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Michigan Feminist Studies 53

Amy Garey
Why is the Cook on the Radio?
Warrior Women and Welfare Mothers
in the American Armed Forces

While captaining the USCGC Aquidneck in the Northern Arabian Gulf,

Coast Guard Lieutenant Commander, Bronze Star holder, and veteran
Holly Harrison claims that captured Iraqis would hear her voice giving
orders through the crews walkie-talkies and ask, Why is the cook on the
radio? (16). Lt. Cmdr. Harrison contrasts these local sentiments with those
of her loyal crew. But such back-in-the-kitchen misogynism looks downright affectionate when compared to what many female service members
faceand the threat comes from their comrades-in-arms rather than enemy
combatants. Christy Clothier writes, I left the Navy because I knew I
would never feel safe or be able to protect myself from the people I was
forced to work with (Bowden and Cain 2009: 122). In 2008 there were
2,908 reports of sexual assault among active duty members, to say nothing
of their actual incidence (Mulhal 2009: 6). Women are far more likely to
be raped by fellow service members than wounded by insurgents.1
Yet others, like four star general Ann Dunwoody, lead long, positive military
careers (Clemmit 2009: 959). Even disenchanted ex-Republican poet
Rachel Vigil calls her service the best miserable time I ever had (Bowden
and Cain 2009: 143). Conflicting accounts of female personnel as heroes
and victims do not so much exist on a continuum of images as a mosaic.
Since the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan began in 2003, only 124 women have died
and 659 have been wounded. The death toll for men is 5,175; 35,705 have been wounded
(Statistical Information Analysis Division 2010).

54 Why is the Cook on the Radio?

These experiences, enriching and damaging both, mirror those of male
veterans. Women now also gain job skills, pull themselves out of poverty,
and earn medals. They also shoot to kill, lose limbs, and suffer PTSD.
Score one for equality. The issue of women in the military bumps up
against some of the limits of applying identical rules to male and female
bodiesa problem scholars of workplace rights have long wresteled
with (Littleton 1997; Scott 1997; Williams 1997). But it does so amidst
discourses of power, sexuality, aggression, and violence. Should pregnant
soldiers be court marshaled for jeopardizing military readiness? Does
menstruation disqualify one from combat? When is equal opportunity
at odds with national security? I argue that warfare, as a physical arena,
allows us to examine where gender ideologies and the realities of sexual
differentiation intersect, as well as how media representations legitimate
violence, condone exclusion, and reproduce normative sex roles. My aim
here is not to argue either for or against women serving in the armed forces.
Instead, I trace how the tropes of women as warriors, victims, and contaminants emerge in portrayals of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I conclude
by assessing the implications of brute biological facts for feminist political
Ready to kill: women warriors
who felt screams
welling in her throat, the sound of tons
of steel
as the world
went silent
who saved a man twice her size
and only in so doing
--Khadijah Queen, excerpt from 35 x 36 (in Bowden and Cain 2008: 65)
Since this paper concerns media representations of women at war rather than their actual
experiences, I include first-hand accounts primarily in footnotes and epigraphs. I offer
their quotes not as evidence, but in order to aknowledge female servicemembrs voices
while writing about the writing about women in the armed forces.

