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Navy moves to put women on submarines
October 15, 2009 9:53 AM   Subscribe

A handful of female seniors at the Naval Academy or in the Naval Reserve Officers’ Training Corps could very well be the first women to be assigned to a U.S. submarine. And if initial plans fall into place, those women — joined by some seasoned supply and surface nuke lieutenants already in the fleet — will be included in four crews assigned to two Ohio-class submarines by late 2011.

Some say move overdue; others worry about wrecked marriages - MSNBC
posted by Joe Beese (97 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wow, way to shiv the gender, Pam.
posted by leotrotsky at 9:54 AM on October 15, 2009


What's long and hard and full of seawomen?
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 10:00 AM on October 15, 2009 [8 favorites]


I think we all know what this can lead to.
posted by waxboy at 10:02 AM on October 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Good for you ladies.
posted by nola at 10:05 AM on October 15, 2009


Oh great. They'll be hanging their bras and nylons to dry between the missile racks.

Just kidding. I toured the USS Henry M. Jackson several years ago. Fascinating, but I wouldn't want to work aboard a sub, and I have much, much respect for people that volunteer to do so.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:12 AM on October 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


It just seems to make sense. Subs are already cramped quarters, why not assign more women, as they tend to be physically smaller?

The argument of "they can get pregnant" is a red herring. Between the existence of birth control and the fact that they're not supposed to be having sex with other crew members, it should not be an issue.
posted by explosion at 10:12 AM on October 15, 2009


leotrotsky: "Wow, way to shiv the gender, Pam."

I liked how she played the "we're in two wars" card. We all know how critical submarines have been to those efforts.

I'm surprised she didn't say "What if a woman goes crazy with PMS? Do we want her near nuclear weapons?"
posted by Joe Beese at 10:12 AM on October 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


She didn't explore the "women onboard brings back luck" meme either.
posted by ahimsakid at 10:17 AM on October 15, 2009


In the book A Philosophical Investigation by Phillip Kerr, every criminal investigation would have both male and female detectives assigned for the unique perspectives each would bring to the case. I've always been surprised this practice hasn't cropped up in more places in real life.
posted by JaredSeth at 10:19 AM on October 15, 2009


From my understanding of how shift rotations are handled on U.S. subs, by about the second week through to the end, everyone is just too goddamned tired to fuck.
posted by fatbird at 10:20 AM on October 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


Between the existence of birth control and the fact that they're not supposed to be having sex with other crew members, it should not be an issue.

I'm not opposed to women on submarines or in the armed forces -- it's just that this is kind of a naive thing to say. Expecting human beings to not have sex with each other and have perfect birth control compliance is just silly.

If we're going to have fully integrated armed forces (and we should) then we need to be prepared for the natural consequences of that.
posted by Avenger at 10:21 AM on October 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've recently gotten into PBS' Carrier, a 10 part miniseries filmed aboard the USS Nimitz (and available via watch it now on netflix). Though I'm sure the dynamics will be a little different on a sub, as opposed to a ship with a population of over 5,000, the documentary has some interesting things to say about relationships between genders in the military. It's worth checking out if you get a chance.
posted by craven_morhead at 10:22 AM on October 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


Er, the thing I'm most worried about is systemic sexual abuse in a culture of "don't tell, don't ask."

Tailhook wasn't so long ago, and nothing was really done to address the fact that the military is a male-dominated milieu where unwritten rules of conduct still prevail. Simply "allowing" women to participate will not directly address this problem.
posted by clvrmnky at 10:25 AM on October 15, 2009 [6 favorites]


It just seems to make sense. Subs are already cramped quarters, why not assign more women, as they tend to be physically smaller?

Yeah. One could more easily make an argument for COMPLETELY female crews than for completely male. Same thing with the space program.
posted by brundlefly at 10:26 AM on October 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


The argument of "they can get pregnant" is a red herring. Between the existence of birth control and the fact that they're not supposed to be having sex with other crew members, it should not be an issue.

It shouldn't be, huh. That's funny, because it is. There's a huge attrition rate for junior female sailors from unplanned pregnancies. The most recent data I could find puts the pregnancy rate shipboard at about 19%.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:29 AM on October 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


The whole "what if one of them gets pregnant" thing is such an annoying red herring. Any woman who could train for and qualify to serve on a sub would be smart enough to use birth control and manage that variable. End of problem. That it gets brought up at all is pretty insulting, really.
posted by gemmy at 10:31 AM on October 15, 2009


The most recent data I could find puts the pregnancy rate shipboard at about 19%.

Oh wow. I wonder why they don't institute mandatory Depo shots, at least for submarine work.
posted by geoff. at 10:33 AM on October 15, 2009


Any woman who could train for and qualify to serve on a sub would be smart enough to use birth control and manage that variable.

Jesus Christ, birth control isn't magic. It fails at pretty predictable rates.

I'm all for putting women on subs, but to dismiss concerns over pregnancy as red herrings or misogyny is to totally ignore reality.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:34 AM on October 15, 2009


Some sailors and wives warn that putting men and women together in extremely close quarters underwater for weeks at a time is just asking for sexual harassment cases and wrecked marriages.
posted by caddis at 10:34 AM on October 15, 2009


News about these potential personnel changes included information about several European countries which included women crew members on their submarines. One mentioned was Norway. Our Navy has 71 submarines. Norway has 6. But then Norway’s better known for awarding a Nobel Peace Prize to a Palestinian terrorist and a supposedly “inspiring” rookie president who, according to Saturday Night Live, has so-far accomplished “jack squat.”

Whoa ho! Those wacky Norwegians! Stick it to 'em, Pam!

:::rolls eyes:::
posted by The Michael The at 10:35 AM on October 15, 2009


brundlefly: "One could more easily make an argument for COMPLETELY female crews than for completely male."

As the fourth link mentions, Ohio-class submarines carry about half of our strategic nukes. In other words, if Ronnie really had decided to outlaw the Soviet Union, those subs would have been tasked with starting World War III.

They'd never trust women to do that.
posted by Joe Beese at 10:36 AM on October 15, 2009


Norway has 6.

None of which are nuclear. Nuclear subs can be underway (and underwater) for months at a time. That's a huge difference. The entire US submarine fleet is now nuclear.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:39 AM on October 15, 2009


I wonder why they don't institute mandatory Depo shots, at least for submarine work.

Because that would be a violation of privacy, and sexist to boot. Also, Depo has been shown to have some pretty nasty side effects that are not common to other hormonal contraceptive methods, so to force it on sailors without choice would be rather inhumane.
posted by cmgonzalez at 10:44 AM on October 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


I have been told more than once by both men and women in the Navy that the high shipboard pregnancy rate is due, at least in part, to intentional choices rather than accidents. Pregnancy gets you an instant out from deployment. When morale is low, supposedly pregnancies go up.

I'm sure this isn't the case 100% of the time (and the lack of access to abortions on military bases or under Tricare coverage probably doesn't help at all--someone who does get pregnant by accident doesn't have a lot of easy options), but apparently it's felt to be fairly common.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:47 AM on October 15, 2009


What's long and hard and full of seawomen?

The Naval Academy?
posted by clearly at 10:48 AM on October 15, 2009


As long as they don't catch the gay down there.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:51 AM on October 15, 2009


And one again life imitates BSG.
posted by GuyZero at 10:52 AM on October 15, 2009


And one again life imitates BSG.

I dunno, you sure they can keep a pigeon alive in there?
posted by vorfeed at 10:54 AM on October 15, 2009


The most recent data I could find puts the pregnancy rate shipboard at about 19%.

