Ah, But Can She Use A Bayonet?

News today of Ann Dunwoody, who has become a four-star US general, the first four-star female general in the US military.[1]

Sparrow Chat is a champion of equality between all human beings of either sex, and all points in between, but I found the story of Ann Dunwoody vaguely disturbing.

It’s not the first time I’ve experienced that feeling while living in America.

If sexual equality means women doing men’s work, then America is way ahead of Europe. I still experience qualms whenever I approach roadworks to find a heavily clad, hard-hatted, and often quite pretty young woman holding the “STOP/GO” pole and directing traffic. I’m not sure why I find it disturbing, just that I do. I’d probably feel the same way if I walked into a corporate office and discovered the CEO’s secretary was a boy.

When I took up driving a school bus to do my bit for society, I could never quite come to terms with the mechanic who tore out half the engine to repair a serious oil leak. Her name was Cindy.

I’m not suggesting there are no female road workers in Europe, or lady bus mechanics. It’s just that if there are, they’re very rare. I have never seen any.

To me, equality has nothing to do with women doing men’s work, or vice versa. To allow a woman to work on the roads, or in a bus service depot, is presumably acceptable provided they’re paid the same wages and benefits as a man.

Personally, it’s not something I would encourage. Having had the youthful experience of working on the roads with a group of somewhat crass, foul-mouthed, illiterate males, it would be a career I’d strongly dissuade my own daughter from considering.

While many jobs are suited to either sex, there are a few that of their nature should preclude both sexes from applying. In my opinion, the military is one such career. While there are some woman who seem to consider equality as the right to turn themselves into males in all but the physical attributes, the idea of women soldiers shouldering guns and engaging the enemy is anathema to me. It’s a personal viewpoint, but one I strongly adhere to.

Why do I feel this way?

For millenia, the male of the species has fought and butchered and slaughtered, and been slaughtered in return. As we gradually became more ‘civilized’ the grossness of warfare had to be made more acceptable, so we created honor, and heroism, and eventually video games. It was all achieved by males for the purpose of glorifying and legitimizing war.

Generally, the female of the species remained subservient to the males’ demand for blood, but the expectation was always that one day the subservience would disappear, women would demand an end to this barbaric male pastime, and the world would become a place of peace, if not ruled by women then certainly influenced strongly by them.

Today, on behalf of women everywhere, four-star general Ann Dunwoody, shattered that expectation.

[1] “Woman reaches US army’s top rank” BBC, November 14th 2008

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12 Replies to “Ah, But Can She Use A Bayonet?”

  1. Yes, men have done a wonderful job with control of the world. God knows how women might mess things up. I can tell you about many bad male mechanics if you have a week or so.

  2. Difficult one, RJ. Women who have a psychological makeup which drives them to want to do jobs which are traditionally thought of as “men’s jobs”, including the military, will do them. If prevented by law or custom they’ll find some other way to let out whatever it is that drives them, and that could be bad, both for them and for others around them.

    Most women wouldn’t want to mend roads, vehicles or kill other people on the battlefield, but if a minority do….that’s what they’ll have to do. There’ll be a balancing factor in the men who choose to be nurses, hairdressers, secretaries, house-husbands….etc.

    As long as those women driven to do so form part of the miltary, there will have to be the Ann Dunwoodys – otherwise, no equality. 🙂

  3. “To allow a woman to work on the roads, or in a bus service depot, is presumably acceptable provided they’re paid the same wages and benefits as a man.”
    I was wondering what bothered me in this sentence. I read it again and again, I realised it was the single word “allow”.
    Who will allow a woman to work on the roads? Why should a woman be or not be allowed to work on the roads, if a woman wants to and is capable of carrying out her task, she has every right to be on that road doing her job. No man has the right to deny her this.
    As for the rude, crass male dominant jobs, they can all do with a little female presence, to make them a little less crass, a little less foul mouthed perhaps.
    Grew up in Turkey, in a seriously male-dominant society where most sons could do anything they wanted and daughters had to obey their fathers regardless of how much against their own wishes the obediance might be, I am seriously sick of the mentality that women should, shouldn’t, can and can’t be “allowed” to do something. Although it doesn’t look it, Western world is no different. Sexism and gender superiority are equally practiced, but more subtle, in more civilised ways; as you pointed, unfair wage distribution disadvantaging women, less jobs for women due to the lack of understanding as far as maternity leaves are concerned, etc).
    The only problem I have with women engaging in mainly male-dominated work areas is the way they put the war hat on and fight the fight like a man; that is, looking like a man, talking like a man, walking like a man, instead of being a woman and fighting the fight using their own gender traits, without sacrificing that which makes them who they are. Surely, their hands will have tougher skin or face a bit more sun-damaged, or they have to wear pants instead of skirts at work, but these are minor sacrifices and doesn’t mean a woman should give up being and acting like a woman, to fit in.
    A female lion is beautiful, graceful but is fierce when it comes to protecting itself and especially its cubs.
    I still can’t believe that given the fact that women give birth to man and woman alike, they “allow” men to grow up to exercise so much power and dominate the whole planet as we know it.
    You’d think mothers would raise their children with the sense that not one gender will be more superior to the other, that respect should be mutual, decisions should never be made at the expense of another, based on the gender.
    /rant off

