It was a standard post on Instagram back in May 2016: Eight women, all smiling in their Marine Corps uniforms. Then someone copied it and posted it to a Facebook group.
"And I watched in real time as hundreds of people commented on this photo and said things like they wanted to rape us," Maj. Janine Garner told Host Ari Shapiro on NPR's All Things Considered.
Garner asked permission from each of her fellow Marines to post the picture to her personal Instagram account. They all agreed. What they didn't agree to was the harassment that came later.
"They immediately reduced us to our sexuality," Garner said. "Whether we were 'doable,' not 'doable,' every amount of vitriol. We were called the worst names — and these were leaders in the Marine Corps."
The Marine Corps is still trying to cope with the scandal involving nude photos of women, including Marines and other active duty service members, which were shared in a closed Facebook group without their consent. Other images were more everyday — in some cases, basic ID-style photos — but still subjected to the same kind of comments.
"For myself, I was less upset because I've dealt with stuff like this before," Garner says. "But these seven other women who I highly respect and admire, who have deployed multiple times [and] gone to combat ... were being demeaned in this way. The problem is the treatment of one Marine to another, and that is completely unacceptable and goes against our core ethos and values."
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller and the chiefs of the other military services have condemned the practice and said the responsibility is on all troops to protect one another whenever they encounter these kinds of posts.
Garner wants to hold them to that, and she spoke up along with nearly 100 Marine Corps women. Earlier this month, they signed a public letter arguing that Marine Corps leaders need to address a culture of sexism on the ground.
"We have allowed to thrive and, in some instances, even encouraged a culture where women are devalued, demeaned and their contributions diminished," the letter says.
"We understand why. In a culture that prizes masculinity, it is easy to mistake barbarism for strength, brutality for power, savagery for ferocity."
Garner says one way to put an end to this kind of culture is to increase the number of women in the Marine Corps. Today women make up about 7 percent of the force.
Neller praised the letter, and the support she has received gave Garner hope that Marines can work together to tackle the problem. She says she plans to continue to serve and try to do so.
"I don't want to leave a Marine Corps that is less than what it could be," she says. "It's an amazing institution and, in my opinion, should be setting the example for every other military service out there, for every other organization out there. My job as a leader in the Marine Corps is to continue to make [it] better. That's why I stay. I stay for the generations behind me."
You won’t find a paywall here. Come as often as you like — we’re not counting. You’ve found a like-minded tribe that cherishes what a free press stands for. If you can spend another couple of minutes making a pledge of as little as $5, you’ll feel like a superhero defending democracy for less than the cost of a month of Netflix.