From that article, it reads, "The overall pregnancy rate was 19 per 100 woman-years."

Can some stat-hound check that math? I don't think "19 per 100 woman-year" translates to "19%," which would lead one to believe that slightly less than one out of every five women walks off a ship pregnant. That doesn't seem right.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:54 AM on October 15, 2009


Anyone else notice this disparity?
Current:
36 men
3 toilets
2 urinals

Planned:
12 men
3 toilets
2 urinals

24 women
2 toilets
posted by rahnefan at 11:01 AM on October 15, 2009


I would love to ask my grandfather what he thought about this, were he still alive.

He was part of the USS Nautilus crew that went under the North Pole in '58. That first trip skimming undersea mountains, under a mile of ice, with an active nuke strapped to your ass for 96 hours with the Soviets trying to track you. I cannot begin to fathom the pressure the crew was under (pun intended).

It makes sense that the military is cautious of changing the crew's dynamic, purely from the standpoint that the situation is very delicate that far under the ocean.

Of course, women have been part of submarine crews since 1985, but then again those subs didn't have the capability to make millions of people glow in the dark. Women on US submarines is one of those things that you can't possibly understand without having been there, finger on the trigger.

One of many, many things I would love to ask my grandfather - one of many reasons why I miss him.
posted by infinitefloatingbrains at 11:05 AM on October 15, 2009


From the first link (emphasis mine):

"I would not entertain a solution that forced the men to hot-bunk on one of those ships. So we’ll do this right, and the right answer is give the women their own head,” he said, “and make sure the men aren’t inconvenienced or treated unfairly in any way.

Yeah. Cause refusing to station women on submarines for the last, oh, 100 years or so can in no way be described as treating women unfairly.
posted by philotes at 11:15 AM on October 15, 2009


Can some stat-hound check that math? I don't think "19 per 100 woman-year" translates to "19%," which would lead one to believe that slightly less than one out of every five women walks off a ship pregnant. That doesn't seem right.

Based on their numbers, yeah, 19 per 100 woman-years is right. 12.6% of all women serving on ships in the study's time period became pregnant, but that includes deployments of varying durations. Standardizing by woman-years eliminates that variation.
posted by The Michael The at 11:20 AM on October 15, 2009


My sister is a career Naval officer, who has done several tours on carriers. Every cruise, a couple women end up shipped home, pregnant. But there are a lot more places to get busy on a carrier, and in any case, most of the busy-getting happens in port, when the crew gets a couple days of free time that is often spent in hotel rooms getting shitfaced. So I doubt the pregnancy rates on a sub will be much different than on any other type of vessel.
posted by padraigin at 11:23 AM on October 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


there are a lot more places to get busy on a carrier, and in any case, most of the busy-getting happens in port

I've been on several subs, and there is flat out nowhere to fuck privately. I know that doesn't mean it won't happen, but it's a world of difference from a carrier. There are no enclosed, private spots. I'd expect rates much below those on carriers.

Anyway, pregnancy in an integrated military is an occupational hazard, just like getting killed or maimed is. Some servicepeople are lost to pregnancy, some to accidents. It can be lived with. Most sub tours are short enough that women who got pregnant could have their assignment changed before the pregnancy became a work issue.

I'm all for it. In addition to being physically smaller on average, there are some aspects of the general gendered socialization of women that might make them better able to work cooperatively in demanding and close conditions.
posted by Miko at 11:38 AM on October 15, 2009


Anyway, pregnancy in an integrated military is an occupational hazard, just like getting killed or maimed is.

I suspect one of these things is more appealing than the others.
posted by GuyZero at 11:40 AM on October 15, 2009


I want to make the knee-jerk snark about all the usual women-and-men-under-pressure or trapped-in-a small-space plot devices that this will open up, but I'm just stoked that women in the navy, like my sister, may now have an opportunity not afforded to them previously.

And that is Good.
posted by quin at 11:43 AM on October 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Women on US submarines is one of those things that you can't possibly understand without having been there, finger on the trigger.

Oh, wonderful, now we're getting into the "you haven't been there, you can't possibly know" fallacy.

It's been shown, over and over again, that as women get properly integrated into military operations, the misogyny levels (tend to) fall, and the male soldiers think of them as fellow soldiers, rather than "just women." Of course soldiers used to male-only operations would consider women "distractions"; their only exposure to women is on shore leave in bars, as sexual objects instead of as colleagues.
posted by explosion at 11:45 AM on October 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


Anyone else notice this disparity?
Current:
36 men
3 toilets
2 urinals

Planned:
12 men
3 toilets
2 urinals

24 women
2 toilets


actually it would be more like this (for the junior enlisted crew)
Current:
86 men
6 toilets
2 urinals (some Ohio class ships have none)

Planned:
62 men
6 toilets
2 urinals

24 women
2 toilets
posted by ArgentCorvid at 11:49 AM on October 15, 2009


I'm all for it: You'll need both sexes to repopulate the earth after a global thermonuclear war.
posted by clorox at 11:51 AM on October 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


I admire the logic, clorox, but strictly speaking you only need one. And a smallish fridge.
posted by tigrrrlily at 11:54 AM on October 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


From mr. desjardins, who served on a submarine:

This whole thread is disturbing. I am so tired of the "you're in the military you must be messed up mentality."

Everyone is held to a certain code of behavior. Not doing so usually costs the parties involved their careers. This applies to drugs, drinking, and sexual misconduct.

Despite the image portrayed in media, today's submariners are professionals who have to volunteer for not only the Navy but for submarine service. A submarine is a dangerous place when it is sitting next to a pier, much less at sea or at war. Anyone not up to being there is quickly weeded out and sent elsewhere, male or female.
posted by desjardins at 12:13 PM on October 15, 2009 [4 favorites]


I'm all for putting women on subs, but to dismiss concerns over pregnancy as red herrings or misogyny is to totally ignore reality.

I think it's misogyny because it takes two people to get a woman pregnant, but the male side of the equation just isn't seen as a problem. (And, yes, I realize this is to some extent a biological inevitability for at least the first few months if the mother is breast-feeding, but after that, equal parenting is apparently something that just doesn't exist in the minds of many people.)

It reminds me of my high school, where a pregnant girl would be kicked off school teams (not just athletic teams, for health reasons), while the dad was not.
posted by Mavri at 12:25 PM on October 15, 2009


Also, I have immense respect for anyone serving on a sub. The thought of being in one of those little things, underwater, for days, much less months . . . I would go mad.
posted by Mavri at 12:27 PM on October 15, 2009


It's always weird for me to see something like this, because so often I think, Wow, I thought they took care of that years ago. (But then I remember that they still don't let gays serve openly, which seems insane, and that the military hierarchy tends to conserve stupidity…)

Combined with a healthy dollop of, Yeah, but why would anyone want to be on a sub for months at a time? But I realize that's a silly argument against letting people do what they want.
posted by klangklangston at 12:48 PM on October 15, 2009


Women on US submarines is one of those things that you can't possibly understand without having been there, finger on the trigger.

Okay. What does you or your grandfather's experience with women as part of US submarine crews tell us?

What's that? Neither of you actually have any experience with women as part of US submarine crews? Huh.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:49 PM on October 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


Explosion: It just seems to make sense. Subs are already cramped quarters, why not assign more women, as they tend to be physically smaller?

The size differential is a good point. I don't see what the problem is with women on subs anyhow. Now that DADT is in the process of being scrapped, you could just have crews that are made of women and gay men who're midgets or dwarfs. The whole crew could actually be LGBT midgets perhaps. And while we're at this, why not have a new class of subs for these folks that's more anatomically pleasing and familiar. They could call it the Dildo class Nuke powered subs with a mini-disco. General Dynamics is rumored to be working on some new designs...

