Naval Academy community responds: Keep the 'man' in 'midshipman'
By CHRISTINA JEDRA | The Capital, Annapolis, Md. (Tribune News Service) | Published: January 21, 2016
Should the Navy change the title of "midshipman"?
Thousands of people say no.
Naval Academy alumni, Annapolis residents and others voiced opposition this week to the Navy's review of job titles in the pursuit of gender-integration — particularly the removal of the word "man" from ranks like midshipman.
Several readers reached out to The Capital to echo the sentiment of Anthony Papandrea, a 76-year-old graduate of the Class of 1961 who called the initiative "political correctness run amok."
"Every time I think the PC Police has run out of ridiculous causes, they find something else to complain about," said Vince Zamaria, an Annapolis resident and midshipman sponsor for over a decade. "They will not be happy until they have ruined our country."
A Navy official said "it is likely that because of the history and legacy associated with the rank of midshipmen, there will not be a change" — but that the title is up for review nonetheless. A report of recommendations from the Chief of Naval Operations is due to the Secretary of the Navy April 1.
Jobs like construction man, Corpsman and Torpedoman "will likely be updated to better explain what the rating actually does and make them gender neutral," said the official, who spoke on a condition of anonymity.
A Naval Academy senior enlisted leader will participate in the working group established by the master chief petty officer that is canvassing the fleet for recommendations, a Navy official said.
As of Wednesday night, more than 90 percent of the over 4,000 participants in The Capital's informal online poll voted against changing midshipman to a gender-neutral term.
Over 2,000 voted for alternative titles in a separate poll. Over 40 percent said that if the Navy were to change "midshipman," it should be abbreviated to simply "mid." About 10 percent voted for "shipmate," and seven percent voted for "midshiperson." About 40 percent opted for other alternatives, including "midshipper" and "ensign junior grade."
The Capital received dozens of emails expressing opposition to the idea of changing the historic rank.
Randall R. Brown, who graduated from the academy in 1957, said he has sponsored 77 midshipmen, 10 of them female, and has never heard a single complaint about the term.
"I feel that there is no need to interrupt this wonderful title," he said.
The Naval Academy Alumni Association does not have a stance on the issue, said Kristen Pironis, an association spokesperson.
Midshipmen at the academy are instructed to direct media inquiries to the public affairs office. Academy spokesman Cmdr. John Schofield said last week it would be "premature and inappropriate to comment on any possible policy change being considered on levels above the Naval Academy administration."
On Yik Yak, an anonymous commenting app based on location, one user wrote from the academy on Tuesday: "Before we worry about gender neutral names, we should focus on the lack of female heads in Rickover."
Rickover is the engineering building at the Naval Academy. A “head” is a bathroom on a boat.
"I'll be fine with 'midshipperson' once females are upheld to the same physical standard and males can have long hair," another user posted.
"I vote for midpirates," someone else commented.
"I wonder when people will realize that the word man is in the word woman," said one.
"Equality isn't about changing a name, it's about the ability to be treated the same as anyone else regardless of our gender and instead based on our actions and character," another wrote.
Stacey Hydrick, a lieutenant junior grade in the Navy Reserve Nurse Corps, said men and women should be appreciated for their differences under a single title.
"Changing semantics is pointless," she said. "When I teach corpsmen how to do IVs, that is where respect is earned."
Many respondents noted "man" appears in other commonly used words.
Lynn Wiss said when Neil Armstrong referred to "one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind" upon his arrival on the moon, she didn't feel excluded.
"It wasn't a reference to just the males of this world," she said. "Leave well enough alone and let the midshipmen serve with honor."
Matt Cruser, a 2005 academy grad, said the midshipman title is a relic.
"Midshipmen aren't necessarily required to berth amidships when aboard ship," he said.
Cruser said the title should be preserved.
"If we could design a language from scratch, we'd likely infuse it with all of our modern anxieties on protecting as many as possible from offense or insecurity. But that's not how language works," he said. "If the term midshipmen were in anyway detrimental to success due to its real or imagined inaccuracies, it would've already been changed."
Some readers suggested new titles of their own: midshipmate, middie, subensign and the title used by other military academies, cadet.
"Why not just midshippers?" said Ken Hutchinson, a Navy veteran who served in Vietnam. "(It) can be applied gender neutrally, and still connotes the berthing area on board where recruits in training were assigned for maximum safety."
Herbert Hane, an Annapolis tour guide who lives in Severna Park, said that "midshipman" sounds out of date, and "midshiperson" sounds contrived.
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