  4. It is very interesting to see that if, for some reason, men start to enter traditionally female jobs, the status of that job tends to become higher. Cooking is a good example. Women are very often supposed to cook for the family, and this work is very often under-valued. But if you go to an expensive restaurant, the cook is very often a man, and in that case his work is highly valued. Some people rate a restaurant as superior if waiters rather than waitresses serve them. Conversely, if women enter “male professions” in large numbers, the value of that work tends to decrease. The position of medical doctors in the (former) Soviet Union is a good example. Most doctors there are women, and as a result, the medical profession there has a much lower status than in most other countries, and the incomes of doctors are comparatively speaking also much lower.

    Women earn 70% or less of what men earn at most educational levels. This gender pay gap has closed since the 1960s, when it was closer to 60%; however, the closing of the gap is due to a decrease in men’s average wages since the 1970s due to deindustrialization, corporate, downsizing, and fluctuating patterns of economic growth. A staggering 80 percent of the 53.7 million women in the American workforce continue to make $25,000 or less a year. That is a cold $10,000 less than the average man makes. Worldwide women perform an estimated 60 percent of the work, yet earn only 10 percent of the income and own only 10 percent of the land. When we talk about sweatshop labor, we’re talking predominantly about the labor of young adolescent women.

    There have been numerous experiments in which two groups of people rate things such as a set of articles, pictures of works of art, a set of resumes. The names of the authors are changed for each group. Those items for the first group which have men’s names, have women’s names for the second group, and those items with women’s names for the first group have men’s names for the second group. In other words, the gender of the author is reversed for each group. The results of these studies are remarkably consistent: articles that have a male name attached to them get higher ratings than when the same article has a woman’s name. Both men and women do this: they devalue those items ascribed to females. Studies of how women’s success is perceived show a similar pattern: men’s success is attributed to talent; women’s success is attributed to luck or affirmative action.

  5. Inbuilt mysogynistic bias, RJA, I applaud you for revealing it whilst acknowledging that in the younger generation (way younger, my granddaughter’s age) there is no such perception in her or her male colleagues thinking. These are truly the gender-free generation (and also not a whiff of ethnicity or racism).
    What Gaye said.
    What FS said.
    Only by participating freely in the male constructs can we achieve true equality and perhaps, given time, inject the feminine.

  6. Rather than respond to each commentator individually, I’ve decided to address them collectively.

    The article, “Ah, But Can She Use A Bayonet?” was obviously prompted by the news item regarding Ms Dunwoody’s promotion.

    I decided to write it for three reasons: a) because I knew it would draw a strong response, particularly from female readers, b) as a protest against the ‘masculinity’ of women as a means towards equality, and c) as an examination of my own views on the subject – which, incidentally, I considered to be fairly well defined.

    I started with the belief it would be an easy subject. In fact, it turned out to be one of the hardest tasks I’ve ever undertaken on Sparrow Chat. My ‘well defined’ views, when examined minutely, were anything but, and constantly buffeted by the indoctrinations of over half a century.

    It did prove a very ‘difficult one’, Twilight, and your observations were well-balanced.

    Gaye picked up on the word ‘allow’, which, with hindsight I would never have used, and served only to offer some insight into my own subconscious. I would disagree with her comments on only one issue:

    “As for the rude, crass male dominant jobs, they can all do with a little female presence, to make them a little less crass, a little less foul mouthed perhaps.”

    I fear the end result would be many more rude, crass, foul-mouthed, females.

    Flimsy Sanity contributed an excellent essay on society’s perceived value of males over females. I was aware that women are equally indoctrinated over these issues as men. It’s my belief the whole question of gender struggle is not simply a case of women fighting men for equality, they are also fighting themselves.

    I agree with WiseWebWoman’s judgment of my inbuilt bias. In my defense, however, I would argue its misogynistic properties. Like many men of my generation I was taught to honor and protect the female of the species. It is that inbuilt protective instinct that is assaulted, when women like Ann Dunwoody throw off their femininity for an army uniform.

    I was 33 years old when Margaret Thatcher rose to become the first female prime minister of Britain. At the time, it seemed a wonderful era. Surely, a woman in charge of the country could use her feminine ways to good effect against the aggressive male leaders of the world, in such a way as to win them over to more peaceful ways?

