Former soldier Sandra Perron made headlines two years ago with her shocking memoir, Out Standing in the Field, about experiencing sexual harassment, rape, and physical torture from male comrades in the armed forces. A new memoir by another female former soldier is less violent but just as startling and a similar reminder of the lengths the military has to go before ending systemic gender discrimination in its ranks.
Kelly S. Thompson came from a military family, and followed in her father’s and grandfather’s footsteps, hoping to become a logistics officer. “I didn’t want to have to shoot anyone,” she writes. She excelled in her classroom courses but struggled with the gruelling physical demands required of recruits. Once she had passed basic training, Thompson had an affair with a married soldier, as a result of which she was hauled on the carpet by her female boss and upbraided for conduct unbecoming. The male soldier, on the other hand, was not confronted by his superiors.
Widespread knowledge of the affair turned Thompson into a target. Many male soldiers perceived her as an easy sexual conquest and made unwanted advances. She was not taken seriously. After eight years, Thompson left the forces, largely for medical reasons stemming from a leg fracture misdiagnosed as tendonitis and left untreated for years. Thompson includes horrific details of being made to march on a broken leg, because to mention the pain would have branded her a “whiner.” Thompson’s complaints about sexual harassment were also misdiagnosed: she was told she just couldn’t take a joke.
Since adolescence, Thompson longed to be a writer. She certainly knows how to set a scene: her dialogue is authentic and she is adept at deploying telling detail, like the fact that her boss’s chair is always set six inches higher than the visitor’s chair. The author creates a feeling of immediacy and often uncomfortable intimacy: readers feel they are awkwardly in the same room with the male soldiers ogling Thompson’s breasts.
Throughout Girls Need Not Apply, Thompson decries the double standard that results in different treatment for men and women. But she does not appear to be looking for pity or revenge. Nor does she go out of her way to recommend specific changes that might help future female soldiers. She simply tells a forthright, painful personal story as closely as she can remember it.