Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus on Wednesday defended his decision to prioritize making Navy and Marine Corps job titles gender neutral, saying that the services needed to "quit segregating women."
"It’s to quit segregating women. We do it by uniforms; women wear different uniforms. Can you imagine if we ask another group to wear a different kind of uniform?" Mabus said during remarks at the National Press Club. "Ratings names change all the time, all the time. When I was in, 45 years ago, the people that were in my division were radiomen and signalmen. We don’t have any of those anymore. Those ratings have changed. Corpsmen, our medics, that rating came in after World War II."
"We change these things all the time, and I thought that it was important to be gender neutral," the secretary added.
Mabus directed the Navy and Marine Corps at the start of the year to review job titles to ensure their gender neutrality, after the Pentagon opened up all combat roles to female service members. Reports surfaced in June that the Marines would remove the word "man" from 19 of its military occupational specialty titles.
Mabus, who was asked about the move by an audience member Wednesday afternoon, said that the Navy took it "one step further" by implementing a new enlisted ranking system that forced sailors to shed their job titles. Both decisions have drawn public criticism from service members, especially on social media.
"We’ve gone one step further in the Navy. My first direction was to make them gender neutral," Mabus said. "At the recommendation that came back to me from the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy, we’re changing our ratings structure."
The Navy announced last month that the service was scrapping its 240-year-old enlisted ranking system, which eliminated sailors’ 91 enlisted ratings titles in favor of a job classification system similar to that used by the other services.
The announcement was met with a firestorm of negative reactions on social media, and more than 70,000 people have signed a White House petition asking President Obama to immediately restore the old ratings system. Mabus and Adm. John Richardson, chief of naval operations, have been accused of damaging the service’s traditions.
Mabus reiterated Wednesday that the new system is aimed at making it easier for sailors to be promoted within the service and ensuring greater career success when they retire from the Navy.
Mabus, who is set to retire soon, has been criticized for pursing what some regard as a highly politicized agenda at the expense of efficiency and combat power.
Mabus spent several minutes of his address on Wednesday highlighting the Navy’s efforts to transition to alternative energy sources, pointing out that the Navy has reduced its oil use by 15 percent and the Marines by 16 percent. He also underscored the importance of the decision to open up all combat jobs to women, announced by Defense Secretary Ash Carter in December.
The Pentagon also recently allowed for transgender service members to serve openly in the U.S. military.