My short story, “The Scarf,” appeared in Made Up Words last week. I actually started the story back in the early 1990s, not long after I got out of the Navy. The narrator and lead character is Rebecca Ryan, an executive in an unnamed and somewhat-hazily-defined company. The story takes place over about 24 hours, during which time Rebecca has unpleasant things happen but (in her own mind, at least) comes out ahead.
I based Rebecca on women I knew from the Navy. Like me, Rebecca went to the Naval Academy. I was in the class of 1980, the first class with women. (Unapologetic plug for a classmate: read First Class by Sharon Disher, available on Amazon. It’s the story of what the first class of female midshipment went through, 1976–1980.) My female classmates are hard-ass; they learned to be tough, since (to put it delicately) they walked into a fucking shitstorm of misogyny from the first day they started, and they came through in one piece. Successive classes of women had it a tad easier, but only because it couldn’t get worse. Rebecca was a graduate from some time in the early 80s, originally; as time went by (and the story didn’t sell and continued to get edited), she would have been in later classes.
So in the current edit when the story takes place, in 2015 (plus or minus), she’d have graduated with the class of 2005 (plus or minus). A 2005 DoD report on sexual harassment at the service academies said 59% of women reported sexual harassment and 5% reported sexual assault. Better than my class? Um, yes, probably, but…
So Rebecca would still have to be a hard-ass to survive. She’d have to have a good set of brass balls to succeed and get ahead, and she’d be inclined to (metaphorically) knee a guy in the groin at the start of the conversation just to get his full and complete attention. That’s not the only way women in that cadre had to operate to get ahead, but it was a tried & true method that got results.
She would have been a striper (senior midshipman) at the Academy, but no higher than battalion level, because she’d have had no patience for the politics involved. After she was commissioned she’d have done well, probably in the surface fleet or as a naval flight officer (definitely a warfare specialty), but by the time her obligation was over she’d have sized up that she wasn’t the type to play the mind games needed to advance in “this man’s Navy,” so she’d have gotten out and gotten a job in a civilian company.
Graduate school? Too cocky. She’d want to dive into “the real world” first to see how she’d do. There would have been some initial culture shock when she found that, yes, the civilian side wasn’t kind to women either (and worse, felt no need to give equal pay for equal work), but she’d have risen to the challenge, worked her ass off, and gotten into middle management.
Bringing us to “The Scarf” and Our Heroine. [spoiler alert!] Who is kidnapped, drugged, in fear for her life, and manages to make it through in one piece, physically and mentally.
While it might have been more pleasant to make Rebecca a “nice” person, from what I’m seeing of the world today and what women still have to deal with, that’s not the sort of woman who makes it through the sort of scenario I set up in “The Scarf.” Sadly.