Defense Secretary Ponders How to Change 'Unmanned' Job Titles to Gender-Neutral Wording

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter expressed openness today to editing military job titles to make “man” more gender-neutral, even as he struggled with a way to make “unmanned” less masculine.


The Marine Corps Times reported last week that the service is reviewing its job titles — rifleman, infantryman, etc. — in the wake of all combat roles being opened to women and a January directive from Navy Secretary Ray Mabus for the Corps and the Navy to ensure those job descriptions are gender-neutral.

Every job title that includes “man” is up for review and potentially on the editing block.

Meeting with reporters today at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Newport, R.I., Carter was asked whether he saw “a benefit or a need to do that throughout the military.”

Carter said it was “a very good question.”

“And, you know, of course one wants to signify a reality, which is a very favorable reality for us in defense, of the modern era, which is that we’re making full use of the wonderful talents of half of the population of the country,” he said.

“And it would be a huge mistake not to do so. And that’s why I wanted to see all military operational specialties opened to qualified females. That doesn’t mean that they’ll get in and it doesn’t mean that they’ll choose to do it. But it does mean that I have the opportunity to pick from the entire population of the country. And since it’s an all-volunteer force, I would be — wouldn’t be fulfilling the needs of having the best force if I weren’t fishing in the widest possible pond.”


Carter stressed “that’s the logic behind the position of women in our Department of Defense in today’s world.”

“And signifying that in all appropriate ways is I think exactly that — very appropriate and needed,” he added.

But the Defense secretary admitted that he didn’t “off-hand have a good alternative” for job descriptions with words like “unmanned.”

“We have all these programs that begin with ‘U.’ And I guess you can have a tech challenge for somebody who comes up with a word that begins with ‘U,’ which is — which doesn’t specify whether it’s a man or woman, but makes sure — but specifies that homo sapiens isn’t driving the thing,” Carter said to laughter.

“But somebody here smarter than I is going to be able to figure that out, and that would be — that would be appropriate,” he said of the review process to rename titles.

“But the larger meaning is really clear. We’re very clear in the department that having access to and making use of all of the talent of this country is an imperative for our national security and we’re dead serious about doing it.”


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