Helen Benedict’s The Lonely Soldier–The Painting of Women’s Injustices as the Norm of Military Service

As a female veteran, I found this book to be an insulting representation of what life is like for women in the military in a time of war.
As a female veteran, I found this book to be an insulting representation of what life is like for women in the military in a time of war.

My voice is recovering.  I have laryngitis so it might take a week to fully sound like myself again,but it’s nice to know I’m not contagious.  I went back to work today and had class.  I’m not the kind of person who typically takes sick days.  Call it a bad habit from my Marine Corps service, but I am used to working through pretty much anything.  We [recruits, in general] get what’s dubbed the recruit crud; oddly enough, as I was looking for an explanation of it for you all, I came across this article from the Navy’s website.  I can’t recall ever getting the flu when I served.  I even had the misfortune of getting my smallpox vaccine in Iraq because the girl who was designated my roommate stateside came to Camp Pendleton pregnant from MOS (military occupational specialty) school.  Yes, I wasn’t allowed to get my smallpox vaccine pre-deployment because she was pregnant.  And in case you get the smallpox vaccine during pregnancy or inadvertently become pregnant, you can check http://www.smallpox.mil/event/pregnancy.asp.

My journal from back then is as follows:

Screen Shot 2015-02-19 at 9.13.02 PM

Today we were discussing Helen Benedict’s The Lonely Soldier: The Private War of Women Serving in Iraq.  Originally, I was ecstatic to have a book all about female service members deployed to Iraq as part of my reading material, but I grew pretty incessantly mad at the author’s repugnant use of ‘soldiers’ to describe all service members.  Time and time again, people refer back to the term, soldier, to describe all service members without taking into account it is not appropriate to call us all soldiers.  Trust me, if you are not a soldier, it gets old.  If you are a Marine, it is downright insulting.  

Here’s something for you to break it down:

Army=Soldiers

Air Force= Airmen

Navy=Sailors

Marine Corps=Marines

Coast Guard=Coasties

I do digress, but I will jump on my soapbox repeatedly to tell people I do not like being called a soldier.  I didn’t join the Army.  I became a United States Marine.

The author dabbles a bit into discussing several poignant soldier (truly soldier) stories with some vignettes tucked in throughout to represent the voices of other service members.  The main characters, however, are as follows:

Mickiela Montoya (Army National Guard)

Jennifer Spranger (Army Reservist)

Eli PaintedCrow (Army Reservist)

Terris Dewalt-Johnson (Army Reservist)

Abbie Pickett (Army National Guard)

Reading their stories was infuriating.  Not because some of what they say might very well be true, but because there was a sheer lack of depth on the author’s part to fully investigate the experiences of female service members.  Her main characters are National Guard and Reservist soldiers.  They are, as is mentioned in the book, part time service members.  They do not live, sleep, and breathe their service as active duty members do.  The disdain active duty members typically feel towards reservists/the National Guard is quite palpable.  However, that’s not to say that active duty members and their part time counterparts are always against one another.  There is a trust that must be built as in any relationship, work, friendship, or otherwise.

In attempting to get through this book, I found myself relying on listening to music to keep my anger in check.  Once again, I haven’t loved everything about my service and the ways I’ve been treated, but this book painted a poor picture that women can essentially expect to be raped, sexually assaulted, harassed, or put in harm’s way because their units don’t give a damn.

Yes, some women are raped.  Yes, some are sexually assaulted.  Yes, some are harassed.  Yes, some are put in harm’s way, but not typically because their units don’t care; typically being put in harm’s way happens because up and down the chain of command (the order of supervisors and their junior personnel) somewhere there are incompetent leaders.  Or sometimes, you are instructed to go into harm’s way.  If you join any branch and serve in any capacity (National Guard, Reservist, or Active Duty) you should have the wherewithal to assume you might serve in a combat zone.  I don’t care what your recruiter told you.  You are serving in a time of war.  

There are, like in the civilian world, bad people in the military.  Men who rape women because they like the power and harm they cause.  There are men who sexually assault women because they attempt to rape women and may not fulfill those attempts.  There are men who harass women because they feel it’s socially acceptable.  There are some men who put women in harm’s way, because there is a certain satisfaction they get from endangering others.  There are recruiters who lie because their careers are on the line and they have quotas to meet.  There are evil women just like these men.  Just remember that statement for a second.

However, there are also many other men [and women] who work as partners, peers, and supervisors that work to prevent such treatment and to empower women to seek justice for the harm they suffer or have suffered.  The women in this book, while they might not have felt comfortable, could have found resources outside their commands to address their concerns.  It is preferable that any service member work within his or her command to resolve issues, but if your command has that many flagrant problems, trust me, there is always a line of defense you can you utilize elsewhere.  There are many great men and women throughout the service branches that would not tolerate many of the behaviors mentioned in this book.

On another day, I will provide my thoughts as a veteran regarding some of the soldiers’ behaviors (unplanned pregnancies, drug use, and insubordination) shared in the book that is worthy of discussion as well.

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