A: During my enlisted years and as a young officer, I partied with my coworkers. When I became a lieutenant commander, I no longer fit in with the lieutenants; they considered me a senior officer. But I didn't fit in with the senior officers, either, because they were married men. In one command, I had a group of civilian friends, but usually I only knew the people I worked with. So there went my social life. I also always lived off base instead of in military housing where many of my counterparts lived. Without dependents, I was not authorized to have a house on base, even as a captain in Japan. In retrospect, that was a good thing. I went home every night to a house out in town. If I had base housing, I would have had no reason to leave the base.
Q: What comes up throughout the book is your struggle between wanting to be treated just like “one of the guys” but also wanting others to see you as a woman. Interestingly, you seemed to recognize that your male colleagues weren't always sure how to interact with you, and expected you'd be more proactive in joining activities or showing how you wanted to be treated.
A: That was tough. In my younger years, I struggled continuously to find the balance between being one of the guys and being acknowledged as a woman. In later years, it didn't matter, because I was the boss. It's lonely at the top.
Q: Putting chauvinism aside for the moment, the problem seems also that when the culture is monolithic, it's hard for the group to adopt a more robust set of dynamics. So let's turn to the changes you witnessed in the navy during the time frame you served. It's clear that an important part of bonding is cultural, and when you first entered it was a “macho” male organization, where heavy drinking and heavy partying was the norm. How would you characterize what the Navy was like when you retired in 2004?
A: The culture definitely changed over the years. As a young enlisted woman, I once went to lunch with my supervisors at the petty officers' club where strippers were performing. There was also a stripper at an officers' promotion party several years later. Getting drunk was accepted behavior; the pilots in my first squadron would party all night and show up in the morning to fly. By the time of my promotion to captain, officers looked upon drinking and driving as “poor headwork,” rather than something to be proud of.