Tuesday, April 8, 2003

If anyone is confused, as we have been around here, about how the roles of women in combat have evidently shifted of late, this is a helpful dialogue from Slate:

Women in the Air Force and Navy are currently allowed to pilot planes that engage in combat—by dropping bombs or by shooting at an enemy plane. They are allowed to serve on combat ships—which are used to launch cruise missiles and the aforementioned fighter planes. But in the Army and Marines, the services that supply the people who toil on the ground, women do not take combat jobs. In a combat position, as the Department of Defense puts it, a GI's "primary goal is to engage, close with and [neutralize] ... the enemy." Pvt. Jessica Lynch, for instance, an Army supply clerk, had been trained to use a gun to defend herself and her unit if need be, but she wasn't supposed to go around proactively "engaging" the enemy (and, of course, she didn't).

and then from the other writer:

Women find a way to get what they want (or close to it) by mastering the system. Desperate for action and eager to get out of a headquarters assignment, I agitated foreeeeever to be assigned to Intel in Iceland, a NATO tripwire in the '80s. Finally, an assignments chick whispered to me that I was never going to get that without a penis and a pilot's license. I did not file suit. I did not contact NOW. I did what all GIs, who are bred for craftiness in their mothers' wombs, do. I whispered back, "What assignment can I get somewhere near at least the possibility of action?" In other words, I settled. (As a non-pilot male would have. Still, a man can become a pilot, but a woman cannot become a man. And stay on active duty. But I digress.) Six months later, I was Chief of Intelligence in Ankara, Turkey. Not half bad for a community college dropout ghetto girl. Six months after that—the Persian Gulf War. Action.

That's the thing. Women GIs don't agitate to carry rucksacks and become snipers because they already feel like they are personally sticking it to the enemy. That overarching sense of mission and group endeavor supplants the need to have their individual fingers on the trigger. They feel that they are all shooting those guns, they're all dropping bombs on Baghdad. Women don't agitate for combat because the gains they have made and the acceptance they've mostly found imbue their non-combat roles with dignity, honor, and accomplishment. They don't agitate for combat because they know they are willing to enter the fray if required. Even I volunteered for the war zone. I was terrified, but I would have gone had hell frozen over and they needed me. (By the way, I don't think much turns on whether or not women "want" to be 'pounders. That's a societal decision.)