Milton, VT– After nearly four decades in uniform, veteran Doris Sumner is sharing her experience in the military.
Mixed in with her fond memories of active duty and the Vermont National Guard, are also instances of what she calls sexism and sexual harassment; something she wants to change.
“The camaraderie in the Guard, and what’s good about the Guard is a high like nothing else, being a part of something that’s bigger than you,” says Sumner. “It’s really great, but when it’s scarred with disrespect, it’s something that you carry. I talk about that in my book, it’s called the ‘imaginary backpack,’ we put the pain in the backpack, and we trudge on.”
Sumner spent the last four years writing her memoir, called Life at Camp: Combating the Sexism we Tolerate, set for release November 17.
36 years of Sumner’s life, and the stories of different women are shared on each page.
Sumner first joined the army as a truck driver at 18 years old. She later got a job in human resources at Camp Johnson with the Vermont National Guard in 1986. Sumner spent 13 years working as the State Equal Opportunity and Diversity Officer in Colchester and retired in 2019.
It’s through that job Sumner says her eyes were opened.
“All of the warriors that were coming in to file complaints were on sexual harassment. So, I asked myself, ‘what’s going on, why?’ I had experienced sexual harassment in active duty and in the Guard, but I really just kind of assimilated to the culture and managed it myself, not really realizing the totality,” says Sumner.
Sumner was alarmed when she saw how many women were coming forward with complaints. She then dedicated herself to figuring out why, and how to solve it.
“That’s how I became very passionate about gender equality, because I saw a lot of gender bias in the ranks,” says Sumner. “When you have one or two women in the company of 102 guys, they’re kind of an anomaly. In order to do well you have to assimilate to the dominant culture, and I found that troubling.”
Sumner says she didn’t want women to be less than who they were in the ranks.
“What I talk about in my memoir is the culture, the culture of the Guard being a male majority,” notes Sumner.
She says it’s hard to get more women in to male-dominated fields, noting many women want to work where they feel appreciated. But she says the key to interrupting gender bias is getting more women to join.
“How do we get more women in the Guard; is we need the leadership of the Guard to embrace what women bring to the team,” says Sumner.
Sumner’s book is a collection of stories from many women. She wants to honor those who shared their experiences.
“Not only do we have to be competent, but we have to manage sexism, that’s kind of in my title, ‘Combating the Sexism we Tolerate,’ because there’s a lot that we tolerate every day,” says Sumner.
It’s now Sumner’s mission to work toward preventing sexism and creating a culture of respect.