Ex-military women speak about gender roles, equality in US service

Alex Fiore

The role of women in the in the military was discussed Wednesday evening by a duo of former and current military members who are part of the NIU community.

The discussion, titled “Man Up: Rethinking Masculinity in the Military” was held in the Illinois Room in the Holmes Student Center, and was co-sponsored by the Women’s Resource Center , Military Student Services and the Department of Military Science.

Joe Hartsoe, student staffer for the WRC, began the meeting with a short presentation on the difference between masculinity and femininity. Hartsoe warned against falling back on traditional definitions of the two words.

“These terms are somewhat dangerous in general society, they are relative,” he said. “They don’t fit everyone.”

After a brief overview of the history of women in the military, Hartsoe yielded the floor to the first speaker.

Christine Lagattolla, graduate assistant for Recreation Services spoke about her time in the U.S. Marine Corps.

Lagattolla served in the Marine Corps from 2001 to 2005, earning a Combat Action Ribbon in 2003.

“I had the ambition to see the world and to travel,” Lagattolla said.

Lagattolla travelled to the Middle East, serving in combat zones in Kuwait and Iraq.

She said her experience transcended her gender.

“It’s quite challenging, needless to say, whatever sex you are,” Lagattola said.

One of those challenges was driving 40-ton trucks and being responsible for changing the enormous tires. Lagattolla said that responsibility fell to her and two other women.

“The males wouldn’t expect us to ask them for help,” she said.

In active duty, Lagattolla said gender roles can be forgotten.

“No matter who you were, you have a job to serve,” she said.

After Lagattolla finished speaking, Barbara Johnson, the department chair of Adult and Higher Education, took the floor.

Johnson joined the U.S. Naval Reserve in 2004, signing an eight-year commitment. Johnson’s father served in Vietnam, and had two brothers and a cousin serve in the U.S. Air Force.

Since military history runs in her family, Johnson said she had always considered serving.

Johnson decided to pursue joining the Naval Reserve in 2003 in New Orleans, but was met with resistance. Johnson thinks her gender may have been a factor.

“They wanted me to give up,” she said. “[But] I was bound and determined to get in.”

Johnson finally got that opportunity a year later, serving in New Orleans and Jackson, Miss., before settling in Chicago.

Johnson said her transition into the Great Lakes District has been smooth.

“They have embraced me here in Chicago…it depends on where you are and who’s in charge,” she said.

After Johnson finished speaking, Hartsoe wrapped up the discussion by posing the question, “are women equal in the military?”

After showing a list of military positions where women are not permitted to serve, Hartsoe decided, “men and women aren’t equal in our military…whether or not that’s a good thing is for people to decide for themselves.”

All of the speakers agreed that women play an important role in the military.

According to Hartsoe, approximately nine percent of the United States military is made up of women.