Saturday nights on such a underwater boat would be pretty wild, I imagine.
posted by Skygazer at 12:50 PM on October 15, 2009


Also from mr. desjardins:

As far as who gets punished in the Navy, the sex of the individuals is a non-issue: it is based on the rank of the senior person. In the event that the rank is equal, the parties are to be held equally responsible. I have seen people busted down in rank or administratively separated (kicked out) for sleeping with their subordinates. The senior party in rank is where the hammer fell heaviest, not the male or female. The Navy conducts extensive sexual harassment and fraternization training for all its members and there is a rigorously enforced zero-tolerance policy.

/end mr. desjardins

Yeah, but why would anyone want to be on a sub for months at a time?

It's certainly not my cup of tea, but I'm sure glad someone does it.
posted by desjardins at 12:51 PM on October 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


While sub pregnancies seem like they would happen, the fears seem overblown.

What I'm not very clear on is the bathroom concerns. It's a weapon of war, can't men and women shit in the same toilet?
posted by garlic at 1:00 PM on October 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


I was going by the chart they provided, ArgentCorvid. Unless I missed something.
posted by rahnefan at 2:10 PM on October 15, 2009


One observation I might make about the US armed forces in general, throughout their formally organized history, is that though they are sometimes slow to change integration policies, they are quick to get over the issues accompanying integration once the integration is established policy. As mr. desjardins notes, once policy is set, military discipline and structure takes over where personal feelings and preferences might never lead. It has to be that way, or nothing gets done.

This pattern occurred when Italian-Americans and Japanese-Americans were integrated into the armed forces; when black people were; and when women were integrated into combat-related positions. The implications tend to be well thought out and well studied by the military in advance of implementation, and problems that crop up then move rapidly toward solutions. And then, recall that recruits are young people who are taking in a whole bunch of new information and complying with new demands and having new experiences - having mixed genders around in your work setting is far from the weirdest experience most people will have as they go through training and then into their assignments. Like a lot of things in the military, suck it up - that's the way it is. My father's experiences in Viet Nam with racist incidents swiftly nipped in the bud and openly der

So in reality, I think civilians tend to have a lot more frets and objections and 'what-ifs' about these sorts of changes than active duty personnel ever do. To them it's much more concrete, and they certainly know that it's unlikely that steps taken forward are ever going to be rescinded, and certainly not over some enlisted-level whining. Civilians are naive about the realities of military organizations, so they project their own concerns onto a situation they really don't quite understand too well; and meanwhile, the military has already adjusted to the new SOP.

I'm tired of the delay on "don't ask, don't tell" too, but I have no doubt that once it ends, it'll end as emphatically as other kinds of de facto and de jure segregation in the military has.
posted by Miko at 2:20 PM on October 15, 2009


♬ It's fun to stay at the YM&WCA! ♬
posted by zippy at 2:24 PM on October 15, 2009


Sorry, I got carried away by a stirring rendition of "In the Navy."
posted by zippy at 2:25 PM on October 15, 2009


I was going by the chart they provided, ArgentCorvid. Unless I missed something.

They presented it poorly. They only showed the part of the ship that would be changed. On an Ohio-class ship, there are 2 crew's heads, with 3 stalls each. There are somewhere around 140 enlisted on board (some would be Chiefs, with their own separate head). The discrepancy is much more in favor of the females in this case, with 12 females per stall vs. ~19 males per stall. The way the schedule is though, 1/3 of the crew is sleeping, and another 1/3 are stuck on watch, so it's more like 4 females/stall vs 6 or 7 males/stall.

A bigger issue I see in the graphic is how much more common space in the bunking area the females were allotted.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 2:40 PM on October 15, 2009


Pregnancy is a red herring; the Navy loses more man-years to sports injuries. Berthing is a little tricky, but ultimately trivial.

The most serious issue will probably be mentoring opportunities. The Navy is worse at retaining women than men, it's worse at retaining submariners than non-submariners, and submarine crews are smaller than the crews of surface ships. It will be non-trivial to make sure that fifteen years from now, there are enough female XOs, department heads, and chiefs out there to provide role models on any given boat for the women coming in. (This is a problem for the rest of the Navy, too.)

I have a few friends in their last year at the Naval Academy right now. It looks like some of them will be among the first female submarine officers. I'm tremendously excited for them, and I'm proud that this is happening. It's been "only a matter of time" for a long time, and it could just as easily have stayed that way.

It's been shown, over and over again, that as women get properly integrated into military operations, the misogyny levels (tend to) fall, and the male soldiers think of them as fellow soldiers, rather than "just women."

This.
posted by haltingproblemsolved at 3:34 PM on October 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


IAA-submariner. I'm actually for this mostly, but I have mixed feelings also.

Couple of things:

and make sure the men aren’t inconvenienced or treated unfairly in any way.

That may sound dumb out of context, but one rumor is that women will not be able to "hot rack," wherein 3 people on separate watch sections are assigned to 2 racks (beds). For health reasons or something, whatever.

The situation on the fast boats is that there are not enough bunks for all of the crew. The guys who work in food service (everyone does, at some point, but not all at the same time) can't hot rack for sanitation reasons. So there's some racks taken out of the picture. Guys who are unfortunate enough to be on port/stbd watch rotations (six on/six off, where "off" stands for that's when you do all your maintenance and paperwork, before you can sleep) don't hot rack. Frequently, the boat will have visitors from Squadron, or an inspection team, or some SEALS or crypto techs for a special mission, and visitors don't hot rack.

Now say you're a fairly senior guy, who's been on the boat for a couple of years now and finally starting to get senior enough to not get bumped to the hot rack list all the time. That's a big thing, even better than a long, hot "hollywood" shower. Now a bunch of brand new nubs show up to the boat, but they can't hot rack. There goes your rack. Bad enough when it goes to some Senior Chief from an inspection team for a week, but this time, it's going to a nub. Forever. It doesn't matter that it's a woman. I was the most senior non-chief on one of my boats, and I had to hot rack (once, for like 48 hours). It would have chapped my ass to have someone much junior to me having their own (without one of the above good reasons). Petty and stupid, yeah. But it's the little things, man.

The other unfair thing, related to the pregnancy issue, is that pregnant women get assigned to shore duty for a while. There are only so many shore duty jobs to do. That means sea/shore rotations will have to be adjusted as the shore jobs increasingly get taken by people who can't go to sea, rather than people who did their time at sea.

I've been on several subs, and there is flat out nowhere to fuck privately.

You haven't been on subs enough, then. Subs seem small, but if you don't want to be found, you don't get found. There are hundreds of little void spaces behind piping and machinery and obscured bilge pockets to crawl into when nobody's looking. I wouldn't even bother with that, though. There are watch stations all over the ship where, on a midwatch or slow day, you see your supervisor come around maybe twice in six hours, and nobody else. And what if the engine room supervisor were one gender and engine room lower level watch another? They'd have all the time they wanted.

The way I see it, the issues are a) pregnancy, b) drama, and c) privacy.

Privacy is the easy one. People will get over that.

The pregnancy issue is bigger than it seems, because qualifying someone takes a long time, and subs don't have extras. Every lost watch stander on deployment puts two other people port and stbd, and that wears you down FAST. Sure, people get lost for other reasons - kidney stones, broken foot, family emergency, etc, but mostly that's not preventable. Pregnancy is easy to prevent - don't have anyone that can get pregnant (or already be pregnant when the deployment starts.) That can be solved by jamming more people into the training pipeline, so that there are always available newbies, and just having to deal with having more newbies around to train up all the time.