    We all know what happened. Thatcher became more cold-blooded, militaristic, more masculine, than any man.

    If there’s one thing to be learned from this discussion, I believe, it’s that true equality is still far off. Women have to find their own place in the world; men, in their turn, have to accept it.

    If equality means women must give up their natural femininity and assume a masculine attitude, then so be it. Personally, I don’t believe it’s the right way forward, but if it proves to be so, then I’m glad to be of an age where I’ll never see it happen.

    (To all readers: please feel free to continue this fascinating discussion, if you have anything further to offer.)

  7. RJ, you are right actually about the bit you disagree and explained why. This is exactly what gets to me and I wrote a bit, a woman may and should feel comfortable enough to be and act like a woman and not become rude and crass to fit in. I think I rambled so much it got blended in the process.
    I do hope you didn’t think I picked on “allow” and now hate your guts. I love an argument, especially a good one. The only problem is my English. When I read what I wrote at the end, I gag, I think you myself “I had a very good point somewhere in there; I thought it so well, where did it go, why didn’t it come out right?” *sigh* oh well.
    Thank you for this bloggy discussion.
    All the best.

  8. Gaye – there is no need to apologize for your perceptions. You were absolutely right to pick up on my use of the word, “allow”, and by so doing you enabled me to analyze my employment of it. I thank you for that. The world is built on healthy debate, and any writer worth his book sales loves to be involved.
    Your English is fine. The best writers suffer with the very problem you describe, all the time. Trying to get one’s thoughts laid out on paper, as they appear in the head, is often the hardest part of all.

    Flimsy – I’m always a bit ‘leary’ of Timothy Leary (sorry about that!) Having dabbled in psychedelics myself, in earlier times, I’m not sure his deductions were soundly based on any scientific format. Also, he had many reasons to distrust, even hate, the establishment. It was, of course, in the 60’s and 70’s composed largely of males.
    Certainly, I think his comment was unfair to the vast majority of men, though he probably used the quote in a semi-jocular manner.

  9. RJA:
    And I so love the debate too. One glaring omission, which I meant to bring up in my post but got sidetracked, was the fact that women are mocked and derided for being ‘feminine’ or ‘unfeminine’ (take your pick) when they try and compete in a ‘man’s world’.
    -too soft, can’t handle it.
    -too harsh, a ball-breaker
    -she could get pregnant
    -her husband won’t let her travel for promotions.
    -her kids are always sick
    -her skirt’s too short, how can we take her seriously?
    -pant suits are so unfeminine.
    -it must be that time of the month, tee-hee.
    And on. And on.
    I know.
    I’ve been there.
    We still have a long way to go for equality and/or to gain any authority in the process of earth shaking decisions that affect our future generations. (think climate change, think illegal invasions, think economic meltdowns).
    It has always felt like an uphill battle to me.
    This is why I take great hope in my grandchild and her thoughts on the world.

  10. Sorry, one more thing:
    And it will be a happy day for me when ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ don’t take on the significance that they have today.
    I would like to see them obliterated from usage.

  11. WWW – The responses of certain males exhibit an immaturity based on early learning deficits, both in the home and at school. Those things you list are true enough, but rank as ‘behind the school bike-sheds’ talk. Sadly, it doesn’t get left behind the bike-sheds, but continues into the adult world where males quickly revert to schoolboys when allowed to congregate. I believe the only way to reduce or eventually eliminate such attitudes is by society opening up to the facts of life and teaching both males and females how to behave respectfully towards each other, at an age when they are still receptive.

    It is an appallingly complex issue, but I tend to disagree that developing an almost ‘sexless’ society i.e. one that fails to recognize and respect the differences between male and female, other than those of reproduction, is necessarily the answer.

    Personally, I’d suggest much of the male behavior you list above is exhibited due to repression. Such males lack any understanding of females, and consequently fear them. The possibility one may become their boss, or even prove more efficient jobwise, causes them to wet their pants – en masse. Hence, the faintly jocular, highly sexist, schoolboy comments.

    I’m sure the key to this problem is education, but education in a manner not even dreamed of by the school curriculum boards. Proper and frank sex education from an early age would be a starting point, and not just teaching kindergarten kids about the dangers of pedophiles, as has been suggested, but imparting true knowledge of all aspects of the male/female relationship, and the equal importance of both sexes in the proper running of a successful society.

    Of course, it’ll not happen while America is still ruled over by the church, and politicians must bow the knee to stand any chance of being elected, but I’m certain the power of the clergy can only wain over time, as has been the norm in all the more civilized nations.

    Mind, I’m sure there’s someone out there who’ll disagree……

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