Michigan Feminist Studies 55

Women now make up 11% of our deployed forces and 15% of the American
armed forces overall (Mulhal 2009). While they are barred from positions
for which direct ground combat [is the] primary mission (DACOWITS
2006), women have won purple hearts and silver and bronze stars for their
service in the War on Terror (Wise and Baron 2006). The Lionesses,
volunteer women who are assigned rather than attached to combat units
(since that is illegal), appear in the press as tough she-warriors. Recent
headlines include: US Women Fight to Soldier On in Iraq; Battleground:
Female Soldiers in the Line of Fire; and Quietly Breaking the Combat
Barrier (Hinkley 2008; Lee 2008; Alvarez 2009). Female pilots are also
allowed to engage the enemy since their fights take place above ground.
The Washington Times profiled one such Marine in the article, Ready
to Kill: AH-1 Super Cobra pilot Katie Horner has blasted the enemy with
missiles and a three-barrel 20mm turreted cannon. Being a woman hasnt
made her any less lethal (Henderson 2008). As Staff Sgt. Ranie Ruthig
noted in the PBS documentary Lioness, Weve had grenades thrown at us,
shooting at us with AK-47s. Its a fight-or-flight thing. When someone is
shooting at you, you dont say, Stop the war, Im a girl (Lee 2008). The
last seven years have afforded American women the opportunity and the
obligation to prove themselves in battle as never before.
Much like coverage of men, media accounts of female bravery tend to end
with either victory, a wounded but smiling vet, or a funeral (Wise and
Baron 2006; Roberts 2008; Tyson 2009). But articles about women also
include an additional outcome: motherhood. For example, Pfc. Theresa
Broadwell Grace earned a Bronze Star and the Purple Heart for her service
in Iraq before returning to the states due to cardiac trouble. Her story,
though, ends with domestic bliss.
At present she is at Fort Campbell, assigned to Echo Company,
the rear detachment company, while she recovers. She delivered
a son early in April 2006. She will remain in the Army if the
medical board allows. If not, Ill be a stay-at-home mom. Or
I might go back to school, and teach elementary school (Wise
and Baron 2006: 22).

56 Why is the Cook on the Radio?

In contrast, most stories of male valor (for those who live) end either on the
battlefield or at an awards ceremony. Key differences between accounts
of male and female bravery can be pinpointed using Labovs fivepart
typology of a narrative: the abstract, orientation, complicating action,
resolution, and evaluation (1972). The abstract summarizes the story to
follow; the orientation describes the setting; the complicating action interrupts the flow of everyday life; the resolution gives the outcome of the
unexpected event; and the evaluation is the moral of the story. While
Labovs research dealt with personal experiences, this basic framework
also maps onto other narrative genres, such as newspaper articles. A sideby-side comparison of the salient points of male vs. female battle narratives
reveals variation in their conclusionsdifferences that re-entrench gender
ideology rather than granting women battle equivalence. In the examples
below, Pfc. Michelle Loftus Fischer and Staff Sgt. Linsey Clarke both survive
bombings. But the place of those attacks in their lives more broadly is
different for Loftus Fischer (female) than it is for Clarke (male).

One substantive difference between the two narratives on page 57 is that
Loftus Fischer was wounded while Clarke saved others. The evaluation
section of her story could not, therefore, focus on personal heroism. But
the action of both stories takes place on the battlefield, the complication
is an enemy attack, and the resolution falls into the three outcomes noted
above: heroism, injury, or death. The main contrast between these two
tales is in their evaluationthe take-away significance. For Clarke, as for
male patriots generally, the point is simply that they were brave. Women,
though, get their heroism cast as a side-note to the real work of marriage
and childrearing, even among those, like Pfc. Theresa Broadwell Grace,
who were still on active duty when the pieces were written. There are, of
course, plenty of stories about female valor that do not mention husbands
and children (cf. Henderson 2008; Alvarez 2009; Spartanburg Herald
2009). But the fact remains that a happily ever after theme sometimes
emerges in narratives about women and virtually never does in those
about men. Stories about men instead end with statements such as, Sgt.
Tomlin remains humble (Holbert 2009); Over the next 11 months Lt.
Kinard became an inspiration to all who came in contact with him

Michigan Feminist Studies 57

Pfc. Michele Loftus Fischer

Staff Sgt. Linsey Clarke

(What is this story about?)

That day in July, it was Fischer

who needed [medical services].

the Special Forces junior

medic from Staunton, Va.,
risked his life to aid severely
wounded comrades in an
insurgent ambush in February.


It was a day much like every other

since theyd crossed into
IraqHer unit, the 581st Area
Medical support company, was
preparing to depart Iraq.

