9 Duke J. Gender L. & Pol'y 277 (2002)
Crossing the Line: Sex, Power, Justice, and the U.S. Navy at the Equator

handle is hein.journals/djglp9 and id is 285 raw text is: CROSSING THE LINE: SEX, POWER, JUSTICE,
AND THE U.S. NAVY AT THE EQUATOR
CARIE LITLE HERSH*
I. INTRODUCTION
When my father came home from a seven-month Gulf War cruise in 1991,
he told me about his participation in a bizarre ceremony when his ship crossed
the equator. He talked of men receiving unusual haircuts, being paddled and
insulted, being smeared with garbage and old food, and, most curiously, of a
number of the men on the ship dressing up as women for a beauty pageant. He
showed me photographs of men covered from head to toe in filth and being
beaten with pieces of fire hose, and other pictures of men flashing massive false
breasts to a crowd. As intrigued as I was, I was not surprised at the content of
the ceremony. Having grown up a Navy brat, living near or in large Navy
communities my entire life, I had grown used to the antics of Naval personnel. I
had no problem picturing many of the Navy sailors and officers whom I knew
participating in and laughing at the abuse and delighting in the garbage. And
despite, or perhaps because of, many of the men's beliefs that women and ho-
mosexuals had no place in the Navy, I was not at all surprised at their amuse-
ment and willingness to participate in the transvestite pageant. Inexplicably, it
just seemed to fit.
Yet, considering the accusations of homophobia, sexism, and sexual har-
assment that have arisen over the past twenty years, how and why would these
same men would willingly submit to being spanked and straddled by other
men? What was so important about this ceremony that would make sailors
shave their legs and don false breasts and teddies? More importantly, why did I
automatically interpret these actions as being normal for this group of people?
The Navy's resistance to women in its ranks is second only to its resistance
to homosexuals. Until 1991, women were denied the opportunity to fly fighter
jets in the Navy, and only within the past few decades have women been able to
sail on ships previously staffed only by men.' Where other militaries have
found ways to accommodate women and homosexuals in their ranks, it has
Copyright © 2002 by Carie Little Hersh.
* B.A., University of Virginia; J.D. and M.A., Cultural Anthropology, Duke University; Ph.D.
candidate, Anthropology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, expected May 2007. This pa-
per is dedicated to my dad, my favorite Shellback. I would like to thank Susan McKinnon for her
unending patience, insight, expertise and friendship. I would also like to thank Matthew Hersh and
Carole Hellian for their support and encouragement. Finally, I am very grateful to all those who
shared with me their personal accounts of crossing the equator.
1. See, e.g., JEAN ZIMMERMAN, TAILSPIN (1995) (describing women's struggle for the right to fly
fighter jets in the U.S. military and the military and social responses).

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