Cherchez la Femme

There’s a profile in the Washington Post today of a an AH-1 Super Cobra pilot…who happens to be a woman. The article is by Kristin Henderson, who wrote a simpering book about “American families on the home front,” but you shouldn’t hold that against it.

My reaction to this article was mixed. It was definitely interesting to read about a female Marine, as women are relatively rare in the Marines, and I like that Henderson drew attention to the fact that women are still restricted from working in combat positions. And I loved the opener to the article, talking about a classic example of sexism, where a man expresses disbelief that a woman could pilot an attack helicopter. She also did a fairly good job talking about the changing role of women in the military, and how attitudes towards female servicemembers are changing. And I commend her for profiling the change in approach to military training, which focuses on training killers; Henderson really did her homework, and I like that in a journalist.

But then she also made the assumption that women have a hard time in the military because they want to have children, which I found rather irksome. Why wouldn’t men have a hard time in the military because they have children? Don’t fathers suffer every bit as much as mothers when they are deployed far from home and forced to leave their children behind? Why assume that everyone wants to have children, or that the desires of male soldiers are less important than female soldiers? I’m so tired of hearing that argument trotted out in pretty much any discussion of ladies in the military.

And for the love of Pete, why choke that schlock about women being “naturally nurturing” down the throats of readers? And to say that “radical feminists” disapprove of women in the military because we’re “naturally nurturing”? Excuse me while I violently vomit. And Henderson was eager to point out that many of the women in the military serve as nurses and in other medical positions; traditionally “nurturing” roles, although if you actually know any nurses, you know that nurses are some of the toughest and most amazing people on Earth, bar none.

As a feminist, I believe that all positions in the military should be open to women who want to occupy them, and that to restrict women from direct combat positions is offensive, and pointless. And in a lot of ways, I have to applaud the military for its steps towards racial and gender integration, maybe not necessarily among the top brass, but on the ground. Many soldiers I’ve met and seen profiled in interviews say that the gender of their companions doesn’t matter, their fitness for duty does. Among the enlisted, people are extremely race, gender, and class blind, and I think that’s pretty neat.

I’m not really a fan of war, and I would love to see the military disbanded or repurposed to fulfill domestic needs; many European countries, for example, use their militaries to serve their countries in various ways, from assisting in disasters to building bridges. But as long as we’re going to have a military, I think that anyone who wants to join should be able to. I’m rather disappointed, therefore, with the slant this article took, making it seem like women wouldn’t succeed as career military, and suggesting that our delicate sensibilities might be overwhelmed by the actuality of war. It seemed at war with itself at times, as she suggested in one paragraph that women in the military were no less prone to PTSD than men, and in the next that women would not renew their contracts because they wanted to stay at home and bake pies with their former military buddies.

I mean I realize I’m in the minority here, but I would rather fight insurgents than baby sit, although given my druthers I’d prefer neither.