Diary of a Life in Camouflage -A Retired Female Soldier’s Story
This article is part of the 38th issue of LEAP — Voices of Youth e-letter. Subscribe now.
With sharp, short hair and bright, cheerful laughter that always ends her sentences, Ouyang Ying is currently a fitness coach. Having been a sporty kid, she was trained as a Taekwondo athlete and had won championships in national competitions. In particular, she served in the military for 5 years.
Freshly graduated from high school, the 18-year-old Ouyang Ying joined the military and became a member of its female force, which comprised only about 10% of the entire armed forces then.
Intensive and equal training regardless of gender
From a gender perspective and being a minority in the armed forces, Ouyang Ying had an independent living space that was separated from her male colleagues. She remembered with a smile: “Because there were so few female soldiers, our living space was huge and we could just run around in the dorm.”
While serving in the military, her monthly menstrual period more or less caused inconvenience to the scheduled training. However, more time for rest and washing would be granted if reported and there was also employment benefit of menstrual leave for female soldiers.
In general, Ouyang Ying did not feel that she was discriminated against in the military because of her gender.
For both male and female soldiers who were assigned to a combat unit, there is no difference in terms of training intensiveness. Since she served in a combat unit, Ouyang Ying was trained in field operation and artillery. She spent 75% of the time per year rotating between different military bases in the country. Hard work brought more merits which resulted in more promotion opportunities. Within 6 months after she joined the military, Ouyang Ying was promoted 4 ranks higher.
During her time in the military, Ouyang Ying joined the highly intensive, 4-month long program, “Squad of physical coaches,” whose purpose was to train officers that could provide physical and military training in the armed forces. In the program, members of both genders were required to carry a 6 KG tire while completing a 6 KM run on the mountain. This intensive training was part of their daily routine as more difficult “devil’s training” awaited them. Her experience was even reported by the media.
“My experience in the military strengthened my ability to adapt and handle stress, ” said Ouyang Ying. The cultivation of such attitudes and personal qualities possibly was the most important invisible military strength of the armed forces.
However, she also observed that most female soldiers would be inclined to choose office positions. In addition, military commanders would usually avoid assigning female soldiers duties of night watch due to concern of their personal safety. To some degree, those off-book rules echoed research on gender issues in the military and reflected that women’s career in the military still was restricted by the existing social norm.
Inclusiveness of different gender results in positive changes in the armed forces
Traditionally, military service is often considered as primarily a male’s career choice. In recent years, although the numbers of Taiwanese females in the armed forces still lag behind the numbers of male soldiers, it is actually increasing every year.
There are various types of work in the military. Some stress physical fitness and muscular power, some consider patience and detail orientedness and the other require intelligence and the ability to think fast. Therefore, Ouyang Ying believes that it is crucial for the military to expand sources of its recruitment so that it can bring in more soldiers with diverse personality and skills and assign the best people to its various positions. Such a strategy will benefit our armed forces enormously.
Additionally, military service is a long term lifestyle in a group. Soldiers often find it difficult to establish outside social relationships during their time of service. In reality, a lot of soldiers choose to leave the military to find partners when reaching the age of getting married or having children.
Ouyang Ying thinks that if more soldiers of different genders can join the service, soldiers can find partners more easily in their work environment. For example, if a soldier can establish a romantic relationship with someone who also serves in the military, his or her partner would be able to understand the nature and uniqueness of the military jobs and be more considerate to each other. Relatively speaking, the possibilities for both parties to continue the military services will also be higher.
Military service is not to get a taste of military experience, one should first consider his or her own ability before joining the services
Military propaganda is a popular script in Taiwanese movies and TV dramas. Whenever there is such a movie or drama, the recruitment numbers of Taiwanese armed forces that year would usually increase. Many people choose to join the military because of their yearning for the military characters shown in the movies or dramas. This phenomenon is very unique in Taiwan. Ouyang Ying shared that she was also influenced by the popular drama of military propaganda “Rookie’s Diary” at that time and joined the armed forces as a result.
When she looks back at her military career, she believes that her physical and psychological strengths resulting from the training are still very useful when she returns to the life of a civilian. However, the ranking system and life quality in the military indeed can only be tolerated by a strong mind. She recommends those who are interested in the military career do a self-evaluation on their adaptiveness to stress first. They should not have impractical imagination, nor should they consider the service as a way to get a taste of military experience. Otherwise, they will find it difficult to survive the multi-year service.
Ouyang Ying also reminds her female juniors who are considering becoming a career soldier that it is important to first evaluate their physical conditions. For example, are they able to properly handle the physical discomfort during the menstrual period? Can their physical conditions catch up with the training in the military? Only after conducting such a self-evaluation which is based on personal situation and skills can one fill out proper career choices and pick the right unit to serve on their applications.
Gender identity should not be a hindrance to career development. Ouyang Ying’s story shows us that if we can disregard the restriction imposed by the gender stereotypes and emphasize personal qualities such as self knowledge and persistence, we will be able to bring more positive influence to our armed forces, individuals who join the military, and the society as a whole. The number of female soldiers in Taiwan increases year by year and is now at 14% of the entire armed forces. The image of the military being a man’s only space is also gradually evolving. Our armed force of the new era should be a career field that can include different genders and talents and provide limitless potential for personal development.
Also in This Issue:
This article reviews the status quo of the army of Taiwan, and the problems women may face once they choose to join the army.
Author : Hsien Liu
Freelance writer / Graduate student in Journalism