The Fairer Sex

Let me preface this by telling you that I’m not a big horse-race person. I don’t know much about it at all. I did rejoice a little when this year’s Preakness was won by a filly instead of a colt. Of course there was plenty of lead in on the news informing the masses on why her participation was a BFD. Those are inevitably followed up with the man on the street type comments, and one came from an older man who stated with a smug little smirk, “Fillies should race fillies, and stallions should race stallions.” There’s always one that thinks like this, isn’t there? You know someone is going to open his big yap because deep down he’s afraid if a female races, she just might win. So she did win and then what? Out comes the whining about how she had an unfair advantage.

And if she lost, you know what? Someone would come out with “well she had no business racing anyway.” And this is just about horses.

I have a feeling the attitude extends to plenty of other areas. I remember an argument discussion I got into online about who should have a role in combat in the military. The guy kept insisting on whatever was best for the “morale” of the troops. My argument is based on whatever is best for the military, which means the most competent people for certain jobs get to do those jobs. According to the law, it is illegal for women to be on the front lines in a combat role, but what happens when the rules change? I was branched Air Defense Artillery in the Army, which is defined as a Combat Arms branch, however I was limited to being in Patriot units since the Patriot Missile System is generally relegated to the rear ranks. It wasn’t designed to move very often and the long range of the missile means you can shoot from afar. Well this time around, those units moved right along with the infantry, which put women on the front lines. Then last weekend I watched “Lioness” which is about "Team Lioness"--female soldiers who were assigned one type of specialty, while given an additional duty of going into towns and going into the homes of people suspected to be conspiring against Americans. Since these were families, and families generally have men and women, and it’s not even cool for men to do body searches on women in OUR culture, guess what? They needed women to search the women in those houses. Some of these patrols involved close range firefights (combat) which technically made the whole situation illegal. There was even one soldier who had hunted before entering the military, who was specifically given the duty of carrying a squad automatic weapon because she was a good shot. This wasn’t getting caught up in a supply convoy that hit an explosive, it was sending female soldiers directly into a combat zone even though we have laws specifically against that. And while we’re on the topic, it’s kind of absurd to declare that an entire half of the population can not be in combat. How do you avoid that in a war? There are green zones but nothing is really safe, is it? I feel like all of this is based in fear, and in this case it’s the fear of seeing women come home dead or maimed. Even if you’re a soldier and in the role of protecting others and fighting battles, sometimes people still think you need to be protected, not for your own good, but for theirs.

There was a recent episode of “Cold Case” (stop that laughing) I watched that involved a fictional military institution (Pennsylvania Military Institute, or “P.M.I.”—get it? Like “V.M.I.” except it’s not, wink, wink). Anyway, this involved a 2003 case of a female cadet who mysteriously turned up dead. I told my husband “This is kind of not relevant anymore,” but then again, maybe I’m wrong. I remember 1995 when Shannon Faulkner entered the Citadel. I remember the disbelief at the people fighting her entrance into the school as well as my own classmate who claimed “The Citadel is done if they ever let women in.” (I wish I’d asked him why he chose West Point, since most of his discussions involved high praise for The Citadel).

Shannon Faulkner didn’t make it, but was that any surprise? She wasn’t really in shape, but also, she was the only woman to enter with her class. That’s pretty much a recipe for failure. At least the service academies let in more than one, and at least many of them made it through. Someone has to be the first, but it’s easier to be the first when someone else is doing it too. Your name might not make the news, but you have a better chance of getting through.

I’m sure there was just as much bullshit in the first class of female West Pointers. The first year is hard enough, I couldn’t imagine the additional sexism heaped onto that already generous pile. When you have a general, and graduate, General Westmoreland, claiming that women in combat would have to be “freaks” you have to wonder. For every guy that speaks his true feelings, I’m guessing there are a bunch that secretly think it, but don’t say it.

Maybe this extended to the way we were viewed as cadets too. I remember the mindset that we “gray trou” weren’t dating material. I am guessing this was based in fear too—who would want to date someone that wouldn’t be wowed by your uniform or your daily exploits because she’s doing pretty much the same thing? And then--horror or horrors--what if she’s better at doing it than you are?

I was never any kind of stud at anything at West Point—I struggled with many things. I also don’t think most guys were against me. I’m sure there were a few, but without the vast number that helped, I wouldn’t have made it. People are changing, and I think men change as they live and see what women can do. I think they change when they have daughters and turn into the person that does not want someone else limiting his kid’s future because she’s a girl.

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