The Way of the Warrior: Another First for a Woman (Sigh)

The New York Times reports that Command Sgt. Maj. Teresa L. King will run the drill sergeant training program for the entire U.S. Army, the first woman to hold the job. Congratulations to Sgt. King.

But I must confess I’m getting a little tired of stories about the first woman in a job that used to be male-only, not because it’s not news, and not because I don’t think it’s a good thing for women to take on these jobs, but because it seems to me that by now we ought to be past that point.

But the U.S. military remains behind the curve on bringing women into full participation. The ban on women in combat positions remains in effect legally, even if women soldiers in the current wars often find themselves on the front lines.

Part of this is a general skepticism about whether women are “tough enough” for these jobs — a skepticism not confined to the military. The Times article plays up Sgt. King’s toughness as if it’s something unusual. Calling her “[p]etite yet imposing,” it opens the article by saying that the new top drill sergeant “idolizes Gen. George S. Patton Jr., has jumped out of planes 33 times, aces every physical training test and drives a black Corvette with ‘noslack’ vanity plates” and then marvels at the fact she’s a woman, as if it’s something marvelous and strange.

I’ve got news for The Times and the military: the desire to be a tough warrior isn’t confined to men. There are plenty of women who have that same urge to be the person on the front line defending everyone else. And more than a few of those women are supremely qualified for the job.

Of course, not every woman wants to be that kind of warrior, but neither does every man. Holding women who want to be tough front line soldiers back because of myths about women is not only unfair, it also deprives the country of top talent.

But the myths are not just confined to the military. I notice that while the U.S. is on its third female Secretary of State, we haven’t yet had a female Secretary of Defense.

I wonder how The Times report will read when we do get a woman running Defense, or a woman general or admiral chairing the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Somehow, I suspect that if the woman in question is short, she’ll earn the “petite but imposing” label. And if she’s tall, she’ll probably be described as “muscular but feminine.”

Me, I’m just waiting for the day when it won’t be rare to have a woman in any job.

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Nancy Jane’s story for this week is “Man’s Best Friend,” a cat mystery a little too long to be flash fiction.  Her collection Conscientious Inconsistencies is available from PS Publishing and her novella Changeling can be ordered from Aqueduct Press.

Check out The Nancy Jane Moore Bookshelf for more stories.

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