The Differences of Lady Soldierhood, What I Learned From Canada & the Hygiene Excuse.

In February I had a chance to work with a group of Soldiers from the Canadian Army. They come to Virginia each year to make use of our usually mild weather (although it snows each time they visit), and to use some of our military training facilities. It’s always an experience when they come and I think both sides leave the table with a lot more knowledge each time we come together.

The Canadians are great to work with. In talking with them I tried not to giggle when they said “eh?” and marveled at the way they say “out” and “about” that I can’t even try to replicate, but most of the time I spent with the Canadians when I wasn’t filming or interviewing was spent trading stories. We talked about shared frustrations, and found, time and time again, that the same roadblocks they’ve hit, we’ve hit too. I said over and over and over again that it was nice to know that the situations we encounter aren’t unique, that our neighbors to the North have the same experiences. It’s nice to know you’re not alone.

But then we went out to see some artillery pieces fire. These are, simply, really big fucking guns. We call them “triple sevens,” and the Army calls them M777 Howitzers. They weigh about 9,300 pounds. They are serious, big fucking guns. Our Army created these beasts and then the Canadian Army bought some and now we’ve both used them in Afghanistan.

I was standing between two of the guns, waiting to get a shot of them firing and I made some comment that showed I had some knowledge of the howitzers and one of the Canadian men in charge asked if I was in the artillery. I laughed and said no, but that I’d seen artillery pieces fired before and was marginally familiar with how the guns worked.

The guns started firing and the conversation ended, but I sat there perplexed. I’m a lady soldier. In the US, lady soldiers can’t be in the artillery. Or the infantry. Or any other combat arms specialty. That Canadian asked if I was in the artillery like it was no big deal, and I was struck by it. The idea seems so foreign to me, so impossible.

Once the guns stopped firing, we talked briefly with the Canadians about their unit, their experiences and their deployments and I asked if they allowed women in their artillery. They told me yes, of course women are allowed in the artillery. Our commander is a woman, she should be coming this way soon, you can meet her. Wait – you guys don’t allow women in the artillery?

No. No we don’t.

They were perplexed. Surprised. It seemed weird to them, that we, America, is so far behind the times.

Later I brought it up with a female Canadian public affairs officer and told her how surprised we were to find women in the artillery. She filled me in on the details, telling me that in the EIGHTIES they did a test run with women in combat arms fields, including the infantry and artillery, and the world didn’t implode and shit didn’t hit the fan, and so in 1989 they opened the gates and let women serve in combat arms fields. She said that since 1989 was so long ago, most men don’t bat an eye at the idea since women have been serving beside them for most if not all of their careers.

It’s 2012, y’all. TWENTY FUCKING TWELVE. And we? The greatest nation in the world? We ain’t there yet.

Before heading home for the day we stopped by the rappel tower, which is exactly what it sounds like, a great big fucking tower that you rappel from. American Soldiers were teaching the Canadian Soldiers rappelling techniques. We talked briefly with an older, senior US infantryman and learned that the element we were watching rappel was an infantry unit that included a few women. Andrew and I (we work together every day because we are brave and make a great team as a videographer and photographer) mentioned how impressed we were with all the Canadian women in combat arms roles. He said he didn’t think women couldn’t meet the standards, that women were capable of getting the job done. I took this as  support for woman in combat roles, and said I agreed, that if women can meet the standard, there’s no reason they shouldn’t serve.

He said he was just going to be quiet. I wanted to know his thoughts on it, and I didn’t press, but gave him a look of curiosity. He said he didn’t think women should be allowed in the infantry for hygiene reasons. I laughed. Couldn’t help it. I asked what he meant. He asked me if I really thought women could handle being in the field for 10 days without a shower. I said there’s no reason a male Soldier would be better at being dirty that me. I can be dirty. He said yeah, but you’ve gotta crawl through mud and dirt.

You mean like that time I ran a Warrior Dash and low crawled through a pit of mud under some barred wire? Or that time I went to basic training and crawled through mud and sand and dirt and spent several days in the field without a shower? I didn’t say it. I just scoffed. I was shocked. Said that I loved mud and dropped the conversation because there’s a time and a place and that was neither.

But I’m still pissed. It’s been weeks and I’ve vented to everyone I know.

I’m got over it, I guess. I’m over the stupid excuses, the petty reasons to resist change. I’m over resisting progress. I’m over watching something work, really, truly, legitimately work for another nation and then watching our leaders shake their heads in dismay as if we’re so different.

Things change. That’s the way it is. Nothing stays the same or we’d still be simple amoebas. Forward movement is mandatory if we want to stay competitive and relevant in a changing world. We can’t sit, hunched up like gargoyles, resisting the changes that are taking place in every great nation around the world. We can’t ostrich our way through life. We’ve got to honey badger that shit, do what’s right and adjust and overcome.

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10 thoughts on “The Differences of Lady Soldierhood, What I Learned From Canada & the Hygiene Excuse.

  1. TJ

    I can’t believe “hygiene” would be anybody’s concern for any type of soldier. That seems like such a bizarre reason to exclude those who are both willing and able to fill those roles.

    I had no idea that women weren’t allowed to serve those functions. It would be interesting to know the “official” reason and why Canada seems to think that reason isn’t a legitimate one.

    1. Currently, the official reason for no women in combat is based on tradition. That’s just the way it has been and the regulations haven’t changed. Other unofficial reasons include the notion that America doesn’t want to see women coming home from war in combat zones in body bags, even though a few hundred have already died in combat, and that women would be a distraction to male Soldiers, causing them to stop fighting and leap to the rescue of a female Soldier, thus hindering the fight. It’s ridiculous, really.

  2. I am bothered but not surprised that America refuses to change. Have you seen some of the people running for office? Tradition is important to some degree, but it is also important that things advance and progress. We’d still be literally cavemen if we didn’t allow for change. (I had a similar discussion at work, when a coworker refused to accept new ideas because “that isn’t how it was done before” really? c’mon!) I can understand if the argument is over the safety of women being ganged up on by men but Hygiene or tradition? I think it is a woman’s choice if she wants to be dirty and ‘lack hygiene’ or not. If she can meet the tasks and physical requirements at hand, she should be able to decide for herself if she wants to play her role or not. And that is One BIG ASS gun! I think this whole post was very well written.

  3. Like Caryn, troubled by this, but not surprised either. I feel like for every two steps forward we make in one area, we take four steps back somewhere else… all in the name of tradition. :/

  4. this? this makes me giggle because this argument is SO MUCH of my daily life. while i am not a soldier and have no desire to be (i’ve thought about it because of very hollywood ambitions to be an award winning combat photog), the boy is an infantryman and well, he doesn’t think women could do what he does… he doesn’t believe they should be allowed in combat arms. so… yeah. cheers to canada. 🙂

    1. The boy is ridiculous and I hope you tell him so. 🙂 Women are just as capable. I’m proud that my husband, as an infantryman proudly wearing a expert infantryman badge, could see past the social hangups and tradition and realize that some of us ladies pack quite the punch. And yes indeed, cheers to Canada!

  5. I had no idea women couldn’t be in artillery. I have yet to meet a woman who isn’t proficient with or eager to learn about guns. My god. How stupid. When you said “hygiene” I thought you meant menstrual issues, which is still a no-brainer to me… but MUD? Yeah, I can totally see how pissed this had made you.

    1. When he first said it, I thought the same thing. And I’m still not convinced he didn’t mean menstration, but just afraid to say it. Maybe in his head menstration is like a river of blood that attracts the wolves and is totally incapacitating and messy. News flash! Women have been bleeding from the hoo forever and we’ve still managed to get shit done!

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