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Military Gets in Step With Times on Etiquette

November 19, 1987|DEAN GOLEMBESKI | Associated Press

NEW LONDON, Conn. — It's in the book, the one they call the "bible," and a lot of women in uniform are up in arms.

"A servicewoman does not smoke in the street," reads the entry in "Service Etiquette," a 582-page book that tells military personnel such things as how to dress, how to converse, how to write letters and what to do when traveling.

Demands for Revision

The problem is, there is no such restriction on the smoking habits of military men and that's one of the reasons some women demanded that the rule book be rewritten.

Brenda J. Fullmer, social director at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, is one of the women who believes "Service Etiquette" is behind the times. The book's author, Oretha D. Swartz, agrees, and she is in the process of revising it.

Fullmer met with her counterparts at the other military academies last year to discuss the book's shortcomings. As social directors, they are frequently asked to settle matters of etiquette and the book is their ultimate authority.

"The main thing has to do with smoking, for example," Fullmer said. "The way it's worded, it's OK for men in uniform to smoke in the street, but it's not OK for women. Well, that's not really fair."

Fullmer said the smoking question was brought to her attention by a perplexed admiral who received a complaint about a female Coast Guard officer who was caught smoking with male officers.

"The woman had been chastised for smoking," Fullmer said. "She was standing with other officers and nothing was said to the men. She got very upset about it. But when they took it to the bible, that's the way it was stated."

Maiden Names

Fullmer said another problem not anticipated by the book was how to address female officers who outrank their officer husbands, and how to address married female officers who retain their maiden names. She said the etiquette book was fuzzy on the details, and cited formal invitations as an example.

"Normally, in the social rules of etiquette, the man is always addressed first if it's a 'Mr. and Mrs.' In the military, rank always comes first," Fullmer said. "So, if the woman has the higher rank, does she come first?" She said there were other instances where the rules didn't apply evenly or were unclear as the result of women moving up the ranks.

Swartz, who lives in Annapolis, Md., hometown of the U.S. Naval Academy, said she has just completed her research and writing on the fourth edition of "Service Etiquette." Her editors at the Naval Institute Press are putting the finishing touches on the book. The book was last revised eight years ago.

"It's the only book of its nature in the armed services," she said. "It's much more than a book for how to use the correct fork and how to introduce someone. It's how to cope."

Swartz said the newest edition will include numerous changes, most of which will relax existing rules. She said many of the changes address complaints from female officers who feel discriminated against.

She also made other minor changes. For instance, the new book will note that hops are now called dances , that Navy midshipmen no longer need to wear white gloves at dances, and that receiving lines at formal functions should "be as short as possible."

Different Cards

One key change, which appears minor to outsiders but is considered important to women in the military, will deal with personal cards. Swartz said female officers now use smaller calling cards than male officers, but both will use the same size under the new etiquette rules.

"This is going to be a big help," she said. "It came up at West Point when a lieutenant colonel on the faculty approached me and questioned the difference in cards between men and women."

The officer wanted to include her rank and Ph.D. on her personal card, but had difficulty doing so.

"Wherever I go, women officers talk about this matter of discrimination, even on a little card," Swartz said.

As for the smoking rule, Swartz said she was unaware that on Page 19 of the current etiquette book there was a ban on servicewomen smoking on the street. She said she will delete the entry in the newest edition.

"I'll take a second look," she said. "I admit I didn't ever catch it."

Swartz also provided answers to the matter of how to address formal invitations. For instance, if a husband and wife are both officers on active duty, the higher-ranked individual is addressed first.

"If you don't think that's given me headaches . . .," she said. "I called many people and got their opinions. If three people agreed, that's what stood."

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