The drama part is what I think all the older people are bitching about. For those of you who compare that to other work places of mixed gender - yeah, but you go home every day. You can have sex when you want with someone you don't work with. Lock your coworkers up in the building for 3 months, after making sure half of them are in their early twenties. It's not just that OMG they might fuck! It's the relationship drama that goes with that. Could they handle it as professionals all the time? Theoretically, sure. Likely? Pff. And it's not like they couldn't learn to deal with it, either. It's just that submarine life is full of enough stressors already. Why add another one?

Really, why? It's not like submarine service is a fast track to a star on your collar that women are locked out of or anything. They have a wide variety of career paths available. It's unfair that they can't be on submarines, yes. But is there really a sufficiently compelling reason to right the wrong other than feeling slighted by the system?

Feh. I make it sound like I hate the idea, and I don't. It's just not as simple as it looks from your arm chair, though.
posted by ctmf at 5:17 PM on October 15, 2009 [14 favorites]


My prediction if this goes through (and I have no problem at all with it): fewer seamen and more semen.
posted by jamstigator at 5:23 PM on October 15, 2009


Pregnancy is easy to prevent - don't have anyone that can get pregnant

Or outlaw vaginal sex? Or provide birth control? Funny how your "easiest" solution is the one that completely excludes women and only women.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:24 PM on October 15, 2009


From my understanding of how shift rotations are handled on U.S. subs, by about the second week through to the end, everyone is just too goddamned tired to fuck.

Heh. Living in a 21-man bunkroom and hearing the little noises every night would indicate otherwise. There's only such thing as too tired for so long.
posted by ctmf at 5:27 PM on October 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Or outlaw vaginal sex?

Yeah. Actually, it already is outlawed, on all ships. See how well that works on surface ships?
posted by ctmf at 5:28 PM on October 15, 2009


Pregnancy is a red herring; the Navy loses more man-years to sports injuries.

This is a red herring. The Navy has far more men in it than women, and men can only lose man-years from one of those two things.

Or outlaw vaginal sex? Or provide birth control? Funny how your "easiest" solution is the one that completely excludes women and only women.

As ctmf says, both of those things are true on surface ships and pregnancy rates are extremely high. And, as someone else posted, a lot of that is suspected to be deliberate. Pregnancy is a sure-fire way to get out of deployment.

I'm also not against this, but there are serious issues that need to be addressed to make it work, not simply dismissed out of hand by sticking our heads in the sand and claiming it isn't an issue.

The solutions I can are as follows:

1) Segregating submarine crews such that they are either all male or all female. But this would be completely unworkable for a wide variety of reasons. Do I really need to list them?

2) Greatly increasing penalties for fraternization aboard a submarine. There are also serious problems with this approach. First, men and women stuffed together on a submarine are going to fraternize. That doesn't make them weak or bad people, it makes them men and women. Secondly, you're going to end up punishing a lot more women than men because pregnancy would be prima facie evidence that a woman was fraternizing. Thirdly, the optics of prosecuting pregnant women for getting pregnant would be terrible. I don't think it is workable.

3) Require Ortho Evra or the like for women serving on submarines. There are also problems with this one, but they seem to me more workable. First, it could also be seen as sexist to require women to have long-term birth control. But I don't think that quite flies. A vasectomy is not equivalent to a patch or an implant. A birth control patch is completely reversable. A vasectomy is not. Oh, half the time you can sort of reverse it but even then sperm counts are much lower than they were.

So it seems to me that requiring long term birth control for women serving on a submarine is the least-bad option. If there were something as relatively safe and as completely reversable for men, I'd be all for requiring men to have it too. But there isn't. Sometimes biology is a bastard.
posted by Justinian at 7:14 PM on October 15, 2009


Segregating submarine crews such that they are either all male or all female. But this would be completely unworkable for a wide variety of reasons. Do I really need to list them?

Yeah, I think you do. They've been all-male for some time; why was this unworkable, other than the equal opportunity issue?

The other arguments really come down to personal inconvenience, which has never really been considered a serious obstacle in the service.
posted by Miko at 7:34 PM on October 15, 2009


2) (fourthly) Why would anyone report anyone else for it? Why get your buddies (male and female) in trouble when it may mean shorting the boat two valuable qualified people? Especially when you may be doing the same thing yourself. More likely, the supervisors would just learn not to go to a certain place when they suspect something may occur there, or to make a lot of noise going there. "*cough cough* WELL, I guess I'll have to do my zone inspection behind the R-114's now. Yep, that's right, aaaaaaaany minute now."
posted by ctmf at 7:36 PM on October 15, 2009


This is old news. We've already been doing it for a while.

Perhaps the American military is just more conservative and less innovative than in other countries.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:59 PM on October 15, 2009


“Sometimes biology is a bastard.”

Yeah. One of those unfair things between my wife and I. Who’s going to stay home from work for a bit and watch the new baby? Well, y’know, I can walk around easily, go to work, I didn’t just have surgery, I don't have the most nutritious food for infants sitting on my chest… I s’pose I’ll go to work instead of you. Doesn’t mean either of our jobs is more or less important or someone’s work is more valid. Just biology.

“The other arguments really come down to personal inconvenience, which has never really been considered a serious obstacle in the service.”

This is a different (albeit related) argument than women in combat.
What’s under consideration is a matter of efficiency – not constraint. There are practical matters of operation to be considered that affect efficiency without regard to any gender bias.
Not that these matters can't, or shouldn’t be considered.

But there’s a lot of things the military does that is unfair and needs to be fixed that is related to gender interaction beyond just sex, pregnancy, etc.
Married folks, for example, get their own housing vs. barracks for singles. Single service members get paid less (in a variety of ways). Junior service members, f’rinstnce, who have a bunk on a ship get the same basic housing allowance compensation as one who has a bedroom, bath, shared kitchen, etc.
Inherently unfair really.
Same issue with homosexual folks in the military – housing has to be changed for it to be at all fair. Otherwise you have two men or women living in nicer quarters than two or two hundred other people who just happen not to have a certain kind of relationship with each other.

The ‘good’ element of having all men or all women is the resource allocation in stuff like berthing, etc. is completely fair. That and it’s easy.

But the only real problem here is in mission design. You can change tour length as the Germans, Norwegians and Swedes do.
And tour length on the SSNs and SSBNs isn’t that critical to nuclear deterrence anymore.
Hell, the whole ball game is looking like it’s going to change in that department.

So for many reasons, I see no reason not to have women on subs.

That said – let’s be clear with all the “the military folks will do whatever we tell them to do” talk – yes, yes they will.
But that goes both ways – the military is not about making its members feel comfortable or treated fairly or enhancing their rights. On the contrary, a service member gives up a lot of their rights, including their right to their own life, in order to protect the rights of the civilian population. It’s also the duty of any service member to ensure their unit functions in the most efficient, effective manner possible.
In society, no women, no man, no one would be expected to step aside, possibly end their life, in order to allow someone else to live or get ahead of them. In the military, this attitude is essential.

As it sits, the trade off is worth it. You get a bigger, more diverse talent pool with maximum opportunities for excellence. As CNO Roughead said the accommodations are a factor, but not insurmountable.
So, if we can, I see no reason why we shouldn’t.

“Perhaps the American military is just more conservative and less innovative than in other countries.”

