Despite a hidden history of female warriors, which in the U.S. dates to the Civil War if not prior, the image of women soldiers, with rifles in their hands and charging on the enemy, is novel for a lot of people. Academic and other writings indicate that 100s of women fought beside men during the Civil War, while disguised as men. For generations women have argued for front-line combat roles, and the career opportunities they bode. Those posts are vital high-profile promotions and careers.
How do we see women in combat? It’s usually in the movies or TV: I could remind you of and discuss combat films that remind us of and respect soldiers’ deeds. “Bourne On the Fourth of July,” “Saints and Soldiers” and “Jar Head,” which depict the aftermaths of the Vietnam, Second World and First Gulf wars, respectively, remind us of how combat affects soldiers.
But where are the women warriors on-screen? We’ve seen Jessica Biel in “Home of the Brave.” She portrays an amputee who survived an engagement in the Middle East. In “G.I. Jane” Demi Moore portrays an Alpha female who undergoes Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training. The story shows a test case for integrating women into that program. On TV one of their title characters in the Lifetime channel hit show Army Wives is Col. Joan Burton, a base commander.
While their on-screen stories are not abundant, there are probably a bevy of reasons: a major one might be the proportion of citizens who serve in the armed forces, or how many of those are women.
In true life, while women are 51 percent of the U.S. population, they are 20 percent of military. Less than one percent of American citizens are soldiers. While a lot of people may scratch their heads and raise their eye brows at the thought of women under fire, some women find and make homes and careers there.
There’s a telling line from “G.I. Jane” where the Senator who nominates her later says that polling shows male soldiers won’t know how to deal with a female comrade. “Corpsmen would linger over a fallen female,” when according to triage, they needed to move on to a soldier they could treat. I regret that YouTube may not have that clip.
Greater chronic, persistent, perplexing crises have made headlines about how the “old boy” military traditions and culture of the early 20th century after service women. There are news and documentary stories of the hardships: documentarian, Kirby Dick (director of “This Movie is Not Yet Rated,” about America’s movie rating system) is coming out with a film about a cultural epidemic of sexual assaults in the armed forces, “Invisible War,” on June 22.
Last Wednesday, two female U.S. Army reservists filed a lawsuit in order to finally permit women to serve in combat positions. Their bottom-line is that the ban limits “their current and future earnings, their potential for promotion and advancement, and their future retirement benefits.”
Women want to serve. But the military culture acts like it is of two minds and mouths. We haven’t yet seen on-screen or other stories where gender is an incidental element instead of a novel one. This, especially when those women, who have committed to a career, want to advance.