Army Staff Sgt. Linsey W.

Clarke was on his first
deployment to Afghanistan,
and under fire for only the
second time

Complicating action
(Then what?)

"We were on our way back, about

five minutes from the gate, when
the explosion happened."

A massive roadside bomb

ripped into the team's rear
vehicle, setting it ablaze and
fatally wounding three
servicemen. Insurgents then
attacked t rocket-propelled
grenades and heavy gunfire.

(Final action)

Fishers injuries were severe.

Clarke ran through a barrage

of gunfire to the vehicle,
finding Staff Sgt. Eric
Engelhardt lying near the
wreckage...He then ran back
100 yards through gunfire to
aid other wounded.

(Storys ultimate point)

They have a four-month-old

daughter, Sydney, and hope to
move to Wyoming after her
husband ends his military service
in 2008 (Wise and Baron 2006:

Sergeant Clarke's actions on

20 February went well above
and beyond the call of duty,"
according to an official military
narrative of the action. "He
repeatedly faced imminent
danger and at no point did he
show any regard for his
personal safety (Tyson 2009).

58 Why is the Cook on the Radio?

(Roberts 2008); By the time the battle ended, the Green Berets and the
commandos had suffered 15 wounded and two killed, both Afghans, while
an estimated 150 to 200 insurgents were dead (Tyson 2008). Future plans
are not mentioned at all, as the point is either what happened on the front
or the long road to recovery. I have yet to see a phrase like, After completing this tour, Navy Seal John Smith plans to become a father. Wives
most often appear as widows (Roberts 2008; St. Petersburg Times 2009).
So even warrior narratives reinscribe ideologies of the maternal. Men
attack, women protect.3 And the willingness to sever bonds with children
to go to war lends soldier-mothers moral gravitas, as this example from
Newsweek illustrates:
Bohrer wonders if there will come a time when the costs of
her military career become too great. But she says she cannot
imagine living her life any other way. She thinks she can be a
good mother and a good officer. I believe her. I envy her deep
sense of duty and her conviction that she can make the world a
better place for her child. I dont envy the emotional farewell
she is facing. For the next year, when I tuck my daughter into
bed, I will think of Major Bohrer, and the day she can again do
the same for her daughter (Deveney 2009).
Mandi Bohrers husband, whose name we dont learn, was being deployed
at the same time. In fact, both parents would be gone for a year, with
grandparents stepping in to care for the children. But Deveney does not
focus on the fathers absence. His is expected. According to Elaine
Donnelly, President of the Center for Military Preparedness, Anyone
can drive a truck. A child needs his mother (Henderson 2008).

Terri Hurley, Army veteran who served in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Somalia: No, the
album must remain hidden, a memory of a time before baseball practice and family camping trips, when my maternal urges were satisfied by personally delivering to my soldiers
their letters from home (in Bowden and Cain 2008: 58).

Michigan Feminist Studies 59

Female sacrifice in wartime is not new (Elshtain 1987: 186). Women
sent their sons to war, stone-faced and broken-hearted, and picked up the
plows left behind by their husbands. But the idea of mothers themselves
killing adds legitimacy to warfare for two reasons. First, it plays upon
familiar tropes of women as guardians. Real lionesses, like other female
animals, kill without compunction if their young are threatened. The
unimpeachable rationale of a mothers right to violence softens wartime
grisle. Second, mothers get deference 19-year-old men on testosterone
kicks do not (even if highly trained soldiers). Mandi Bohrers patriotism
is amplified by the fact that she left her own young to act as protectress of
worse-off Iraqi children and, concurrently, the American homeland. If a
woman is willing to abandon her family, the implicit claim goes, war must
really be worth fighting. Regardless of whether the conflicts themselves
are justified, statements like, We tell [our daughter] were going to help
other boys and girls who live in Afghanistan sanction violence ipso facto
(Deveney 2009).
Forty percent of active duty female service members have children (Mulhal 2009). Fifty percent marry other current or former military personnel (Henderson 2008), and, as the case of the Bohrers proves, it is tough
to raise a family with dual deployments. One partner, likely the mother,
would need to cease service. But male veterans become fathers, too, a fact
rarely deemed significant in press coverage. Soldier moms make great
human interest fodder because they confound our expectations. The life/
death conflict of nurturers turning killers hooks readers, driving the story
and selling the war.

