Wednesday, November 19, 2008

On "Lioness" - Comments from a Friend

"Very few things leave me speechless, even temporarily. But I had to absorb the "Lioness" film for a day or two before I could try to articulate my thoughts and feelings about it. None of my initial impressions have changed, only deepened. I am increasingly awed by these women. As I am by any soldier who can function in a hostile and deadly situation. But the Lioness team did this with less training, less support, less mental preparation. That makes them braver and tougher in my book!

By the end of the film, the indignation had changed to outrage and anger. I was working right up to a slow boil. "How COULD they?" was the main idea in my head. Of course I should be used to the way that large organizations work. And soldiers are expected to put their lives on the line. But to ask them to do so without training and preparation is surely inhuman and criminal. In fact it was pointed out time and again that it was, in fact, against regulations to have them in those situations. But none of the people responsible for putting them there seemed willing to go a step further and make sure they had the necessary training. Because that was against the rules. WHAT??? There were far more people than Shannon Morgan's squad leader who needed a kick in the balls!

Evidently the commanders were able to recognize that the Lioness team members were important to these missions, rules or no rules. But they could write that off as something that "just happened". To train them properly would have been a blatant violation of the regs, and none of these leaders were willing to take that step. So they just let these soldiers go into combat situations without the information they needed. I listened to one woman talk about how she had to ask someone in her group how to operate some of the equipment and weapons. Another mentioned that she had not been briefed on the route and would have had no idea how to get back to command post if separated from the others. Impossible to lay all the blame on the commanders in the field, however, when it was clear that right up the chain of command and even to Congress, the People In Charge knew that this was happening.

Yesterday after we got back from a trail ride, I spent some time looking up articles about the Lioness missions and other information about women serving in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, etc. Over and over again it was pointed out that if the military followed the current policy on women in combat, it would seriously compromise their ability to function in some of these areas. Any reasonable person would think that the obvious answer would be to get that policy changed. Obviously women can function very well in combat situations. In fact, you can evidently send them into combat without the preparation necessary for men, and they will do a spectacular job. Also obviously, they are willing to do this for their team, their country. In other words, for us! So... I'm thinking of the phrase "ready, willing, and able". They are willing and MORE than able. The only thing missing is "ready". The only thing missing is the one step that these women can't perform for themselves.

I fear that the underlying misogyny in US culture has a part to play in this. Congressional members said repeatedly that "the American people" do not want women in combat. Why not? I'm an American, and personally I don't want anyone in combat. I agree that it's a horrible idea for a young woman to be shot, blown up, emotionally traumatized, or otherwise mangled in mind and body. Equally horrible to me if it were a young man. On the surface it sounds as if US citizens have a soft, protective attitude toward their women, doesn't it? But that is flatly contradicted by the amount of violent crimes committed against women here. Crimes not only poorly investigated and under-prosecuted, but often shrugged off as regrettable but sort of normal. The indifferent and sexist attitudes of our workplaces, our medical system, our law enforcement, our religious communities, our military, and very often our families, are pretty clear indicators that far from being respectful and protective of our women, we as a society are dismissive of their concerns as well as their contributions. The current policy concerning women in combat is an extension of that. After all, women can already vote, own property, file lawsuits, run corporations, etc. If they can also take part in armed combat, be afforded the same respect that a male soldier deserves, what grounds do we have for considering them the weaker and inferior sex? Well, we wouldn't have. And I think that may be the root of the problem. The American people don't want women in combat. For the most part they also don't want them in law enforcement, NASCAR races, CEO offices or other places traditionally occupied by men. However, if they do manage, against all odds and with far greater challenges than any man faces, to get into these roles, they are afforded a grudging amount of respect. So do we see these Lioness soldiers, taking part in missions alongside soldiers who have better training and better preparation, but still able to make an equal contribution. They aren't getting 1/1000th of the credit they deserve.

At one point in the film, some of the women were watching news clips of missions they had participated in. Over and over you hear the newscasters mention the bravery, skill, heroism of the "men" involved. The look on the women's faces was so painful to watch. They were there too, but they were deliberately, and in my mind cruelly, left out of the "recognition and admiration" part. For what it's worth, they have my wholehearted admiration. And a world of outrage on their behalf."

-- Melissa


Anonymous said...

OK. So I don't even know what the hell Lioness is. Crawling back under my rock now.

Sojack said...

Scroll down two posts. Voila!