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Introductions: An Unabashed Feminist Writes About Women in the Military

written by Erin Solaro
on February 17, 2010

In 2004, I went to Iraq; in 2005, I went to Afghanistan. I was embedded with combat troops in both countries, and I wrote a series of op-eds from each country for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. I'm also a former Army Reserve officer who served briefly at the end of the Cold War. I hold a master's in diplomacy and military science from Norwich University. I've read military history since childhood. My husband is a former Marine. So is my ex. I was an active-duty wife for seven years. These are all the qualifications that led me to write my book, Women in the Line of Fire.

My desire to write about women in the military began, though, long before I started Women in the Line of Fire. Throughout the 1990s, I had wanted to write about the topic.

You could smell war coming long before 9/11, and even back then, women made up 15 percent of the military force (a very high-quality 15 percent, I might add). The U.S. military forces were all volunteer, and the prospect of a draft was unrealistic. If there was going to be a war, I knew that women soldiers would have to play a far greater role than they had in the past. A far greater role, it is imperative to point out, than the military was prepared to acknowledge.

Women in the Line of Fire Most writings on servicewomen are fundamentally dishonest. One side — the conservative, purportedly pro-military side — demeaned or ignored the women who served. The other side — the liberal, purportedly feminist side — used military women to score Culture Wars points, but trashed the military, which is an institution that many servicewomen love very deeply, even as they are often also conflicted about it. Given the realities of war, of a volunteer force that is significantly female, of the military as an institution and women as human beings and citizens, I thought the subject deserved far more serious treatment. So in 2004, I set out to offer it by writing a book about women in the military.

As a blogger on Regarding War, I plan to highlight many of the issues that Women in the Line of Fire covered, issues that are central to the issue of servicewomen, issues that are considered hot-button ones. But I plan to address these issues — such as sexual assault, physical strength and fitness, the combat exclusion, violence and aggression in women — from a perspective not often heard before.

Which is that I am an overt and unabashed feminist: I believe women have the same civic and human worth men do. Part of that worth is the right — and the responsibility — to bear arms in the common defense (of which military service is only one part). We — women — live here too, and we are equal in all things, not just the good things of civilization. The military is also an important part of society: at its best, it is the honorable profession of arms. It is utterly imperative that women be part of it. It is our military, our society, our world, and the outcome of this odd, utterly real, botched-beyond-belief war we are fighting with radical fundamentalist Islam is important to us. (Please do not read this as either a brief or an apologia for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; it is not.) Then there is the simple fact that if women are marginalized in the military and defense and foreign policy, so are our needs, our experiences and perspectives. That women, like men, are individuals neither changes the fact that there are specifically female needs, experiences, and perspectives nor the reality that when half the population is systematically excluded from and marginalized in an institution — any institution — that institution is necessarily warped. And that is a bad thing: for society, the institution and for women in general.

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