selected by a predator,” she said. “Many Soldiers are picked out because they are on the fringe. Gender can be a cultural isolation, so we have to figure out how to address it.”

Capt. Christopher Supienger, 6th Military Police Detachment commander, said that the workshop was very interactive and informative.

“It has done a great job of showing us how to take a walk in the other gender’s shoes, and how that is applicable to working in the United States Army,” he said during a short break. “(Proper communication between the sexes) enhances interaction in a unit and it is essential to being a well-rounded leader who can mold future leaders.”

How a woman sees herself in an organization, according to FlorCruz, has everything to do with how successful the organization is going to be overall.

“Give your Soldiers a better sense of identity, and let them know that they belong in the organization and in the profession in arms,” she said.

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