Er… well… from that link: “Gender equality in the military is ‘just talk‘
Scathing report: Intolerance toward women ‘runs deep in the Forces…”

That said, I think in the U.S. it’s just a matter of the overall policy and operations being designed from there. So, not conservative or unimaginative, just working from an obsolete map.

Change the strategic policy, and the tempo and needs change. There’s no reason we (the U.S.) need to run subs like we’re still in the cold war.
But it’s a big dinosaur compared to most other forces. Lot more agility in the Canadian, Swedish, etc. forces. So, takes time to turn around. That and no one’s even looked at any changes much less practical realities for the past 8 years.
Policy level changes will be/are what makes this possible and more workable.
posted by Smedleyman at 8:44 PM on October 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


Not surprisingly, these are ballistic missile submarines. And these things really aren't that cramped, relative to submarines designed more for surveillance and/or attacking other submarines. You can run laps in them, literally, for exercise.

So it's still a sub, but it ain't like what you saw in Das Boot.
posted by bardic at 8:54 PM on October 15, 2009


Not mentioned is the exchange of money for sex by servicemembers.

A (gay male) friend who served in the Navy for most of the 90s told me that it was an open secret in the Navy that under-the-table prostitution went on among the enlisted sailors at sea. He served several tours on various ships and said that each ship had at least one if not severa spots that were used for trysting; the activity was officially forbidden but overlooked in practice for the good of morale.
posted by TSOL at 10:03 PM on October 15, 2009


Yeah, I think you do. They've been all-male for some time; why was this unworkable, other than the equal opportunity issue?

How do you train an all-female crew without having any mixed-gender crews?
posted by mr_roboto at 10:57 PM on October 15, 2009


I'm sure that these women will serve honorably and with distinction. Of course, they won't be able to tell anyone they're women, and no one will be able to ask them what gender they are. Because that could lead to a breakdown in unit cohesion, right?

What?
posted by darkstar at 11:25 PM on October 15, 2009


Yeah, I think you do. They've been all-male for some time; why was this unworkable, other than the equal opportunity issue?

Hmm, okay.

First, you have to have enough qualified women to crew an entire submarine, from the lowliest enlisted slot, the petty officers, the nuclear engineers, to the captain. How many female nuclear engineers are there in the navy? How many of those are both qualified and want to serve on a nuclear sub? How many female Command Master Chiefs are there? How many of those are both qualified and anxious to serve on a a nuclear sub?

Maybe you could find enough fully qualified and willing people to crew one sub, in which case I'd be all for it, but then you run into the second problem. How do you train up the crew without doing it in a mixed crew? Since there have been no female submariners, there are no experienced female submariners to crew up.

Maybe in the future you could segregate the crews in this way. I'm not sure why that's preferable, however, to requiring female sub crew to use a birth control patch.

Few side effects, completely reversible, quite effective. What's the issue?
posted by Justinian at 11:57 PM on October 15, 2009


I'm not sure why that's preferable, however, to requiring female sub crew to use a birth control patch.

I don't actually think it's preferable. I think required birth control is going overboard, though. There are so many other, less invasive solutions to this as a potential problem.

I'm glad to see this change, and basically, I think it's somewhat ridiculous for us to be debating the mechanics of it. It's fun, but ultimately, the solution-finding is not going to come from MetaFilter, regardless of what anyone thinks about birth control. Adjustments to tour length for greater flexibility and more frequent medical check-ins seems logical. And as noted, there's nothing about the way we've always done it that determines the way we will do it, given the success of other nations with full integration. This situation has obviously been evaluated by the people in charge, they've defined the tolerances the system has for problems like pregnancy, and still the dettermination has been to move forward. It's really not something I feel that the 101st Fighting Keyboardists need to fret about from the comfort of their desks.

I just wasn't sure what these objections meant:

First, you have to have enough qualified women to crew an entire submarine, from the lowliest enlisted slot, the petty officers, the nuclear engineers, to the captain. How many female nuclear engineers are there in the navy? How many of those are both qualified and want to serve on a nuclear sub? How many female Command Master Chiefs are there? How many of those are both qualified and anxious to serve on a a nuclear sub?

Do you know the concrete answers to these questions? Because unless you know, it doesn't form an argument. There might be many in all those descriptions. Anyway, I doubt the number of specialists would be a real obstacle in this hypothetical. The military pretty much invented instructional design; the first sub crews had never been a sub crew before either, and you only need one crew to start, if you were going to implement a single-gender system. I'm not arguing for that - it's unnecessarily segregated and thus by definition inefficient in a system that relies on interchangeable parts - just noting that these may not be the obstacles we could presume.

Maybe you could find enough fully qualified and willing people to crew one sub, in which case I'd be all for it, but then you run into the second problem. How do you train up the crew without doing it in a mixed crew? Since there have been no female submariners, there are no experienced female submariners to crew up.

You could do it in a mixed crew. Why not? Training isn't a big obstacle to the implementation of single-gender crews. If we continued to be obsessed with fear of pregnancy, then training in mixed crew but serving in a single-gender crew would still drastically reduce the pregnancy risk. Reduction would be second to elimination. So it wouldn't be a stupid move at all to train one way but serve another, if the primary concern in organizing crews was avoiding pregnancy.

Again, I think it would be a silly and wasteful idea. But I don't think these objections are what makes the idea 'unworkable.' Efficiency and equal opportunity make it unworkable.
posted by Miko at 7:22 AM on October 16, 2009


The article gives a lot of detail on how crews will be built and integrated, based on the Navy's "16-year experience in surface ships."
Probably the most critical lesson learned in the surface force, Harvey said, is the need to have strong officer and senior enlisted leadership in place before bringing in junior enlisted women.

That’s because incidents of pregnancy and fraternization are less frequent in crews with strong female leaders onboard.

“It can’t be ‘I’m the woman on the submarine’ — that’s just a terrible burden to put on everybody, particularly that young woman,” Harvey said.

He said it will take some time to build a “critical mass” of female leadership needed to seed the integrated crews.

“You’d have to get at least a small cadre of female chiefs or first-class petty officers, and those, of course, would have to come from other parts of the Navy initially,” Donnelly said. “Then they would have to have sufficient time to qualify in submarines in order to have, I think, the credibility as leaders on the ship, and that takes some time.”
Lots of detail in the piece.
posted by Miko at 7:30 AM on October 16, 2009


So it wouldn't be a stupid move at all to train one way but serve another, if the primary concern in organizing crews was avoiding pregnancy.

My understanding is that a lot of the "training" involved in being a submariner is on-the-job; there's formal shoreside training, but you do a lot of qualifying while at sea the first few times. I doubt the Navy would be comfortable sending a boat out with a totally green crew, so you have a chicken-and-egg problem.

I suppose it's theoretically possible that the Navy could take a sub out of regular service and use it for training with a mixed crew, short durations only, and thus train enough women to actually have an all-female crew in rotation. However this strikes me as probably being impractically expensive, and might end up putting a lot of stress and increased tempo on the other boats and crews to make up for it, in order to maintain the same posture.

Maybe there would be some opportunity when a new boat is going into service or an old one is being taken out, to use it for at-sea training purposes for an extended period of time ... it would all depend, I suppose, on exactly how much of a priority allowing women to serve on submarines is. I'm sure there's probably a solution, I just doubt that it's easy or cheap.

(Not a submariner, although I came very close to joining and got to go on some neat tours, once upon a time.)
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:48 AM on October 16, 2009


I don't actually think it's preferable. I think required birth control is going overboard, though. There are so many other, less invasive solutions to this as a potential problem.

