USNA Women’s BIGGEST Cheerleader

On November 1st, Alumnae of the Naval Academy lost a great advocate. Susan Metzger, mother of CAPT Margaret (Peggy) Metzger, ’81, passed away (see he obituary below). As Peggy shared within the Women’s SIG, her mother “was was always the biggest cheerleader of women in any profession, but she was especially proud of we Academy “girls.”  A Navy Junior and Annapolis gal she would have jumped at the chance to go to USNA if it was an option.  When people asked me at school if I was there ‘for my dad?’ I would always say, ‘No, I’m here because my mom couldn’t come!'” Mrs. Metzger wrote Midshipman Metzger the following letter. It encouraged her and countless other women at USNA throughout the years. The Sisterhood of Mother B sends our deepest condolences to the Metzger family and we celebrate the life of one of the many mothers who encouraged and supported us on this journey to achieve what they could only dream. Fair Winds, ma’am. We have the watch.

Background:  In October 1979, a high ranking Admiral was invited to speak at one of USNA’s prestigious Forrestal Lectures. The Forrestal Lecture features a distinguished guest speaker and all midshipmen in the Brigade are required to attend. The lecture was about how USNA was training leaders and warriors. (In the 1980’s and until 1991 women were greatly restricted service selection options after graduation; only 5 pilot billets, 5 surface warfare (tenders, support ships no combatants) and the remaining billets restricted line were available to women upon graduation from USNA.) Place yourself in a woman midshipman’s shoes at that time. Imagine how demoralizing it was as a woman midshipman at USNA to be required to listen to a senior ranking Naval Officer give a lecture centered around the theme of training leaders and warriors; knowing full well that women were systematically excluded (by law) from the so-called best and most meaningful positions in the Navy at that time. During the question and answer portion of the lecture, MIDN Kathy Bustle ‘82 had the courage to stand up and ask the Admiral why the career opportunities for women at USNA were so limited. She specifically asked, “If the academy is training midshipmen to be warfare specialists, then why are women limited to 1100 (General Unrestricted Line), and restricted line such as EDO, CEC and Intelligence jobs?” It was a very direct and forthright question. However, the admiral mistook MIDN Bustle’s motivation for asking the question and also underestimated the anti-women sentiment at USNA at the time. Rather than answer the question directly, he responded to her question with another question, “Are you saying that women don t belong at the Academy?” The response from the Brigade was immediate. At that moment, all of the 4,000 male midshipmen (it seemed like all) in Halsey Field House leapt to their feet and started cheering and clapping. The Admiral’s rhetorical question was misperceived by some as open testimony from a senior ranking Naval Officer that women indeed, did not belong at USNA. The Superintendent called the Brigade to attention. The Superintendent and the distinguished guest speaker then walked out of Halsey Field House.

November 1, 1979

Dearest Peggy,

Well you have finally found out what price you have to pay to be different! I’m sorry you girls feel that you are being ill-used, but I think it was inevitable that the guys started being jealous of your progress and started hassling your group. All pioneers in new fields of endeavor are discriminated against, because of generations of tradition that is being flaunted. Of course you are right. You should be supported by the Navy. But the only support that is guaranteed to you is giving you the opportunity to get out and take the hard knocks. It’s rough for girls in professional fields, because they have not been brought up in the competitive atmosphere that boys are molded in.

I personally believe that women are much stronger in many, many ways than men. But they haven t been trained to use that strength. Their training is in using their weaknesses, and you have to toughen your attitude and play the game the way men do. They are sensitive, too, but they don t realize it, and if they hurt, they hurt back at any weakness they can fine. It’s like watching brothers and sisters compete in a family. The boys can’t resist frightening girls, teasing them or hurting them. They want attention too, and are jealous of the sisters achievements gained in feminine ways. They don t know how to compete in their sisters games, so they will use aggressive ways. What can parents do? If they side with either one of the children, they are wrong in the other’s eyes. You love him more than you love me! They strive to be fair, but each occurrence has to be handled differently depending on the circumstances.

All progress made by each of the children has to be made by themselves, and the parents have to encourage each of them to use every possible skill to improve without harming others. Just imagine if you were one of the guys at the Academy. I would be one of the hundreds of parents receiving calls and letters which detail the unfair way they are being treated compared to the girls. In their eyes the Navy has favored the girls and the girls haven t earned everything they have gained in the same field of hard knocks that the boys use.

