Marine Commandant Responds to Backlash over Lack of Women in Birthday Video

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Marines with a female engagement team.
Marines with a female engagement team, Marine Headquarters Group, assist in a vehicle interdiction operation by questioning an Afghan national in southern Helmand province, Afghanistan May 17, 2012. (Marine Corps/Meghan Gonzales)

 Marine Corps leaders were hit with criticism this week after releasing a new eight-minute video message in honor of the service's 244th birthday that included just six seconds of footage featuring women.

But Commandant Gen. David Berger told Military.com that he isn't losing any sleep over the backlash.

"We made a video that celebrates Marines," Berger said Wednesday after an event hosted by Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in Washington. "We did not break it down frame-by-frame, how many males versus how many females. And I don't plan to do that."

All Marines are entitled to their opinion, Berger added, and he's listening to what they have to say.

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"But I don't think they want us going into anything saying, 'Well, there has to be at least 20 minutes of females in here and we're not doing this,'" the commandant said. "That kind of super elevation -- artificial elevation, to a degree -- means two different standards. And we don't do that in the Marine Corps. We have one standard."

The Marine Corps released its 2019 birthday message last week. It references some of the Corps' most iconic battles and previews where the service is headed next.

In the video, Berger says that without trust and cohesion, "the platoon doesn't exist, the unit doesn't exist, the Corps doesn't exist."

One of the Marines who sounded off on social media about the lack of female representation in the video said she's taking Berger at his word when he said he's listening to her criticism.

"And while he didn't make a promise to make it better in the future, I think that just raising awareness may make it better next time," Emma Shinn, a judge advocate and prior-enlisted Marine, told Military.com. "I believe Gen. Berger is a man of his word."

Shinn wrote about her disappointment with the video on Facebook this weekend. The post, which points out that just 1.26% of the eight-minute video featured female Marines, has generated hundreds of reactions. Newsweek reported about the criticism of the video on Monday.

One officer said some of the responses prove there are still problems in the ranks.

"When current Marines [comment] that female Marines are a disgrace, aren't able to have an opinion, and should be in the kitchen making sandwiches, it shows how far we have to go," said the officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to comment candidly.

A former sergeant told Task & Purpose, which created a new version of the birthday video to include more clips featuring women, that the Marine Corps still struggles with a culture of "disdain and hatred" toward female Marines.

"This video is just one more confirmation of the Marine Corps bias toward the women who serve," Erin Kirk-Cuomo, co-founder of Not In My Marine Corps, which highlights harassment in the ranks, told the outlet.

Shinn said the overall lack of diversity in the video misrepresents the Marine Corps. Marines want to see themselves in a video message that celebrates their heritage, she said, and this video fell short.

"I agree with the commandant. ... It wasn't about quotas," Shinn said. "It's not about needing X amounts of minutes [showing women].

"I don't think that there was an effort by the Marine Corps to exclude women," she added. "But I also don't think that there was an effort to include women. That's the difference."

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

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