How is a birth control patch invasive? You just stick a small patch on a bit of exposed skin.

I read the article. I absolutely understand that there are other ways to reduce pregnancies. Which is great. But I don't see how requiring a birth control patch wouldn't also be beneficial.

The military already requires service people to undergo all kinds of medical tests, procedures, and treatments. Some of which actually are invasive, unlike a patch. It seems strange to object to requiring female submariners to use a birth control patch while not blinking an eye at all the other mandatory tests, vaccinations, and so forth.

Do you know the concrete answers to these questions?

The very first female command master chief was Beth Lambert, and that was 6 years ago. I don't know the exact number of female nuclear engineers in the navy besides "not many". The first woman to command a combat vessel only became captain less than a decade ago, and that was of a frigate. So, yeah, you couldn't at this point get enough willing and qualified female personnel to command a United States nuclear ballistic missile submarine.

But as you said there are other more relevant problems. I'm still unsure what the big deal about Ortho Evra would be. Service personnel do a lot worse.
posted by Justinian at 7:54 AM on October 16, 2009


First, men and women stuffed together on a submarine are going to fraternize.

By that logic, so are gay men. If it's already happening (and I am not saying that it is), then what's the difference? In either case, someone's getting kicked out. Yes, women can get pregnant and men can't. Both sexes can get STDs. Both are subject to injuries and other medical conditions unrelated to sex, some of which might require evacuation from the submarine.
posted by desjardins at 7:59 AM on October 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's not 19% but:

http://cbs2chicago.com/local/Robeson.High.School.2.1251642.html

One in Eight Girls Pregnant at Chicago High School

(So the Navy is a bit more 'active' than High School.)
posted by rough ashlar at 8:32 AM on October 16, 2009


How is a birth control patch invasive? You just stick a small patch on a bit of exposed skin.

It's not the part about the patch on the skin. It's the part about the hormones entering the bloodstream and causing changes within a woman's reproductive system. That is indeed invasive.

I actually don't have much of a problem in theory with requiring birth control - the military does indeed require lots of things, including vaccinations and the like - but unlike those other things, birth control is not as simple as 'slap a patch on 'er!'. In practice, it is not as simple and direct a solution as it might appear.

The reason there are so very many kinds of hormonal birth control is that the different formulations (mix of hormones, amount of each hormone in the medication) and the different delivery methods (injected, dermal, suppository, oral) all are received differently by different women. When a woman goes to her GYN for a birth control prescription, the GYN takes into account the woman's family medical history with cancers and reproductive diseases and heart disease, family planning goals, age, medical history and risk factors, habits and routines, and individual experience with and tolerance for side effects. This is not a one-size-fits-all prescription - GYNs often work with women for years to identify a hormonal method that maximizes protection and minimizes side effects and medical risks. So you can't simply give every female crew a shot. Assigning a single medication and/or delivery method for all women in a crew would definitely result in suboptimal health and suboptimal pregnancy protection, especially where methods are subject to the patient's compliance in taking it regularly and on time. (In addition - I'm speculating here, but most hormonal methods do increase women's risk of forming blood clots. In submarine duty, I wonder how the changes in pressure might interact with that clotting risk.)

If heterogenous methods were used (as they must be and, currently are), and yet the Navy saw a need to put itself in the position of policing the delivery of methods, a large burden of administration is added, and privacy issues would be likely come into play. That degree of required supervision of self-administration of medication is usually reserved for mental hospitals, not functioning weapons units.

For these reasons and more, I think the military is very wise to seek educational, structural, and/or behavioral solutions to the problem of pregnancy management, rather than seeking biological solutions. They have a history of efficacy to show and are practiced risk managers.
posted by Miko at 9:30 AM on October 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


Shocking how this thread has turned out to be entirely about fucking.

I mean, I guess it's a mark of progress in our society that nobody is saying that "the little lady just can't handle man's work", but aren't we being a bit shallow to assume inability to maintain professional distance on behalf of our armed forces? And isn't this the exact same bullshit argument which is dragged out every time someone begins to address the idea of having gays serve openly in the military, only this time it has the veneer of possible pregnancy attached to it instead of the sheen of gay panic?

Seriously, if women are serving alongside men, I assume that both of the genders are going to be doing their job professionally. And I assume that both parties are going to take adequate precautions toward birth control if they do decide to GO AGAINST STRICT ORDERS AND FUCK ANYWAY. Which may or may not be endemic to our military, but I don't think it is.

If this is really all about fear of "fraternization" between the sexes, then we have a lot further to go in our culture before we're mature than simply worrying about stationing a few women in close quarters with men.
posted by hippybear at 10:09 AM on October 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


aren't we being a bit shallow to assume inability to maintain professional distance on behalf of our armed forces?

Are you actually serious?

Did you read the thread and see the statistics about how there are currently 19 pregnancies per 100 woman-hours aboard ship? That means that for every 100 women who are on ship for one year, 19 get pregnant. I assure you that they are not virgin births. And that's just the ones who get pregnant. The % who are engaging in sex without getting pregnant is, of course, much higher. Likely significantly over 50% given those pregnancy figures.

Seriously, if women are serving alongside men, I assume that both of the genders are going to be doing their job professionally

Your assumption turns out not to be the case. Young men and women stuck together inclose quarters for extended periods will have sex. They will. Not 100% of them. But most of them. That doesn't make them bad or unprofessional, it makes them human. Look at the statistics; reality doesn't conform to your belief.

If this is really all about fear of "fraternization" between the sexes

I don't care who people screw and think fears of fraternization are dumb. But these subs have to be able to lurk under the arctic ice (while there is any left) for months at a time without heading back to port. And be able to do so, uninterrupted, in a shooting war. Being concerned about mission critical members of your crew turning up pregnant in that situation are not unfounded. In fact, the Navy would be absolutely remiss to not take it into consideration.

That's what we pay them for: to maintain a state of readiness that they can turn into a war footing at a moment's notice.
posted by Justinian at 11:06 AM on October 16, 2009


Hah! It occurs to me that you're essentially advocating abstinence-only education. Preach it, brother hippybear!
posted by Justinian at 11:06 AM on October 16, 2009


19 pregnancies per 100 woman-hours

Wow, uh, that would be some nookie. women-years of course.

posted by Justinian at 11:07 AM on October 16, 2009


“Shocking how this thread has turned out to be entirely about fucking”
It’s my understanding that most things are about fucking. :-)

“And I assume that both parties are going to take adequate precautions toward birth control if they do decide to GO AGAINST STRICT ORDERS AND FUCK ANYWAY.”

Sex came before warfare. It’s a stronger drive. To our great fortune.

Y’know folks have this idea, probably from the movies, that there’s this great hardass push in leadership. It’s not the case. Most real leaders are well out front and leading by example and worried more about their people and their feelings than the touchy feely counselor on some retreat. The best tend to completely forget themselves in the job. Styles of that vary. I like to think I was a decent guy to work for. Oh, I was the antichrist when it came to some things, but most times, visibly, it looked like I had nothing going on. I was totally relaxed. Completely confident whether my own nuts were in my throat too or not. I know how to advance or evade, or walk casually, stroll even, before, during and after shitting my pants. I know how to signal strong people that it’s ok to cry. I know 100 different right things to say in many different bad situations. And *I* hated the job. I hate being in charge. I’d rather only have to worry about myself. And I was an outstanding leader. Someone you’d march into hell next to – but by comparison? I suppose I was ok. But there are some people who were supernatural at it. Who had a weird light in their eyes and you just felt safe around them. Some folks have said I had that. Maybe. But there were so many people so much better than me that I’m constantly awed, even looking back.
I mean, one time, one of my people came to talk to me about a personal issue. Doesn’t much matter what. I was on the phone, overseas, my stepdad was having brain surgery and my mom was crying. (I got the call 'cause I had some time off because I was injured in the field) She’d also gotten in a car accident the week before, no one to drive her to the hospital (to visit), she needed money, etc. etc. Rough week for me and my family. I asked for a moment. Excused myself from the call and took care of my subordinate. Not a tremor in my voice, not a shake in my hand. Took about 14 hours to resolve the issue. After that I found a private spot and fell to pieces.
And I look back at stuff like that and I think my God there were men and women going through that and worse and you’d never have known it. And they did it every day. And the folks in the high altitudes were getting their asses chewed on top of it.

