MIXED COMPANY: Women in the Modern Army by Helen Rogan

MIXED COMPANY: Women in the Modern Army

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In today's Army, women ""are admitted, but not really perceived as soldiers."" As one female general demanded of the fresh recruits, ""How would you feel. . . if you were in a chain and every other link was a weak one? Well you are, and the weak link is you."" The presence of women in the integrated Army reflects such underlying sex role tensions, and Rogan effectively captures the conflicting viewpoints. While she fails to present an ordered argument, she does manage to touch all bases: the young recruits going through basic training; the WACs who've watched their separate army--and opportunity structure--being dismantled; the women at West Point, where sexual-harassment hardball makes basic training look like badminton; Army nurses from World War II--plus famous women leaders and soldiers from history, who've given lie to the idea that women are to be protected, never to be protectors themselves. On the central issue of evaluating the women's performance to date, Rogan admits that any assessment is difficult--in part because of disagreement over test results (women enter weaker on physical tests, but each entering West Point class improves over the last, and each class of women shows a more dramatic improvement than do the entering men); in part because of disagreement over combat qualifications (how important is women's inferior upper body strength when compared to attitude and training?); in part because of the confounding issue of the switch to the volunteer army and a decline in standards overall. Thus this particular ""woman question"" is undoubtedly tied to the larger problem--namely, the fact that the volunteer Army offers only pay as inducement, and little of the former prestige, with the entrance of women further eroding the threatened masculine ego. Rogan is sensitive to such systemic considerations but equally concerned with how the women themselves experience the new Army. Says enthusiastic West Pointer Amy Branch, whose hometown of Dayton gave her a celebrity sendoff: ""As soon as I got the nomination the newspapers and radio station came to my house. . . . I couldn't have backed out if I wanted to."" Or, battalion commander Allen: ""We, are trying to develop in these women dimensions of their womanliness they never had. We are forcing them into adventures."" Women are more likely to enter the Army looking for adventures; but, judging by these accounts, they are often disappointed by the high level of discrimination (sometimes, though, in their favor) and the continued sexual harassment. A sympathetic, engaged portrayal--and a big improvement on the newspaper coverage.

Pub Date: Oct. 21st, 1981
Publisher: Putnam