Why is the cook pregnant? Narratives of victimization

Soon after, I am not promoted. I am unsure if this
is related to the pen or the complaint that me and

three nurses filed on you, the senior officer, who
thought groping us would better acquaint you
with the female troops. When you moved up from

60 Why is the Cook on the Radio?

Captain to Major, three of us left the military
and a fourth was sent to glacial Alaska.
Penance, a friend of cold places
Yes, Sir!
From Yes, Sir by Elizabeth Keough McDonald
(in Bowden and Cain 2008: 78)

Women rarely appear as victims at the hands of enemy combatants. The

wounded are warriors (Loeb 2003). Instead, narratives of victimization
arise when women are wronged by the military itself (just like male veterans). John McCain is a hero, but homeless vets, those without adequate
health care, and hazing targets are victims. Just as there was overlap but
notable divergence in representations of female vs. male valor, images
of female victims in the armed services include issues largely unique to
women: maternity and sexual violence.
Most overseas deployments last less than a year, but the nine months of
pregnancy are only the beginning of parenthoods lifetime sentence. Major
General Tony Cucolo, commander of all U.S. forces in Iraq, devised additional punishment. In November 2009 he announced that deployed troops
who become pregnant or cause a service member to become so could face
courts martial and jail time (Spillius 2009). A coalition of Democratic
senators decried the rule, saying, We can think of no greater deterrent
to women contemplating a military career than the image of a pregnant
woman being severely punished simply for conceiving a child (Boxer et
al. 2009). Major General Tony Cucolo responded, The message to my
female soldiers is they are absolutely invaluable. I need them for the entire duration of this deployment. My female soldiers are some of my most
brilliant and I do not want to lose anyone (World News 2009). Now there
are more women in the military, they make up a larger percentage of total
forces, and they fill more occupations. Hence the threat of court martial.
Cucolos reasoning was that a personal choice to have sex (which is, in
any case, prohibited in combat), if it takes one out of commission, should

Michigan Feminist Studies 61

be addressed. This is consistent with other policieson bodily comportment.
For example, one soldier told of someone being disciplined for getting
sunburned on leave: And the commander said, you were not given permission to get a sunburn and take you out of active duty. And, of course,
they just gave him a letter of reprimand, but they said, we own your body
(Talk of the Nation 2009). An 18-year-old female Marine is required to
hold a flexed-harm hang for 15 seconds, complete 50 stomach crunches in
two minutes, and run three miles in 31 minutes (Department of the Navy
2008: 24). Their limbs are assigned tasks not of their choosing. Immunizations are compulsory, too. Service members have neither bodily autonomy
or integrity. But what are the disparate implications of the militarys
ownership of female bodies?
The sharpest differences concern reproductive health. Despite the threat
of punitive action for becoming pregnant, the military is not required to
provide women with birth control pills or emergency contraception. As
General Cucolo said in an interview with ABC News, Its notwe dont
providewe do not provide any abortive services to our soldiers. Its just
notthat morning-after pill, nothingtheres nothing like that here (Talk
of the Nation 2009). As long as sex does not result in pregnancy men face
few consequences. Women functionally bear all the responsibility for pregnancy yet get limited access to the contraception that would prevent it.4
Another military maternity controversy hit the news recently, too, when a
woman was arrested for failing to deploy because she had no one to care
for her 10-month old son. On January 13, 2010, the Army charged Alexis
Hutchinsonwho is a 21-year-old cookwith missing her overseas flight,
being absent without leave, dereliction of duty, and insubordinate conduct
(Bynum 2009). Just days before she was scheduled to leave, Hutchinsons
mother decided she could not care for an infant. Hutchinson stayed home
Anonymous soldier: That is one gripe that I do haveI still dont understand why when a
woman says, Listen, I am going to be deployed for over six to nine months so please give
a full years supply rather than the traditional three months [she does not get it] (Wardell
and Czerwinski 2001: 191).