So yeah, I was a great leader. But that’s like saying I was one hell of a high school ball player around NFL superstars. "Hey, you're Peyton Manning... yeah, I used to play football. In high school. I was pretty damn good too." "Uh, yeah, that's great kid."

Actually, worse, running a platoon is harder than quarterbacking a ball team, running a company is harder still, a battalion is like quarterbacking every team in the NFL, plus setting up the stadiums, flight plans, etc. Running a regiment or division, I have no conception of. How one can worry about that many people, get casualty reports, etc. and keep one’s head straight I don’t know.
There is a discipline to it. But that discipline isn’t in spouting orders or making demands.

People must be led, not dominated. Especially in the armed forces of a democracy. But it’s just good practice as well and consistently leads to better morale which means better performance.
And I think the above quote on having more women in NCO and midgrade officer positions (high up, but still visible) is dead on. So obvious to me really I didn’t think to mention it. Hell, most folks have mothers. Older sisters. Women that men are used to talking orders from that they have no sexual designs on. Get enough women in, it’ll work like clockwork.
But that’s practical and common sense leadership. It’s not just saying “DO IT.” Which is counterproductive ultimately. However it happens in the movies.

And I have to say this, putting women on subs, is that kind of response to a need that good leadership does. Making it work - even better.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:32 PM on October 16, 2009 [3 favorites]


I guess I just find it laughable and shocking that everyone is assuming that the Navy is turning into a bunch of sex-pleasure cruises. Obviously my views are not mainstream enough to be voiced here, so I will resume lurking in the thread and shaking my head in disbelief rather than actually saying anything. Go about your business.
posted by hippybear at 2:44 PM on October 16, 2009


I guess I just find it laughable and shocking that everyone is assuming that the Navy is turning into a bunch of sex-pleasure cruises.

I don't think anyone is assuming anything. We're looking at data showing high shipboard pregnancy rates. Do you think that's happening by some mechanism other than sex?
posted by mr_roboto at 4:24 PM on October 16, 2009


Aw, don't go away mad, hippybear. The sex doesn't have to be "endemic" or the navy "a bunch of sex-pleasure cruises" for relationship drama to be a nuisance. My only question is, is the unfairness a problem enough to put up with that nuisance to correct it? I don't really think it's harming anyone, but it is an image problem if nothing else. Looks like the CNO and SecNav are beginning to agree. Still, asserting that integrating the sexes would be no problem whatsoever, and that it's as simple as telling a hundred kids to "act like professionals", is being willfully obtuse. Experience from surface ships supports me on that.

Also I find it amusing how many people can say, "man, I don't know how you can be on a submarine, I could never..." in one breath, and "Well, you can just learn to deal with the PITA" in the next. "Damn, that load looks heavy. I'm glad you're lifting it instead of me. Here, I'll throw another brick on, I'm sure you can deal with it."
posted by ctmf at 4:39 PM on October 16, 2009


Obviously my views are not mainstream enough to be voiced here, so I will resume lurking in the thread and shaking my head in disbelief rather than actually saying anything.

I also dislike it when the facts and statistics don't fit my preconceived notions.
posted by Justinian at 5:15 PM on October 16, 2009


Look, Justinian, there is no need for your continued condescension.

Why does a statistic like "19 pregnancies for every 100 woman-years served" have to mean that the sex is happening between shipmates? Where is that statistic that shows that all of those pregnancies are absolutely being conceived on-board? I look and look, but don't find it. Why can't women be getting pregnant during shore leave, or by their spouses while not at sea?

Without real clarification as to exactly which sperm and which egg are creating those babies, it's a meaningless statistic. Women get pregnant, men do not. The fact that pregnancies are happening does not mean that it is because the Navy is suddenly running an all-volunteer, taxpayer-funded fleet of Love Boats, and anyone with sense can deduce that there is not enough data to prove otherwise.
posted by hippybear at 6:47 PM on October 16, 2009


Looks like the CNO and SecNav are beginning to agree.

Maybe it's cynical of me, but I suspect the actual motive behind finally doing this is that submarine service recruiting is down, and someone thinks they need to start targeting* the other 50% of the population.

*changed from "tapping". Heh.
posted by ctmf at 7:14 PM on October 16, 2009


“The fact that pregnancies are happening does not mean that it is because the Navy is suddenly running an all-volunteer, taxpayer-funded fleet of Love Boats, and anyone with sense can deduce that there is not enough data to prove otherwise.”

Not data that you’re going to be privy to, no. The Joint Chiefs, I’d suspect, probably have a more solid idea. And I’d say any given ship captain knows down to their stubby toenails what his crew is doing and precisely what effects efficiency onboard. If they don’t they shouldn’t be there.
I’m not sure that women getting pregnant is anything but a factor. And one the CNO has addressed as such. I’m willing to take his word on it. And given he’s cool with women on subs – why is there reason to suspect the data the public has access to is anything beyond what it appears to be?

One can make the argument that women shouldn’t be on subs because they get pregnant. But again, since that’s not the official position…
There’s no question *any * shift in policy of nearly any kind causes practical factors that need to be dealt with.
I mean, I know from my own experience how problematic sexual relationships can be in the military. I can’t prove this anymore than I can prove to you here I favor my left hand (actually, ambidextrous). Doesn’t mean it’s not true. And it’s a factor. Is it worth the trouble to overcome? I think so.
The real problem is aggregate. It’s a big outfit. Roughly 450K personnel in the Navy. More tonnage than the next largest 13 navies combined. About 10 percent of personnel deployed, so about 45,000 – more than a good sized state university or two. How often do college students get laid and make mistakes?

It’s as elemental as calculating dropout rates for unplanned pregnancies in college or looking at statistics for how std’s, or any other risk factors from sex affect education. Doesn't mean women shouldn't go to school. Just means there's a reality to coed institutions.

And just because the military is the organization instead of some university isn’t going to change the need to educates people about consequences, or taking preventative measures or accommodating your cadre. It’s certainly not going to change basic human drives, especially for young single people.
It’s not a reason to bar anyone, but as said above, any institution involving a lot of young single folks is going to turn into a Love Boat situation. Not just the physical, but who’s attracted to whom, jealousy, all that.
Once you establish this is the case, only question is how to roll with it to keep everyone happy and everything as equitable as possible.
posted by Smedleyman at 8:17 PM on October 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


Why does a statistic like "19 pregnancies for every 100 woman-years served" have to mean that the sex is happening between shipmates?

I just don't believe you're being serious here. It's absurd.
posted by Justinian at 11:42 PM on October 16, 2009


You are correct of course. Because when I read the article in which that statistic is linked, I see no actual statistics about proving that the pregnancies were started between shipmates, but you must have a crystal ball which reads between the lines in a manner which I can not conceive. And you know, there is NO history here on MeFi about being skeptical about statistics and what they are supposed to illustrate.

