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Bitch, Slut, or Dyke?

by James G. Bruen, Jr.



“The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” the New York Times reported in a mid-August series entitled “Women at Arms,” have “cultivated a new generation of women with a warrior’s ethos — and combat experience — that for millennia was almost exclusively the preserve of men.”


“No one envisioned that Afghanistan and Iraq would elevate the status of women in the armed forces,” the newspaper says, but now “many experts … say it is only a matter of time before regulations that have restricted women’s participation in war will be adjusted to meet the reality forged over the last eight years. In gradually admitting women to combat, the United States will be catching up to the rest of the world.”


Women “have reshaped life on bases across Iraq and Afghanistan,” the Times informs us,  “without the disruption of discipline and unit cohesion that some feared would unfold.” Why no disruption? How, after millennia, has war so easily become the domain of women? “Opponents of integrating women in combat zones long feared that sex would mean the end of American military prowess. But now birth control is available … reflecting a widely accepted reality that soldiers have sex at outposts across Iraq.”


Who knew the benefits contraception would bring to the military? Now women can be trained to kill as warriors while also helping to keep male combat troops content. The slogan of the ‘60s has been altered by today’s military: Make Love at War.


Not all women in the military embrace this dual meaning of the word “servicewoman”. “You’re a bitch, a slut or a dyke — or you’re married, but even if you’re married, you’re still probably one of the three,” Staff Sgt. Patricia Bradford, a psyops soldier, told the newspaper. She characterized herself as a bitch, which, she indicated, helped deflect slights and derision.


“At the outset of the war, the introduction of women,” the Times says, “raised fears not just of abuse or harassment, but also of sex and pregnancy. The worst of those fears, officers say, have not materialized.”


What is “the worst of those fears” that didn’t materialize? Abuse and harassment? Nope, that’s prevalent. “Sexual harassment in a still-predominantly male institution remains a problem,” the Times assures us. “So does sexual assault.” Thus, “as a precaution, women are advised to travel in pairs, particularly in smaller bases.” The women “face sexual discrimination and rape, and counselors and rape kits are now common in war zones.”


Is increased sexual activity the worst fear that didn’t materialize? Nope, sexual activity is rampant, too. “In fact, sex in America’s war zones is fairly common, soldiers say, and has not generally proved disruptive.” Ah, those contented military beneficiaries of contraception. In fact, in April, “the latest iteration of General Order No. 1, the rules governing the behavior of soldiers in Iraq broadly, quietly relaxed the explicit prohibition on sex in a war zone, though it still bars sex with Iraqis.” The rationale? “The chain of command already has to deal with enough,” Capt. Margaret Taafe-McMenamy said. “They don’t really want to have to punish soldiers for dating.” Dating? Is that what the military calls it?


So what’s left? What’s the worst of those fears that were engendered by the introduction of women into the war zone, the one that didn’t materialize? Pregnancy! The same fear that often terrifies civilian society, as if pregnancy were a plague, not a blessing.


“There was a fear if we integrate units, you will have a bunch of young people with raging hormones, and it will end up in too many unwanted pregnancies, and it’s more trouble than it’s worth,” said Peter Mansoor, a former battalion commander who was Gen. David Petraeus’s executive officer. “With good leadership and mentorship, we have been able to keep those problems to a minimum.” Good leadership and mentorship? The elimination of the explicit ban on sexual activity coupled with the widespread distribution of contraceptives demonstrates increased permissiveness, not leadership and mentorship. Let the hormones rage sterilely!


A woman soldier.Lest we not forget, these women are also warriors. “Iraq has advanced the cause of full integration for women in the Army by leaps and bounds,” says Mansoor. The Times proclaims: “women have repeatedly proved their mettle in combat.” Thus, “as soldiers in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, women have done nearly as much in battle as their male counterparts: patrolled streets with machine guns, served as gunners on vehicles, disposed of explosives, and driven trucks down bomb-ridden roads.” Moreover, “a small number of women have even conducted raids, engaging the enemy directly in total disregard of existing policies.”


These “gains” have, of course, come at a cost. “As horrible as this war has been, I fully believe it has given women so many opportunities in the military,” Linsay Rousseau Burnett, who served as a communication specialist with a brigade combat team in Iraq, told the Times. “Before, they didn’t have the option.” According to the Times, sixty-six women have been killed in combat, and 620 have been wounded, and “some women have come home bearing the mental and physical scars of bombs and bullets, loss and killing.”  They “appear to suffer rates of post-traumatic stress disorder comparable to those of men.”


America appears to have shrugged off these costs rather nonchalantly; after all, the country’s at war. “Despite longstanding fears about how the public would react to women coming home in coffins, Americans have responded to their deaths and injuries no differently than to those of male casualties, analysts say.”


As an aside, the Times mentions a couple of minor glitches. “In addition to the dangers, military life is grueling in other ways, especially for mothers juggling parenting and the demands of the military, which require long absences from home.” To say nothing of the children who suddenly are motherless, either temporarily due to mom’s deployment, or permanently due to her death.


So, why has America chosen to expose its women to combat? Is combat just another job opportunity that should be open to women? Why do we let mothers leave home, fight, die, and render their children orphans? Are we really so callous as to lack outrage at wives and mothers and daughters and sisters coming home in body bags or crippled or maimed?


As a nation, do we want our children raised by mothers with an overriding responsibility to go to war to kill and be killed? Do we want our children raised by women who have killed? Well, yes. American women have killed their children by the millions through abortion, and those same women have raised countless other children.


America’s decision to permit abortion also resolved the question of whether it would send its women to war. If a woman has the right to kill her child in her womb, why shouldn’t she also kill in combat? “Fifty-three percent of the respondents in a New York Times/CBS News poll in July, said they would favor permitting women to ‘join combat units, where they would be directly involved in the ground fighting.’”


Bitch, slut, or dyke? What a choice America gives its women. This coarsening of America and its women has come at great cost to the value we place on women and motherhood. The Times nevertheless insists that, “Women in today’s military … preserve their femininity without making much of it.” The lone example the Times cites of this preserved femininity is perversely ironic: a pink feminine urinary director, described by one woman warrior as “something that’s like a beer bong that I can hold in place so I can pee standing up without pulling my pants down.”


Nor has the military’s eager embrace of women escaped gays, who clamor for similar treatment. “They made it work with women, which is more complicated in some ways, with sex-segregated facilities and new physical training standards,” says David Stacy of the Human Rights Campaign, a gay lobby. “If the military could make that work with good discipline and order, certainly integrating open service of gay and lesbians is within their capability.” After all, if pregnancy was the biggest fear when women were introduced to war, why worry about gays? If sterile sex is the desired norm, why exclude those who are openly gay?CW

James G. Bruen, Jr. writes frequently for Culture Wars.

This article was published in the October 2009 issue of Culture Wars.

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