My Dad Is In The Army And He Raised Me To Be A Feminist

by Robyn Smith

In over 30 years of serving in the Army, my dad has been deployed twice, once in South Korea and once in Kuwait; he’s traveled all over the world; and he’s commanded multiple units. He is a building survivor of the 9/11 attacks on the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, and he’s lost countless co-workers and friends due to war and terrorism.

During those three decades, many of his bosses were women and he worked alongside women—single mothers supporting their children, married women who were separated from their spouses because of their jobs, and women who worked while their husbands were stay-at-home dads. His mother was in the Air Force and became a war veteran and she met his father while she was still actively serving. 

My dad is one of many in the military who feel that sexual assault at any level is intolerable and disrespectful; it’s never the victim’s fault—it’s the rapist’s. Domestic violence is just as bad, and the spouses who physically abuse their partners and children “deserve what’s coming to them.” While he would often come to the Army’s defense when I wanted to talk about the high rates of sexual assault across the military, he would wholeheartedly support the effectiveness of the sexual assault prevention program it was his job to implement. It’s not working as well as it should be right now, but it’s improving, and that’s worth acknowledging.

No, I was not raised to be the liberal, pro-gun regulation, anti-prison, mental health advocate I am today. At home, I’m used to having the most left mindset in the room, but my time here in New York has taught me that sometimes I should get off my big elephant and look at things from another point of view, because I support the military (which somehow makes me pro-war) and the death penalty (only in extreme cases).

My parents are both conservative, and they tried their best to raise me the same way (it didn’t work). They’re both unbelievably proud of their loud, bisexual, feminist daughter. I won’t get up on a pedestal and say that my dad is perfect—no parent is. But a large part of why I’m the person I am today is because of what he taught me when I was growing up.

I learned the definition of consent when I was five years old and I didn’t like how other boys were teasing me. “No means no,” my father said. “It doesn’t matter why they’re teasing you—if it bothers you, tell the teacher and they can put a stop to it.”

When I was in high school, saying no was meant for something else. “Never let them try to convince you that you owe them anything. You don’t. What you choose to do with your body is your choice, not theirs. I was a 17-year-old boy once. I was an asshole. No means no.”

The idea of consent was impressed upon me and my sister at a young age, and it stuck.

When I was little, there was an intense phase I went through where I wanted to be a makeup artist. I did a lot of research and idolized this profession where I could make other people feel beautiful. My dad was disappointed that I didn’t want to be an engineer like my uncle, who is the president of an international engineering company. I’m just as smart and good at math as he is—according to my dad (I disagree)—and I would be just as successful should I choose to pursue such a field.

I was always told that I deserve the best and that even if I have to fight for it, I should never settle for less. I am a “talented, kind, selfless” person who will be successful in life because of my “passion and determination.” Those words haven’t always worked—my dad couldn’t convince me to apply to Harvard University or try to obtain a Washington Post internship before I graduated from high school, but it’s helped in other areas.


10391438 10203857724705688 6678918614874384521 n 2Dad (left) and me right before my baccalaureate in 2014. 

He’s pro-abortion rights, and he always has been. Yes, despite not always supporting other “liberal” causes like same-sex marriage (the “Gay Agenda”) and the legalization of marijuana (this has changed), he has always supported a woman’s right to choose what’s best for her body and actively opposed those who try to claim otherwise.

He’s had female bosses before, and he never called them “overly emotional” or “incompetent” or a “bitch.”

In the military, it doesn’t really matter what you think of your boss. Unless they’re doing something illegal or harassing you, you can hate them as much as you want and it won’t make one iota of difference. They still have to do their job and you still have to do yours.

Being respectful isn’t an option, it’s a requirement. Regardless of any “personal feelings” on a matter, you can’t discriminate, bully, or assault anyone. You also can’t restrict the same freedom you risk your life for others to have. My dad applies this mentality to his feelings about transgender people. Though, it’s sadly true that they can’t openly serve in the Army without putting their careers at risk (while they’ll no longer be discharged, they won’t necessarily be promoted either). Hopefully, that will soon change, now that an openly gay man was promoted to secretary of the Army and the organization has been drafting a new, more inclusive policy over the past few months. 

People who claim the military is not a feminist organization make fair points—just this past year at West Point, the rugby team was disbanded due to derogatory comments toward women in emails. But it was disbanded by other people in the Army. The reforms to become more inclusive and accessible to women are being made internally. Even those who work at the Pentagon have said that the military has a long way to go when it comes to reform, and the Army has worked hard to encourage survivors of sexual assault to report crimes despite fear of retaliation, which is currently a major deterrent. 

I would argue that it’s that same resilience and drive toward success that makes the military as a whole, opposed to sexism. There are people who currently hold positions of power in the military and shouldn’t, but they’re being phased out or forced to change their behavior.

While I’ve always felt this way, I have to admit that I’m part of the stereotype. My family, from the outside, looks like a lot of officers’ families. White. Upper middle class. Stay-at-home mom. Cisgender children. I’m aware of most of my privilege, but I would never try to claim that I’m aware of all of it, because there are many forms of oppression I will never be exposed to.

I spent five years in Germany, from when I was eight years old to when I was 13. I lived on a military base, and I went to Department of Defense Dependents Schools. During my time on base, I saw different sides of the military that I had never seen on domestic territory. I was exposed to a lot more diversity than I would have in Northern Virginia, where I lived before. I learned that not everyone had a family like I did and that just because other families were different, didn’t mean that they had less love. I learned that not all parents are good parents and just because someone wears a uniform, doesn’t mean that they’re a good person. I learned what it meant to feel both pride and skepticism toward something that mattered to me. 

My sister, who’s three years older than me, had LGBTQIA-identifying friends who were terrified of coming out to their parents, as well as LGBTQIA-identifying friends who were accepted by theirs once they did. It took a few years before I was comfortable being honest about who I was, but once I made that choice, my dad was proud of my bravery. 

I’m proud of my dad’s military career, and I’m proud of the U.S. Army. It has flaws, but it’s proportional to any other comparable nation’s military based on population and economy, and being raised in a military environment is a large part of why I’m the staunch, iron-fisted feminist I am today.

Not everyone thinks that a military uniform is a badge of honor, but I do.

Photo via U.S. Army Facebook page.

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Founded in 1993, BUST is the inclusive feminist lifestyle trailblazer offering a unique mix of humor, female-focused entertainment, uncensored personal stories, and candid reporting that tells the truth about women’s lives.

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