A slow voyage to equality Gender: The Navy has done much to narrow the gap between the sexes, but much still needs to be accomplished to reach parity.

January 19, 1998|By Neal Thompson | Neal Thompson,SUN STAFF

When Jo Dee Catlin Jacob enlisted in the Navy in 1974, she had to wear white gloves and high heels, "and it was not at all uncommon to be expected to pour the coffee."

"When I joined, it was impossible for a woman to fly, to go to sea, to be a SEAL," she said. "It was very much a traditional Ozzie-and-Harriet, woman-subservient world."

Remnants of that era remain: Women still may not serve on submarines, and a study released this month by the RAND National Defense Institute found that they are underrepresented in the combat-ready ranks of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps.

Last month, a Pentagon advisory committee suggested segregating men and women during basic military training.

"We had a course plotted. We were making progress. And my fear is that we will go back to the bad old days," said Jacob, who no longer has to wear the white gloves and the high heels. "Because my sense is that separate, in this case, is unequal."

Jacob, a captain, is deputy of operations -- the "mayor of the Yard" -- at the Naval Academy, overseeing an $85 million budget and the 1,000 civilian employees of the police, fire, public works, supply, maintenance and medical departments.

With about 6,600 students, officers, enlisted sailors and civilian employees living at the academy, it's akin to being mayor of a city the size of Havre de Grace.

She describes her job as "everything from parking lots to cemetery plots."

As a captain, she is the highest-ranking woman on a campus that, like the rest of the military, is struggling to integrate women into its male-dominated world.

For Jacob, that means her duties include attending meetings to represent women's issues and interviewing female midshipmen who decide to leave the academy. On a recent Thursday, she interviewed two who had decided the military was not for them.

Jacob is also the first woman to hold her current job, the latest on her list of firsts.

"At 13 of my 16 jobs, I've either been the first or the only woman in the job," Jacob said. "You're always a pioneer and the first one to break that glass ceiling."

Jacob's ascent through the naval ranks spans an era that began with one female captain a quarter-century ago and now includes female astronauts and aviators. Jacob is one of 260 women among the 3,382 Navy captains.

Integration has been slower at the academy than in the rest of the Navy.

A review committee appointed by the academy's Board of Visitors reported in June that two decades after female students were admitted, the academy had a severe shortage of female role models. No women were among the 33 Navy captains and Marine colonels at the academy at that time. The chairman of the Women Midshipmen's Study Group was a man.

In recent months, and in response to that report, things have changed. Adm. Charles R. Larson, academy superintendent, reported late last year that 10 female professors had been hired and that a woman is chairman of the women's study group.

"Gender integration is working," said Rear Adm. Tom Jurkowsky, former academy spokesman. "Do we have problems? Yeah, we do. To say otherwise would be naive. But we're working on it."

Larson said competition with the Navy for high-ranking female officers has complicated the academy's steps toward fuller integration.

Of nearly 4,000 midshipmen, slightly more than 600 -- about 15 percent -- are women.

Of 445 naval officers at the academy, 41 -- about 9 percent -- are women. In the Navy as a whole, about 14 percent of officers are women, according to the Defense Department.

Women make up 14 percent of the military, including 12.6 percent in the Navy, 14.8 percent in the Army, 17.7 in the Air Force and 5.3 percent in the Marine Corps.

The academy has one female officer for every 15 female midshipmen and one male officer for every eight male midshipmen.

Jacob said the military has more female role models than when she was pouring male officers' coffee, but not enough in Annapolis.

"We could certainly use more role models here," she said. "In the brigade, we need to have role models who are combat-qualified. We certainly have that problem with minorities, too. We need to have more minority role models."

Before coming to Annapolis in June, she traveled the world as the aide to the assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs and participated in discussions on NATO enlargement, the Dayton accords on Bosnia, and the Middle East peace talks. She has also commanded the Navy Recruiting District in Seattle.

A poster on Jacob's office wall sums up how far she has come: A woman in a sailor's uniform, with her cap atilt and hand on hip, says: "Gee. I wish I were a man. I'd join the Navy."

Like Jacob, Master Chief Petty Officer Alice Smith joined the Navy "when it wasn't fashionable for women to be in the military." Those who did join didn't expect much more than clerical duties, said Smith, who oversees the enlisted personnel who supervise midshipmen.

"A lot of things weren't open to women," said Smith, who joined 31 years ago and plans to retire this year. "Getting promoted was somewhat slow and difficult."

Smith recently served in the Persian Gulf aboard the USS Cape Cod, a destroyer tender, as the top-ranking enlisted person in a crew of 1,500.

In Annapolis, she has not found the same level of opportunity and integration.

"There's still work to be done in that area," Smith said. "But we're moving in the right direction now, and we should continue on that course."

Jacob said integrating women into top Navy spots and at the academy will accelerate in the next few years as the first female academy graduates, from the Class of 1980, are promoted to captain, which takes an average of 21 years.

"It takes a while to grow female naval officers. But we could certainly use more," she said.

Pub Date: 1/19/98

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