Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Berthing issues for female sailors on submarines recall older arguments about gays and "privacy"

On Monday, April 5, The Washington Times ran an article by Rowan Scarborough, “Health issues arise for women in submarines: Navy also faces berthing obstacles,” link here

Part of the article deals with the specialized problem of how the submarine air could affect pregnant sailors, but it might be possible simply not to allow pregnant women on submarines.

Another part of the article discusses the berthing problems and tight quarters, which must be redesigned for some gender separation. The problem could parallel arguments long made that the lack of privacy makes it difficult to accept the presence of gay men in such an environment.

I boarded the USS Sunfish (built 1963, now decommissioned) in May 1993 in Norfolk VA as I was doing research before I wrote by book. The quarters were indeed very cramped.

However former Naval Academy midshipman Joseph Steffan described (in his 1992 book "Honor Bound: A Gay Midshipman Fights for the Right to Serve His Country", Random House; see Book review blog, Oct. 2007) a summer cruise on a submarine in the 1980s without incident. There were a lot of chess games (and a lot of players good enough for USCF tournaments).

Other former sailors have described the process of “hot bunking” and the use of the term “bunkmates”.

The closed quarters and lack of exercise tends to lead to weight gain for some sailors. Submarine duty is not the most healthful. Filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow (“The Hurt Locker”) had covered sub life in “K19: Ther Widowmaker”.

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