62 Why is the Cook on the Radio?

when her detachment shipped out rather than risk having her child placed
in foster care. The maximum penalty if shes convicted is two years in
prison and dishonorable discharge (Bynum 2009; Bynum 2010).
Over 30,000 single mothers have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan (Mulhal
2009: 4). In response, Elaine Donnelly has denounced misguided recruiting
priorities that serve as a magnet for single mothers (2009: 973). Our
military needs courageous female volunteers, she wrote, but the Army
should not rely on legions of single women and mothers to fight our nations
wars (Donnelly 2010). Such rhetoric spawns fears that welfare queens
will infiltrate the armed services in droves, get pregnant again to avoid
deployment, and stick taxpayers with the bill for paid leave. In response
to congressional condemnation of General Cucolos policies, one columnist
asked, Do any of these liberal senators ever lift their sights enough to
recognize that an army is not a social welfare agency? (Charen 2010).
Race and class issues are as much at work here as sex. The ideological
baggage of the (black) welfare mother draining the honorable armed forces
little to do with physical ability to serve.
Both the Cucolo debacle and the Alexis Hutchinson saga concern conflicts
between job and maternity long faced by civilian employers. They are just
more complicated in the military. A lawyer who misses work because of
morning sickness may be entitled to come back without penalty. But a
specialist on a team in Afghanistan must have her duties covered by an
already-strained team. Civilian single mothers can pay for childcare
during their shifts; soldiers cede their children altogether, for a time. The
fact that only women can get pregnant (Encyclopedia Britannica 2010)
binds service and body in ways men do not face. Women may have to do
push-ups, but do their superiors also get to dictate when and whether they
give birth? Historically, women have fared badly when national security
trumps all. Ceausescus regime in Romania criminalized birth control
in the name of preserving the nation (Gal and Kligman 2000: 22-23).
Conversely, women in Uzbekistan have reported coerced sterilizations in
order to bring population figures down (Najibullah 2010).5 Nightmarish,

Michigan Feminist Studies 63

Patriot-Act-of-the-womb hypotheticals aside, current policies to end
deployments for pregnant service members are designed to protect the
health of mother and child. Serving in the military is voluntary, and women
and men both are disallowed from service because they physically cannot
carry out their duties. But the costs to women in terms of career advancement and family planning are worth examining.
The second predominant representation of female service members as
victims is in terms of sexual violence. Press coverage, while exposing
shameful behavior, nonetheless supports the idea that women have a right
to serve as respected, fully enfranchised individuals. These articles extol
female service members virtues, highlight their contributions, and bemoan
their brutal betrayals (Muhammad 2008; Henderson 2009; Myers 2009).6
The fact that rape in the military gets media coverage at all is progress.
Further, the mainstream press does not forward she had it coming to her
sentiments.7 And congressional assessment of rape in the military deems
assault prevention a top priority. Attacks interfere with operations, hurt
expensively-trained individuals, and hamper recruiting (Hillman 2009;
Tierney 2009). Strangely, the discourses that place women in the forsaken
victim role illustrate the achievements of feminist movements over the
The satirical paper The Onion provides another example: The tactical importance of
Jessica Lindens uterus to national security is twofold: First, with its rich, fertile walls, this
uterus is a vital source of future Americans. Second, the uterus is situated in an extremely
strategic location, leaving it vulnerable to a hostile foreign power. This uterus must be
given top priority by the Pentagon. Establishing a strong U.S. military presence in Jessica
Lindens uterine region is by far the most sensible course of action. (Point Counterpoint:
U.S. Out of My Uterus vs. We Must Deploy Troops To Jessica Lindens Uterus Immediately.
September 22, 1999. Available at Downloaded February 9, 2010).

