I was not a great cadet. I went to West Point for the wrong reasons: the education was free, the pictures in the catalog were impressive, and my girlfriend - now my wife - was going to go. I did not give my heart to the institution. I was not interested in military discipline. I saw myself as a Hawkeye Pierce kind of rebel. As soon as I could, I sported a "marijuana split" parting my hair down the middle. I cut every corner I could. And I could cut lots of corners, because I was a guy. I was one of over 1000 guys in my class. If (and when) I got caught, it didn't reflect on the other guys at West Point. I was just one guy who did something stupid, or funny. Nobody said, "See, I told you guys shouldn't go to West Point." I had the luxury of being able to be mediocre.
The women in my class did not have that luxury. They could not blend in. There were just over 100 women in each class. And they were all suspect. Any mistake was a blemish on all the women. Any weakness would be seen as evidence that women didn't belong. Which made it hard on all the women. And women were hard on each other - knowing that the stakes for any mistake were high. Women had to perform well. All the time.
I could be mediocre. All the time.
It drove Andrea, my girlfriend, crazy. She was a great cadet. She had grown up wanting to go to West Point. Women wouldn't be allowed to go until Andrea was 14, but as a young girl she knew she wanted to be a cadet. She loved the structure and the discipline and the ideals of Duty, Honor, Country. She was a great cadet. And she felt the pressure to be perfect. All the time.