Monday, November 3, 2008
G.I. Jane in Iraq
Somewhere there's a doctoral thesis waiting to be written on Hollywood and the rehabilitation of war in the post-Vietnam era. I'd suggest that G.I. Jane represents the culmination of a trend that began with Officer and a Gentleman and Taps, fully integrating the third wave feminist movement into the military code of honor and combat. I mention it only because by some odd coincidence, I watched G.I. Jane (overdubbed into French) on the tÚlÚ last night, only to stumble across this Army Times review of a new PBS documentary, "Lioness" (on women who have served in combat roles in Iraq) this morning. As the review and documentary make clear, despite regulatory codes to the contrary, G.I. Jane's central conceit about the exclusion of women from career-enhancing combat roles is increasingly anachronistic.
It's a transformation of the role of women in the military that's being determined by facts on the ground and the particularities of a counterinsurgency with no front lines, a form of "Don't look, don't tell" in the place of "Don't ask, don't tell." The danger here isn't that women will degrade operational capabilities, because by all accounts there's no evidence that they do. It's that because this issue is flying under the radar with no national discussion, problems of sexual harassment and violence directed at women soldiers in the combat zone aren't being systematically addressed.
There's also the fact that in the absence of any systematic policy, or rather in the systematic disregard for stated policy, the ad hoc solutions for women in combat will not address some of the imbalances in terms of career advancement, nor guarantee that the most qualified soldiers find their rightful role. Of course, that's always a problem in the military, but it helps when there's a solid code on which to base any claims, as opposed to statutory restrictions that undermine them.
Cross-posted to World Politics Review.