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All the Warring Ladies

November 8, 2011

I’ve got a piece up at The Atlantic today about women in war and peace in which I argue that we need to incorporate gender analysis and awareness into our narratives of war. Two things I wanted to address in companion:

First, there’s a paragraph missing. It’s my fault – I sent it to my editor far too late for inclusion – but I wanted to put it out there, because I left out the obvious: women in the line of fire*.

 In addition to the FETs in Afghanistan, women are combatants in many conflicts, where their contributions and struggles often go unacknowledged during combat and untreated afterwards. More American women soldiers have served in Iraq than in all wars since World War II, a significant achievement for gender equality in the miliary. But female veterans suffer unemployment, depression, and divorce rates that are significantly higher than the overall veteran population, and the Department of Veterans Affairs has only recently started directly soliciting women veterans’ input on how to improve their services. At the other end of the spectrum, up to 40 percent of child soldiers are girls. Female child soldiers endure the same terrible experiences that boys do, with the added trauma of sexual slavery and attendant health issues, but they are often overlooked during and after combat.

Anyway, I’ve been beating myself up about leaving this out, so here it is.

* and  yeah, we can get into the semantics of how women are or aren’t in combat, but it’s semantics and we all know that.


The other thing I wanted to address is a little touchier (as if that were possible!). I’m trying not to be cynical, but the truth is that I expect it’ll predominantly be women who read and care about this. And that enrages me.

We’ve bought into the self-reinforcing narrative that stories about women are only of interest to women, while stories about men are of interest to men and women alike. Of course, that’s how we get so many stories about women that focus on our love lives rather than on our accomplishments. And that’s how we get comments like this one that popped up in my twitter feed last night (which I’m leaving anonymous because I’m not trying to call out this particular individual – I’m merely using this as the way in which men can unthinkingly devalue women’s stories through off-hand remarks):

What? Seriously? You’re worried that your Twitter feed cares about women’s accomplishments? Come on. Don’t play that game. Don’t devalue anybody’s accomplishments like that. Some of the women honored are in fields you don’t care about, but then there’s Arianna Huffington and the Bush women and Gabby Giffords and Esraa Abdel Fattah and these women do not deserve your dismissal. You may argue with what they do, but do not be dismissive towards them just because they’re women. That’s what patriarchy looks like.

So if you skipped clicking that link above, click it. Read it. I promise it’s not a boo-hoo story about uteruses. It’s about incredible people – because women are people too – doing incredible things in incredibly bad situations.

Also, watch Women, War, and Peace. Seriously. If you don’t have time for all of it, make time for War Redefined and I Came to Testify and Pray the Devil Back to Hell. Really. They’re worth it.

And if you feel compelled to tell me I’m being too sensitive, I’d ask you to read this first, then go ahead.

  1. November 12, 2011 11:15 pm

    “We’ve bought into the self-reinforcing narrative that stories about women are only of interest to women, while stories about men are of interest to men and women alike”—This comment is so sadly true. On my Facebook feed a guy wrote “I’m embarrassed to say it but I really liked Bridesmaids [the movie].” All I could think was, come on, “dude!” It’s a MOVIE, it’s a COMEDY, it’s not supposed to be gender-specific. So what if the main characters were girls? Should that mean that only women want to watch a movie with a female protagonist??

    Your post rocked, by the way. 🙂

    • November 13, 2011 9:57 am

      It’s the off-handedness of the remarks that makes it so pernicious. That sort of comment reinforces among its audience that even though this one person is breaking gender norms by enjoying this female-focused movie, it’s shameful, deviant behavior that other men shouldn’t engage in unless they too want to be embarrassed. At the same time, it’s such a throw-away remark, how can you possibly call somebody out for it without seeming like you’re taking things just a little too seriously? It’s a bind.

      And thank you!


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