Meanwhile, I continue to try to search online for REAL stats about pregnancies in the Navy and when they actually began (as opposed to rumors or assumptions) and continue to find none.

Smedleyman is probably correct that such statistics exist but are not revealed to the masses. But I don't see any I can read for myself, and see no reason why the single statistic we have had referred in this thread should be taken as gospel to mean that nearly 20% of all women who are aboard Navy vessels have sex with their shipmates which results in conception. If you have discovered other documentation which can verify or refute any of these positions, please shre it.

(I am not saying that fucking on ships does not occur. Please note that. I just don't understand why that has become the focus of this thread.)
posted by hippybear at 1:09 PM on October 17, 2009


I mean, I know from my own experience how problematic sexual relationships can be in the military.

Well duh. You are creating an alternative chain of command, emotional bonds that management can't control, and/or an opportunity for blackmail/control 'levers' outside the officially sanctioned ones.

Lots of reasons for it not to happen. But if you are going to have humans working with other humans, eventually its gonna happen.
posted by rough ashlar at 6:33 PM on October 17, 2009


I just don't understand why that has become the focus of this thread.

Probably because Metafilter, not being representative of the general populace, thinks that all other objections to women serving on submarines are ridiculous and antiquated. So there's nothing to discuss. Of course women should be allowed to serve on submaries. Why wouldn't they be? Pretty much everyone here agrees.

Meanwhile, I continue to try to search online for REAL stats about pregnancies in the Navy and when they actually began (as opposed to rumors or assumptions) and continue to find none.

Those statistics would be incredibly hard to come by. I'm not even sure I agree with Smedleyman that Navy higher-ups have them. You would have to do paternity tests on the babies and virtually nobody does that. So you're asking for statistics that are impossible to produce because they almost certainly don't exist and can't exist That's why its absurd.
posted by Justinian at 6:50 PM on October 17, 2009


This fact is incredibly annoying as it's at odds with my own preconceptions: Some shore commands in the Norfolk, Va., area report that up to 34 percent of their billets are filled by pregnant sailors, and commanders are complaining about a “lack of proper manning to conduct their mission,” according to a Naval Inspector General report. So, not a red herring.

The Navy's been worried (Navy web site, with relevant links) about work-life balance for a few years now. No matter how rewarding the job is, if staying in isn't compatible with the quality of life an individual sailor wants, you can't pay him or her enough to reenlist.

The question is whether the military can afford to give its members the kind of balance that my generation demands and still fulfill its mission. The Navy Times article I linked above shows some of the problems it's having. And there's considerable backlash.
posted by haltingproblemsolved at 7:43 AM on October 18, 2009


34 percent! Wow.
posted by Justinian at 4:44 PM on October 18, 2009


I'm not sure the question of where or with whom female sailors are getting pregnant is really all that relevant. From the Navy's perspective, it only matters that they are, and that it's having a deleterious effect on readiness and morale as a result. Women can pregnant and become ineligible for sea duty and have to be accommodated; men don't. I'm not really sure that who exactly they're having sex with really matters from a command perspective, at least to the same extent. (It might lead to drama and effect morale, but I doubt it has a material effect in the same way that pregnancies do.)

In the private sector, the trend has been (slowly, and mostly in Europe rather than the US) towards equalization by guaranteeing men paternity leave, so that they can take time off when a partner gets pregnant; the effect this has is to increase equality, since you can't guarantee that just by hiring a man that he won't take leave as a result of a partner's pregnancy. I somehow doubt that the Navy is going to take this route—giving male sailors an instant-out from sea duty and a transfer ashore due to a partner's pregnancy—however, since making men and women equally bad is probably not their idea of an ideal solution.

The alternative seems to be simply discouraging female sailors from getting pregnant. Mandating birth control would be one way of doing that, but I'm not even sure the military is willing to go that far. Perhaps there's an incentive-based (rather than disincentive/threat-based or simply mandated) method that would work. Maybe if sea pay were tied not just to days at sea, but to successful completion of a mission (meaning that if you got pregnant and had to transfer ashore, you'd forefeit pay for that mission), you'd see fewer pregnancies during deployments. Or, if — as seems to be widely believed by my friends in the Navy (surface) — many pregnancies are intentional and begun as a way to avoid sea duty and deployments, just making sea duty suck less (or being more upfront about the suckage and discouraging people who aren't enthused about it) might help.

I wonder if the other services are having problems similar in scope? If they're not, then it might be worth figuring out exactly what the Navy is doing differently, either in terms of actual policy or just culture, that's leading to so many pregnancies.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:08 AM on October 19, 2009


"I wonder if the other services are having problems similar in scope?"

Most of the problems are caused by the nature of the mission, deployment, etc.
Women in combat, sort of a different thing because most of the time you barely even have time to jack/jill off, there's zero privacy (or rather - personal privacy is equated, at least mentally, but validly, with security risk) and you're probably pretty disgusting anyway so even if you're like Napoleon and Josephine and you like your partner nastied up, you've got crotch rot or your kidneys ache or you're constipated from the MREs and exhausted, etc. And most things not involving shooting tend to be muted. And everyone in your own uniform does sort of fade into a comfortable non-threat, unless you know them personally. Although again, there are social risks, or were (according to some studies) but those would fade as folks get acclimated I would presume.
The Air Force, far as I know, is practically like being a civilian and they're mostly on bases, so pregnancy, etc., no real problem.
Other forces, just a matter of the job really.
But there are realities to be faced. Most of the women I know who shoot well tend to shoot better than their male counterparts. That's based on Olympic competition tho. Not everyone's going to be Lyudmila Pavlichenko. Certain things, and speaking very very broadly, you want a male for - upper body strength type things, say a medic lifting someone, etc. Obviously there are women that can do that, but those women are exceptional.
But by the same token - I'd take a female (for example) sniper outfit over a male unit any day. Smaller people tend to be more efficient, eat less, drink less, can lift more pound for pound, etc, so they have better operational endurance. (That's without going into the myriad things that can affect aim in minutiae. E.g. breathing. Who controls their breath better, men or women? Always seemed to me women have smaller lungs, less expansion to affect body movement, they seem to have more blood oxygenation (built to bear children), etc. long litany there. The IDF uses a lot of female snipers tho. Must be something to it.)

OTOH, you go into close quarters, need someone to haul your carcass out of somewhere, etc. different story, you're going to want a dinosaur like me. But, while I can shoot very well over distance, any female as well trained as I am is going to be, pound for pound, far more valuable.
Biology works both ways.
I mean, sure, I can survive just about anywhere. But the choices I'd have to make in terms of volume and time spent working to feed my bigger biological machine - vs. Smedleywoman who has the same environment to work with but doesn't eat like a horse, means she can spend more time on task, have a lower profile, etc. all those little things add up to a lot of pluses in terms of just survivability alone.
So it all depends on the mission. And, really, what one sees as a 'problem.'
And it's more than just biology. As stated above. Doesn't mean it's all bad or misogynistic.

Hell, look at climbing rocks. Women dominate that. Purely biologically, one can say 'lower center of gravity', all that. But too - socially, men are used to muscling things. They think, on the whole, with their upper body on task. Women use their legs more. Legs are stronger, more efficient on humans, women win.
Certainly there are exceptions, especially in the elite athletes.
But again - define 'problem' and define 'service.' Most times folks are muddleheaded about the directives and what something is 'supposed' to be rather than what it is. Lot of 'em just want to justify their personal taste for whatever.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:42 AM on October 19, 2009 [4 favorites]


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