Sunday, June 22, 2008

Mini-Review: “In the Men’s House” by Capt. Carol Barkalow with Andrea Raab

My recent visit to the West Point campus for the graduation of the Class of 2008 and their concomitant commissioning as the Army’s freshest batch of 2nd Lieutenants reminded me of how different the composition of this class was from ones that graduated less than 30 years ago. The Class of 1980 was the first class to include female graduates. I number among my friends several women who have had the experience of being in the minority of the West Point campus as they pursued their education and military training. Several have said to me, “If you want to get a glimpse at some of the dynamics of what we endured, read Captain Carol Barkalow’s book.”

Captain Barkalow, in collaboration with Andrea Raab, chronicles what it was like for her to be part of the initial class of women to be admitted to West Point. She shares her recollections based on hand-written diaries that she kept during her time as a cadet and as an Army officer. She was one of 119 young women admitted to West Point’s Class of 1980. The nation’s service academies had been mandated by Congress to expand their candidate pools to include women.

Through detailed anecdotes, Captain Barkalow offers insights into what it felt like to make a frontal assault against almost 200 years of all-male tradition at the fortress that hugs the mountainside along the Hudson River.

I will share the author’s observations on the occasion of the second class of female plebes entering the Academy in 1977:

“With the arrival of the new Fourth Class in the summer of 1977, the women of my class were confronted with the task of administering what little authority we had over a younger version of ourselves. I, for one, tried to make it my policy to use hazing as a means to correct plebes, not to harass them. Most of my female classmates behaved in similar fashion, but there were dissenting opinions. Others, once free of the shackles of the Fourth Class System, flatly refused to participate in hazing of any kind. In another group there were some enthusiastic female participants, a number of whom went overboard harassing younger women – ordering them to do rapid-fire changes of uniform, summoning them into their rooms for questioning like Grand Inquisitors, grilling them relentlessly on their memorization of trivia. Most of these women claimed they needed to be demonstrably tougher on female plebes so no one could accuse them of showing favoritism. I believe these women suspected – and rightly so – that our newly acquired upperclass status did not unanimously assure our position within the Corps. Even as the ranks of women cadets gradually swelled from one classful to two, many of us remained in separate camps. At best, we observed each other from a distance – across a divide of diffidence, misunderstanding and fear.” (Page 82)

This is book is a worthwhile read for anyone with an interest in the history of West Point, the role of women in the military and the topic of institutional change.



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