The Marine Corps has been advised that its drill instructors should no longer be referred to by gendered terms like “ma’am” or “sir” — an idea that a top training leader has pushed back on.
The recommendation came in a recently completed academic report from the University of Pittsburgh that the Corps commissioned in 2020, according to Marine Corps Times.
The report reveals how the Marine Corps lags behind other branches in training men and women closely together, Marine Corps Times reported. It says training staff in three of six branches of the military no longer use “gendered identifiers” still commonplace in the Corps.
“The Army, Navy, and Coast Guard effectively de-emphasize gender in an integrated environment,” the report says. “Instead of saying ‘ma’am’ or ‘sir,’ recruits in these Services refer to their drill instructors using their ranks or roles followed by their last names. Gendered identifiers prime recruits to think about or visually search for a drill instructor’s gender first, before their rank or role.”
The report’s authors add, “By teaching recruits to use gender-neutral identifiers for their drill instructors, Services underscore the importance of respecting authoritative figures regardless of gender.”
Across all military branches, the Marine Corps has the smallest percentage of females serving, Marine Corps Times reported, and the branch has been slow to integrate men and women in boot camp as all other branches have already done.
The new report says Marine recruits have brushed aside female training staff in favor of male staff, who are seen as more authoritative, according to Marine Corps Times. And in one anecdote, drill instructors asked advice from a male peer while a female chief drill instructor stood ignored nearby.
It’s not clear whether the Corps will take the report’s advice. But the chief of staff for Marine Corps Training and Education Command, Col. Howard Hall, told Marine Corps Times it’s not as simple as tweaking training-level policies.
“It’s not something we would change overnight,” Hall said. “We’ve got a history of ‘sir, ma’am, sir, ma’am.’ If we change something at the root level, how do we make the corresponding change at the Fleet Marine Force? So it’s not ours to implement alone.”
According to Marine Corps Times, Hall said the recommendation was under consideration during a December meeting of the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services.