Just last week I made an off-hand comment in a discussion that really brought home to me how much the Navy has changed since I enlisted. At the time, I and one of the First Class Petty Officers (E-6, for the non-Navy folks) were talking about having to go through a head (toilet/shower) to access a workspace.
I said something like, "Well, that's because GW wasn't built for women to serve onboard."
"But where did you go?" she asked, or something similar.
When I signed on in 1987, only tenders and other auxiliary ships were open to women--and those were ships that stayed well clear of any sort of combat. The USNS ships were open, too. Overseas duty was often coded as 'rotational sea duty' so women mostly did that. My first tour was in Guam, which, while still a US territory, counted as sea duty for me. Of course, every time I filled out a 'dream sheet' for orders, I still filled in FFG, DDG, CG in the blocks for ships, even though I knew that I couldn't go to any of them. The only expansions of sea duty for women were coming in some of the combat stores ships (AFS, now T-AFS as part of the USNS fleet), which were taking female officers.
By the time I left Guam in 1991 for the USS SAMUEL GOMPERS (AD-37), the Gulf War was just getting started. I had no idea how much that would change my future options. But there it was. Women in squadrons on carriers. Women on auxiliary ships going into areas that could have mines. And things changed.
I was, of course, terribly excited when other ships started opening to women. I was determined to get something other than a tender again when I left shore duty in 1997. By then, more and more ships were converting to mixed-gender crews, and the USS BENFOLD (DDG 65) was acutally built that way. The Navy has a series of requirements to 'convert' a berthing, like tearing out the urinals and installing feminine hygiene boxes and hanging curtains behind doorways, but the biggie has always been passageways through berthings. I could give a rat's butt about having a box for the nasties, as I don't mind putting it in the trash can, but I could sure do without walking through a male berthing to get where I need to go.
It took months to actually get sea duty orders, but I did, and on a destroyer to boot! And after the next shore tour, it took some work to get another ship in San Diego with a female rack, but I managed that, too.
Now I'm on my fourth ship, and I can look back on nearly half of my 21 years of service actually being on sea duty. Not at all bad for someone who joined a Navy where women on ships was the exception and not the rule.