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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Female Faces of War - Part 2: Military's Leading Ladies Have Come a Long Way, Baby



"It's either her or me in this engine room!"

One of my favorite films of all time (a close second to Some Like it Hot) is Operation Petticoat released in 1959 by MGM, featuring Cary Grant and Tony Curtis and a gaggle of Army nurses who have had to hitch a ride on their WWII submarine, the USS Sea Tiger.

This weekend, a phenomenal group of gals (along with hundreds of boy scouts on their own excursion) gathered on the Battleship Massachusetts as the Female Faces of War Conference and Overnight Adventure set sail. One can only wonder what the men who served on that ship would have to say about all of this; but, we sure did have a great time.


I'm catching up with research paper writing at the moment, so some photos of the event will have to do until I can write more. An all-around success and a great honor to be among women of all generation who have worn the uniform.



Another short clip (this one has Spanish subtitles) has Curtis' character making his moves on one of the nurses:



The film was so popular that it was resurrected as a 1977 television series. The opening, with all of the ship's men ogling the women, was considered funny in its own day to most (just as the film was). The problem, of course, is that this type of humor is filled with stereotypes that can be disrespectful to women sensitive to the issue of sexual harassment and/or violence.



A culture of hyped-up masculinity that considers women first and foremost sexual objects can lead to serious problems like women in uniform face today involving military sexual trauma (MST). While this kind of mindset still exists in our world, I think it's becoming a bit less blatant -- a bit less openly embraced -- in America.

When I was a flight attendant, in my early years (1987 to about 1991 or so) our flight decks were littered with explicit photos of women -- hidden in discrete ways and locations so that only by knowing which small cover on the instrument panel to lift or which page of a log book to turn to would they be revealed.

As more women moved up the ranks, and into the cockpit's left seat especially, our company began a campaign to stop the practice. But, legal challenges in this arena are still taking place; United Airlines, for example, earlier this month settled a lawsuit brought by a former female pilot on just this charge. Continental and Alaska Airlines both had similar suits in the '90s.

Women in the military are also forcing cultural change.

It is a slow process, however, especially since the organization they work for is a government entity and not a private business that is highly averse to such publicity. Change is likely to take longer than any would like to imagine, but it is taking place.

The "leading ladies" serving in Afghanistan and Iraq will ensure that progress for women in the military continues to move in the right direction....just as those ladies serving in past generations paved the way for them today.

Again, what a pleasure to be with them this weekend.

[UPDATE Nov 13, 2009]: My presentation PowerPoint:




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