Dr. Donna Dean, who served in the Navy from 1963-1981: While in the Navy I was raped
repeatedly and impregnated once, and went through a humiliating and degrading process
to abort (in Bowden and Cain 2008: 124)

However, Marie de Young, a former Army chaplain, does. Commenting on the Tailhook
scandal, she dismissed harassment as, the result of Lt. Coughlins choice to attend a convention that was renowned for its unseemly rituals (2001: 152).

64 Why is the Cook on the Radio?

last 40 years at least as much as battle narratives. Both function to define
careers in the armed forces as an appropriate choice. And the latter break
silence about violence. But were still battling conceptions of women as
defective men. Portrayals of women as weaklings, pollutants, and leaky
vessels (Paster 1993) pervade discussions about military women, as the
next section demonstrates.

Impurity and danger: women as contaminants

I woke up every morning covered with dirt, with dirt
boogers and dirt drymouth.
Sharon Allen, Iraq veteran (in Bowden and Cain 2008: 34)

Mary Douglas defines dirt as matter out of place. Similarly, the idea
of women in combat puts many ill at ease, like silverware in the toolbox,
ink cartridges in the fridge, or garbage on the floor (48). Thats just not
where it belongs. With much the same befuddlement as the Iraqis who
struggled to fit Lt. Cmdr. Holly Harrison into their social schemes, a man
approached Cobra pilot Katie Horner and exclaimed, Youre a woman
flying an attack helicopter! (Henderson 2008). Spoons in the drawer,
anti-freeze in the garage, and women at homeor at least not in battle.
The aversion to women fighting parallels pollution behavior, which
Douglas defines as a reaction which condemns any object or idea likely
to confuse or contradict cherished classifications (48). Likewise, for some,
having women in the armed forces at all means that they are neglecting
their proper roles as mothers, teachers, and nurses (de Young 2001: 163).
The military is not where they belong. But by and large, contamination
discourses revolve around military readiness rather than protests about
public sphere participation.
One couldnt ask for better exemplars of purity and danger than the boogeyman image of menstruating women on a battlefield. Blood intentionally
spilled in combat is associated with power, masculinity, and honor. But
the involuntary flow of menses calls to mind the unclean, watery wantonness of women, likening our porousness to immorality and unreliability

Michigan Feminist Studies 65

(cf. Paster 1993: 25). Both pregnancy and hormonal cycles are dangerous
because they are seen as uncontrollable. Like a mortar attack or malaria
outbreak, you never know when estrogen will strike. Speaking as if of
casualties, legal scholar Kingsley Browne reports that, In the Navy, about
10 percent of women stationed aboard ships are lost to pregnancy each year
(2007: 246). Likewise, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich remarked,
Females have biological problems staying in a ditch for 30 days because
they get infections (Seelye 2005). In the latter case warfare contaminates women rather than the other way around, but still links women to
disease. Dis-orders upset military discipline.
Barring women from combat because of menstruation recalls prohibitions
forbidding women to enter churches, mosques, and temples, walk through
gardens, or prepare food. It associates women with illness, weakness, and
inefficiency. The problem is that the association is not untrue. Yeast
infections are caused and exacerbated when women cannot wash (Wardell
and Czerwinski 2001: 190). Pregnant soldiers, as illustrated above, are
not deployable. And women with severe cramping are not as alert. The
seemingly trivial question of how much an Army clerk can bench press
becomes paramount during an attack. Troops need upper-body strength
to haul water pumps long distances, carry wounded people to safety, and
hoist 50 pound artillery shells (Browne 2007: 66-67). Anyone not at their
physical peak in these situations endangers others. Unless they stop menses
with hormone pills, women will be at less than their best 4-7 days every
month. However, Colonel Lori Fenner argues that women face no more
inherent physical challenges than men in combat situations do. She even
maintains that men are proportionally (and numerically, of course) more
often nondeployable than women (2001: 13). Rather than join the tussle
about whether women should or should not fight, I introduce debates about
women in combat to test equality theory on limit cases.
The results make me queasy. The efficiency costs of womens reproductive
privileges can be used to argue that women cannot do anything as well
as men. Why hire a female surgeon over a male one if she is statistically

