That Esmay guy always gets me to thinking. I think I’ll adopt him and the Queen as my auxiliary parents (even though they’re both several years my junior.)
A few weeks back, in the wake of the first Abu Ghraib pictures being made public, Dean pointed his readers to a blogger that was presiding over a discussion of whether women belong in the military or not. I waded in for a bit until a ridiculous discussion ensued concerning whether women would have enough room in their packs for ammunition since their “dainties” would allegedly take up so much space. As many know, I have little tolerance for bovine excrement; I left the commenters to their devices.
The question of whether women should fill combat billets is a valid one, however. It’s an open secret in the military that women who are deployed into a combat zone—or stationed on naval vessels—often find themselves disqualified for that duty due to a well-documented medical condition, colloquially known as bun-in-the-oven syndrome. (Let’s not even go on about another rumor I heard: that such women often return from these types of assignments rolling in cash.)
What does this situation do for morale and morale’s parent, military readiness? You don’t have to think too hard about it. Additionally, how much tax-payer money is spent on training women for these combat assignments only to have it go to waste upon the conception of a child by these women? A lot.
As it happens, I don’t think that women are always unsuited for combat roles. I do, however, think that we are unsuited for the manner in which we are almost always placed in such roles. As I mentioned in one of my old posts above, we’re often placed in such roles to suit some arbitrary affirmative action-type regulation. Standards are dropped—mostly physical ones and often mental and emotional ones as well—and a woman is placed in a position, surrounded by nearly all men and told to do her job. The latter is the easy part. It’s the rest of it that’s difficult, especially for young women who are often used to having to relate to men using manipulative means. And, surely, you know what those means are.
I look at women like Private Lynndie England and Brigadier General Janis Karpinski and want to scream. On the opposite ends of the rank structure, they are more alike than different in this: neither wants to assume responsibility for that which is hers. Both action and inaction are due to someone else, to hear them tell it. I’d like to say that I don’t know many women like this, but I’d be lying.
The problem is this: women aren’t expected to live up to their responsibilities. Even now, when women in this country have more rights than any other women in history, we often aren’t expected to carry the burden of responsibility that goes along with those rights. We cry, stamp our feet, bat our eyes—and, yes, spread our legs--and claim it “wasn’t me” when the chips are down. And men, often having wives, mothers and daughters who act in this manner, are vulnerable to these types of manipulation.
(It is for this very reason that I hate to cry in front of other people. If you are in audience on that rare occasion that I will cry in front of another, either someone has died or someone is about to.)
My point, and I usually have one, is that when we expect integrity from women and when women have to suffer *equivalent* consequences for lacking same, more women will stand up and be women. And I use the phrase “be women” in the same context in which the phrase “be a man” is used. Oh sure, men fall down into the irresponsibility hole all the time. However, there are much more stringent consequences for men—professional and societal—for that character failing than there are for women.
With all of that said, I want to point to another post of Dean’s, which points to a site documenting women warriors. Most of these women had to disguise themselves as men in order to fight for what they believed in. Others found themselves in positions in which the choice was to fight or to die. Stills others lived in societies in which their rulers saw fit to employ military units consisting entirely of women. The Dahomean society of the nineteenth century is the prime example. A fictional account of these latter warriors figures prominently in one of my favorite novels of all time, The Dahomean.
When the Navy started billeting women aboard ships, nearly everyone I talked to thought it was a bad idea for the reasons set forth in the first part of this post. I wondered aloud why the Navy couldn’t commission and all-female crew. Of course, the jokes flowed (pun intended) as to what would happen if they all were on their periods at the same time. (I said that the enemy had better watch out.) However, I wonder whether it—all-female combat units and all-female ship crews--might not be a solution to this problem. I thought the American military had gotten a clue when it deployed an all-female flight crew to Afghanistan, but those august ladies seem to be an exception, at least for the time being.
Like our better halves, most women are tough, loyal, sweet and tender, when you expect us to be. And when you give us a standard to live up to—or down to—most of us will. In that, we are equal to men.