If you are not being supported now, the Navy may be telling you girls that you are not quite as tough as you need to be, and you need to realize what a difficult life you will have once you graduate. You classmates will support you when the chips are down but day to day in the military and civilian life you will be criticized and discriminated against because you are going against tradition. As Viki said — you really feel it when you go to foreign countries. Being tough does not imply that you girls should be masculine or talk rough. It denoted developing a strong faith in yourself, visualizing your present and professional goals every single day, and developing a strong bond of dedicated friendship with the women with the same ideals.

You will be a minority that understands the task you have undertaken and the difficulties involved. Together you will learn strategies and techniques to improve your positions. It will not be a group that spends time whining and crying and complaining about your lot. It will develop the answers to ways of coping in this new environment and with the other men and women in your work. I read many magazine articles and books about the problems that women are encountering in all professional fields. The first breakthrough is allowing the women to enter the field — either at the educational level or the hiring level. After that, no progress is guaranteed, no matter how forward looking the company is.

Many of the people with whom they work put unseen or unrecognized obstacles in front of them. Many of the obstacles are created by the women themselves in the manner in which they handle their work, their associates or themselves. We as a group have a lot to learn. While the rest of the world is learning to accept us and appreciate us, we have to retrain our own thinking and techniques.

Believe in yourself. Believe so much that you can hold on to the thought that you are a Naval Officer almost as if it were something you can hold in your hands. Hold it — hug it. That is the seat of your confidence. Believe in each other. Help your friends to develop the self- confidence and pride that can survive the name calling, the silent techniques, the slurs or thoughtlessness of the people they work with. It is a weakness in others that is being exhibited.

Your purpose at the Academy is to become indispensable. You girls will become the kind of officers that the Navy cannot do without. Someday you won’t make “NEWS”, but as long as you are the originals, you cannot avoid it. One thing you girls can do would be to try to turn the interviews around…to talk more about the achievements of the guys and how they have helped you…to keep the interviews short and professional…to stress the feelings that this is an interview about the Academy, not about the freaks of nature.

When you girls meet together, do not use the session as an opportunity to complain, to cry or talk dejectedly. Take the problem-solving attitude that you are capable of using. Attack the problem as a challenge. Make positive suggestions to cope with the specific problem. If you feel it is valuable, document each occurrence, suggest solutions, testing of the solutions and results of the tests. Then, you can try the next solution and see how it works. Girls following after you will be able to benefit from a healthy, creative technique of coping with professional life. Then you will be on your way to making a valuable contribution to the Academy and to the Navy.

Take the adversity and turn it around so that it becomes a benefit. You are probably going to get more than your share of duty as Laundry Officer and Mess Officer and Music Officer. They really don’t know you very well. Of course the officers at the Academy know you well as students. But the rest of the Navy is very unsure about you. After all the Navy is made up of people — it’s not a fixture like the Washington Monument. The detailers have to be very sensitive to the impact of the women on other people with whom they will have to serve. This has to be handled slowly and with care. Until they know how well you can do the jobs, and how well other people work with you THEY cannot be blind to your sex.

Women have been doctors for years — but they are usually Pediatricians, Gynecologists, Dentists, Scientists — I have never heard of a woman surgeon or heart specialist. It will come. Some day we’ll even have a woman on the Supreme Court. Well, Peggy, this off-the-cuff letter is very disjointed and full of misspellings but I don’t have time to type it over. If you want to share some of these ideas with your friends, it would be a fine compliment to me. I hope some of this has been helpful to you. I want you to know that all your family are behind you 100% — but we are behind you. We cannot lead the way, we cannot write to the CNO, we cannot pass laws that guarantee you will be free of harassment or discrimination. BUT YOU CAN……..and will achieve your goal.

Love,

Pollyanna

Post Script:   The same day that Peggy’s mom wrote this letter and put it in the mail, James Webb published his article about women at the Naval Academy, “Why women can’t fight”.  These two events together created a perfect storm of for the women at the Naval Academy.  The Letter from Peggy s Mom provided in this essay was circulated among several women midshipmen. It was a small but significant way that some USNA women coped with this deeply demoralizing event. Its words had the power to motivate and provide hope then, as it does now, many decades after a mother penned it to her daughter. 

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