66 Why is the Cook on the Radio?

predisposed to distracting discomfort? Why hire a female editor if, as
ninety percent of women in America do (Freedman 2002: 185), she
will become pregnant and need time off? Laws like the 1986 Family and
Medical Leave Act and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act provide some
measure of protection against sex discrimination in civilian life. But when
someones job is to put their body in the service of the state and an embryo
incapacitates that instrument, they become a battlefield liability. Wendy
Williams wrote that, having dealt with the easy cases, we (feminists and
courts) are now trying to cope with issues that touch the hidden nerves
of our most profoundly embedded cultural values (1997: 697). But the
hardest cases for feminists to come to terms with are the ones that have to
do with nature, not culture. Culture can be changed, through legislation
or education. Biology is less tractable. Most women flat cant do as many
push-ups in a minute as most men. Women have babies; men do not. And
if units have to pick up the slack for females, they cannot execute missions,
stay safe, or guard others. This would all seem to indicate that women are
poor combatants. End of argument. This is precisely why many advocate
barring women from military service altogether.

That wont happen.

With an all-volunteer army, the U.S. cannot run wars without women. As
Colonel Fenner put it in an article title, Either You Need These Women
Or You Do Not (1998). They need them. The choice, then, is either to
change evaluative rubrics or alter womens relationship to them. Based on a
push-up per minute scale, women are inferior to men. But instead of physical limitations, how would it alter the discussion to think of capabilities
(cf. Nussbaum 2000)? Women may take longer leaves of absence. But
the armed services need bodies, and female bodies in particular. Female
soldiers can search Muslim women during raids and counsel rape victims
who would be loathe to confide in a foreign man (Zeigler and Gunderson
2005: 136).

Michigan Feminist Studies 67

However, many arguments about readiness concern social roles rather than
biological tendencies. Like a drop of oil on a soap bubble, it is said, just
having a woman in the room will rupture group cohesion. Kingsley Browne
writes, Although a small number of women possess the array of physical
and psychological traits required of war fighters, the presence of even a
few women in a combat unit can impair effectiveness in a variety of ways
(2007: 7). Cohesion breaches allegedly occur:

Because men will be attracted to women

Because women will be attracted to men

Because men will compete for women

Because men will protect women

Because women will accuse men of sexual harassment

Because men will fear sexual harassment suits

Because women simply do not fit in

(Browne 2007; de Young 2001; Donelly 2009)

In arguments such as these, the onus for sexual tension fallout is placed
on women. Rather than managing interpersonal dynamics, the solution
is to root out females, tumors on the body of patriarchy.8 Language used
to describe womens involvement in the service includes: compromise,
mitigate, jeopardize, impair, and dilute (Browne 2007; de Young 2001;
Donnelly 2010). These are words of degree, terms stressing the weakening
effect of women on otherwise hearty martial institutions. Pollution discourses
encourage exclusion of undesirables. Unfortunately, there is legal precedent
to single out women. It is legitimate to classify people by sex rather than
skill set provided that the division is substantially related to an important
government purpose (Williams 1997: 698). Everything the military does
meets this bright line. In the end, though, it may be womens strategic
importance that triumphs over sexism. The militarys challenge is to make
policy that works for women so that they may work for the country.
MGySgt. Rosemaire Weber, Marine and Iraq veteran: These young men actually did not
consider the gals in their unit/uniformed female members in the place to be women, they
were simply fellow Soldiers (Wise and Baron 2006: 62).

