A midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy on Wednesday stood up amid a sea of white dress uniforms and asked Navy Secretary Ray Mabus why the service is trying to make women look like men.
The question came after Mr. Mabus had delivered a 30-minute speech at Annapolis on revamping personnel policies on how sailors are promoted, exercised, fed, dressed and deployed.
One change is to do away with distinct men and women’s uniforms by making unisex clothing modeled after the men’s style.
“Uniformity is about ending the way we segregate women by requiring them to wear different clothes,” Mr. Mabus said. “In the Navy and in the Marine Corps, we are trending towards uniforms that don’t divide us as male or female, but rather unite us as sailors or Marines.”
During a question-and-answer session, a midshipman first class stood and said, “I support the initiative of uniting men and women under one uniform. But my question for you is, why are we proceeding about with the assumption that the correct uniform is the male uniform and making women look like men rather than uniting both in our common unisex uniform?”
When the applause died down, the Navy secretary said, “I hope that’s not the assumption that we’re just making women look like men or trying to.”
He said the Navy designed the combination “cover,” for example, to “actually fit your head.”
He said what are considered male uniforms are “iconic uniforms and that’s why we’re going that way.”
There are still “skirt options on a bunch of women uniforms,” Mr. Mabus said. “But for day-to-day stuff, you are already in unisex uniforms most of the time.”
The discussion of women looking like men came amid the backdrop of women entering into land combat.
In 2013, the Obama administration lifted the ban on women in direct ground combat units such as infantry and special operations. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter is to make a final decision on each occupation by Jan. 1, after receiving recommendations from the services that are now examining and validating each physical task required to quality.
On that issue, a midshipman stood and noted that not one woman has been able to pass the Marine Corps’ grueling Infantry Officer Course, and asked if that means the Navy will lower its physical standards.
Mr. Mabus said “the working assumption is, all billets are going to be opened this year. You are going to have to ask for a waiver, an exception to the policy to do that.”
“My notion is, you set up gender neutral standards,” he added. “If you pass, you pass. I don’t care what shape you are. I don’t care what gender you are.”