Strong female characters have been pervasive in American popular culture for decades. They star in movies, feature in comic books, are TV heroes, and are protagonists in thrilling novels. In some cases, their strength is supernatural in nature, but more commonly, they’re just portrayed as women imbued with male talents, spirit, and other qualities wrapped up in the package of a beautiful woman. Americans and other Westerners love these particular entertainments, and aren’t especially allowed to notice that they’re not plausible. The implausibility and falsity to life is often something that pop-culture fans love about it.
Because actual experience in the military has transitioned from something that marked the lives of entire generations of men at once into something that only a professional minority experiences, modern democratic societies have profoundly changed the relationship of their cultures to their military organizations. What used to distinguish democracies from the alternative was the concept of universal conscription on behalf of a popular government which obeyed the votes of all those men dying in the trenches for their nation.
Given this change, it’s easier for academics and journalists who primarily live in the land of language and imagination to then use their authority to conflate the imaginary world in which they live with the real social world that supports all that abstract thinking. The same people who live mostly in the world of popular culture become upset when they see segments of the real world that deviate from the idealized stories that they immerse themselves in.
The military, being mostly concerned with killing people and breaking things, still deviates from these popular stories in that the combat arms aren’t womanned by millions of grizzled she-lions who are eager to fertilize the grass with the blood of America’s enemies.
The people in the military tend to be more than willing to acquiesce (in stages) because they need to ask the people who shape the culture to support their requests for more money. And the military is quite expensive, with most of the costs going to pay for salaries and retirement benefits. In return for funding, the military needs to reform itself to appear to be more like the stories that our cultural leaders love so much. While it may be easier to pretend that men and women are the same in an office environment, it’s much easier to falsify gender equality in more physical pursuits.
Loosely Propped says
First visit to your site, recommended by a friend.
As recently retired military, I don’t quite concur with your assessment. Yes, women in our military is a farce, but it is a consequence of being a democratically controlled military, answerable to the whims of legislators. Social justice types have figured out that you can shove things down the throat of the military with relative ease, and then make them enforceable with the strictures of the military justice system. My last all-hands meeting before I retired was to unveil the Navy’s new policy regarding gays. In short, not only were they to be fully accepted, but to even say anything remotely anti-gay, a comment about someone being light in his loafers perhaps, was clearly to be met with military discipline.
They can get away with this because we are still able to defeat all comers not necessarily by our military ferocity and heart, but by leveraging technology and sheer material wealth to crush them. That, more than anything, leads all to assume we can integrate any sort of social-evolutionary retrograde into our military without consequence. The same women harping that all our girls deserve the opportunity to be Rangers will be the first to whore themselves out to our new masters when that day finally comes (and we are not invincible or eternal, that day will come).
Compare that with the experience of Prussia, whose 18th c. regime made the state’s fortune by killing people and breaking things for hire. They were the professionals, only to be crushed and shamed by Napoleon’s “ragtag amateurs” at Jena. Prussia did not respond by adding women or weaklings to its armed forces, but rather doubled-down by remaking its whole society into a model of military efficiency in order to better produce Prussian citizens capable of following without hesitation the orders of their commanders. For how well that worked out, one need only consider the fate of Europe until the end of the Second World War.
Great comment. Thanks for reading.
The legislators answer to the whims of the academics and journalists — and those groups manage public opinion.
SFC Ton says
Have to second that, as another retired vet of the 24 years, infantry and SOCOM sort
Big Bill says
The odd thing about the kick-ass women in the movies is how they always revert to weepy, clingy romantics by the end of the film.
They may be strong, powerful, kung-fu chicks throughout the movie, but in the end they revert to type and are rescued by the strong, powerful male into whose arms they melt. Or he is dying of wounds received from protecting her and she weeps and cuddles and comforts him for his heroic sacrifice for her.
Mark Citadel says
This is so true. It shows even liberal Hollywood directors know the truth, subconsciously.
Years ago I read a book Women in the Military: Flirting With Disaster,
I remember that most poor results were covered up. Some are leaked to the public anyway.
Age old standards e.g. physical stamina/strength standards are lowered but are said to be modernized/whatever. Task requirements that requirements that require strength e.g. lugging a pump or hoses into place on a carrier deck are ‘modernized.’ Women are not to be subjected to a ‘hostile work environment’ which is pretty much a summary or basic training and also war.
‘Experts’ always say the next war will be fought by people in arm chairs miles away. Then comes the next war and young men are in swamps, rice paddies, deserts, and/or mountains being shelled and shot at.
Nest time a liberal tells you women should be in combat propose a method to settle the argument. Tell them you are going to fight them to the death right there. The winner/survivor will go to the loser’s house, kill their kids, rape their spouse, and burn their house to the ground. That is how the military settles disputes with enemy military. Do women do as well at this as men?
I’ve spent a lot of time in writers’ communities, and noticed two simultaneous trends going on in writers’ minds. First, they want to write something *interesting*, and interesting, by nature, tends to be something other than our mundane world. The average person does not accidentally acquire world-destroying jewelry and have to undertake a perilous trek to throw it into a volcano; the average person does not voyage around in outer space meeting aliens or get accepted into a top-secret magic school. Books keep us interested via these unreal things. So, too, are the women in books often pure fantasies, made to entertain us. Obviously real women are nothing like Wonder Woman; neither are real men like Superman; we only fail when we start to forget that books are fiction and instead internalize them as reality.
Second, many authors are purposefully trying to subvert stereotypes and expectations, and openly say so. So because they know that in real life, the average woman doesn’t even want to be in the military, they feel compelled to write female characters who are in the military to try to prevent people from getting the notion in their head that “women aren’t all that interested in the military as a profession.” It’s an approach that comes out of the moral claim that any sort of generalized statement about human tendencies is evil, and therefore they are morally obligated to try to destroy your ability to make generalized statements about human tendencies by flooding you with counter-examples until you can’t reliably pattern-match phenomena anymore.
The intentions are different between 1 and 2, but the outcome may be the same.