68 Why is the Cook on the Radio?

Conclusions: some are more equal than others

Most representations of women cited here fall prey to one of the traps of
equality rhetoric pointed out by Christine Littleton, in that they [locate]
difference in women, rather than in relationships (1997: 723). Often
judged either as men plus or men minus, womens abilities are viewed
as different from and inferior to mens (Williams 1997: 704). They might
lack the strength and stamina needed to carry a 70-pound rucksack on a
ten-mile road hike but are uniquely vulnerable to infection by progeny, to
borrow Vonneguts phrase. Thus, man is the default category and
woman is an aberration from this prototype. The idea of marking
one group as deviant in opposition to an unmarked standard comes
from Structuralist linguistic theory. For example, the Russian word for
donkey, osel, refers to all donkeys, male and female alike. But female
donkeys (like female students, teachers, and journalists) get their own
special, grammatically-marked term (oslica) (Caton 1987: 231-232).
Similarly, male Marines are simply Marines. Women have not traditionally been included in this blanket term, being called instead Women
Marines or WMs. But a recent recruiting advertisement in the womans
magazine Shape spoke directly to the disparity between full and secondclass status implied by these labels. In the ad a wiry, toned AfricanAmerican woman stands above a crowd of camo-clad young white men,
arm outstretched, clearly issuing an order. The text states, Wanted:
Leadership that Inspires Marines Under Your Command and Americans
Everywhere. There are no Female Marines. Only Marines (Shape 2010:
149). Distance from the WM label is one technique used to convince
female readers that they could advance in the Marines, as Marines.
Since biology bounds equality as sameness, the challenge is to find parity
through difference. One model for accomplishing this is to look at military
men, who dont all meet the same physical requirements. Fitness expectations are graded by age. The Marines divide people into the following

Michigan Feminist Studies 69

Group 1
Group 2
Group 3
Group 4


(Department of the Navy 2008: 24)

A 46-year-old man is not expected to run as fast as one who is 17. Neither
is a woman. Group 4, though, is not marked with respect to Group 1.
Forty-six year olds are not regarded as 17-year-olds minus. Male and
female could function the same way. We should aim for equality of
classification rather than physicial indistinguishability or sex-blind policy.
This requires not the obliteration of categories, at any rate impossible, but
their revaluation. Men and women, teenagers and the middle-aged, PhDs
and high-school dropouts contribute to the services in different ways.
Thinking about skill set in the context of limitations and capabilities would
de-link sex, gender ideology, and martial skill. Such an approach might
culminate in concrete policy objectives such asthe ability to try out for
the Special Forces,reasonable maternity leave, or access to birth control.
Arguing for the legitimacy of any of these, though, relies on central guiding
principles, a.k.a theory. The ability to talk about how gender roles get
constructed, valued, and redefined comes from the vocabulary of feminism.
That, I, think, is its contemporary significance. An overarching theme of
unmarkedness could direct todays politico-personal struggles and act as a
mechanism for evaluating equality rhetoric.
Equality, after all, has been the catch phrase of feminism. The first wave
fought for equal rights for women to vote and own property. Second-wave
feminists worked to end workplace discrimination. And the third wave
strove to create equal space for unequal agentsworking class, non-Western,
and minority women. As Adrienne Rich pointed out, feminism is not
singular (1986). Third World feminism, Islamic feminism, ecofeminism,
Chicanisma: these all shoot for equality in one sense or another. But equality
on what grounds, and for what purposes, varies. Can ecofeminism, which
preaches nonviolence, ever be compatible with a feminism that pushes

70 Why is the Cook on the Radio?

womens right to kill? Just like conservative, the term feminist implies
limited unity. Army Strong feminism is not that of the stereotypical white
suburbanites of the Vietnam era. But the concerns of those second-wave
forbearersfor reproductive, employment, and civil rightshave not been
fully resolved. The third waves emphasis on social location, however, is
expansive enough to include the priorities of M-4 toting soldiers, mothers
and killers, women who fight and sweat and grieve and bleed not just like
men but as the women they are. We dont need another term but we arent
post-feminist yet.

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