Monday, March 9, 2009

Women on the front lines

When we talk about U.S. military engagement, the history we receive is typically one-sided with a very distinct gender bias. The idea that men fight wars and men win wars is part of our accepted culture. In American society, our culturally assigned gender roles create a huge amount of discomfort and debate regarding the issue of women serving in the military. When a girl’s first toy is a Barbie and a boy’s first toy is a G.I. Joe, is it any surprise that much of society doesn’t feel confident in a woman’s ability to serve in the military?

However you feel about this issue, it can’t be denied that women are crucial to our current military engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan, with women making up almost 15 percent of the force in Iraq. According to the Department of Defense, one in every seven American troops in Iraq is female.

As part of Women’s History Month, MPT recently aired “Lioness,” a 90-minute Independent Lens documentary that told the stories of five women who served in Iraq between September 2003 and August 2004.

They all part of Team Lioness, a group of female support soldiers who performed a range of different duties during their tours in Iraq. Major Kate Guttormsen and Captain Anastasia Breslow were involved in communications work, Specialist Shannon Morgan and Staff Sergeant Ranie Ruthig served as mechanics, and Specialist Rebecca Nava was a supply clerk. Under official U.S policy, these women are not allowed to serve in direct ground combat, however, they are tested daily in a war where the front line is a shadowy and uncertain concept.

Captain Anastasia Breslow writes about the danger she faced in her diary:

“The last raid I went on was truly dangerous. I remember after we set up and stayed at the checkpoint until dawn, the prayers had ended sometime ago. Then suddenly a man came over the loudspeaker again saying something. The last part I caught allah jihad something jihad something. Then all hell broke loose. About a hundred meters from us. I remember I was about to ask the marines I was with if they thought they heard the same jihad too. There was no time for that. We hopped into the truck and started zipping around the outskirts of the battle trying to block the enemy from escaping or reinforcing. I was dismounted and took a position. Stray bullets flew around but I didn’t see where they were coming from. The area was too saturated with marines to just fire blindly. It was good four hours of straight fighting. I saw my first dead boy that day. Three Iraqis actually.

I still can’t believe that I was in a firefight. Me, a female signal officer, someone expected to support from a desk was out there. Strangely, the only woman I was out there because I was a female. They needed a Lionness team so badly, and so many, that even as a support officer I was pulled in. I hope I don’t have to do them very often but I will never try to get out of it.”

Similarly the filmmakers, Meg McLagan and Daria Summers describe the problems with women not being recognized as combatants. They fear that women like Captain Breslow will be unable to move up the military hierarchy, and may not receive all the proper veterans benefits that they should be entitled to.

If you didn’t catch Lioness, check out the clips below:

How do you feel? Should women serve on the front lines of the U.S. military? Have you or do you know any women that have served or are serving in Iraq?

Jordan Weinberg
Institutional Advancement intern


Anonymous said...

I think it's a sad reflection on our society that people want women in combat. It's bad enough that families are losing their fathers to the military, they don't need to lose their mothers too.

Anonymous said...

My sister is a Marine that has served as a Lioness as was in firefights. Women are in combat so the question is somewhat. They do need however lift the "official" ban on women in direct combat units.

Anonymous said...

I totally disagree. The US is at a point in our history where we have a black president...Why is it so bad that we put our soldiers on the front line regardless of if they have a vagina or a penis? Although we may be slightly physiologically different, girls who enlist should be able to fight on the front lines as much as the guys...

plus if we put girls on the front lines, they can't get their balls blown to pieces like guys can!

Anonymous said...

I believe that women should have the chocie whether or not to be on the frontline. i mean they go into the marines knowing that they may serve on the frontline but if the choose a job that does require them to be on the frontline then dont put them, just like men choose certain fields so that they dont be on the frontline but near the action.