a bird and a bottle

Namecalling and Women in the Military
March 19, 2007, 3:42 pm
Filed under: feminism/s & gender, news, tongues, war

I blogged the other week about Salon.com’s coverage of women in Iraq. The article, which focused on the sexual abuse of women soldiers, was a must-read, though it was painful at times.

One quote, particularly, in the Salon article caught my attention:

There are only three kinds of female the men let you be in the military: a bitch, a ho or a dyke,” said [Mickiela] Montoya, the soldier who carried a knife for protection.

Today on the plane home I read yesterday’s NY Times Magazine article covering much of the same territory as Salon’s. The Times article also discusses the various forms of PTSD from which many women who have seen combat and/or been sexually assaulted while enlisted suffer. Once I got past the strange, seduction-style photo that accompanies the story online, I was intrigued (the story is long, but it’s worth reading the whole thing).

And then I read this:

‘You’re one of three things in the military – a bitch, a whore or a dyke,” says Abbie Pickett, who is 24 and a combat-support specialist with the Wisconsin Army National Guard. ”As a female, you get classified pretty quickly.”

The statement struck me, and left me with a strong sense of deja vu. And then I realized: it is almost exactly the same thing the Salon article quotes another woman soldier as having said. How could it be that these two women, who presumably don’t know each other and assumedly did not serve together shared not only the same idea, but even in the same words?

The only think I can think of is this: that this problem — this harassment of women sexually, verbally, and physically — is so deeply entrenched and so broadly experienced that women hear those three words often. Bitch, whore, dyke. Bitch, ho, dyke. These three words must be so strongly associated with women in the military and so commonly used to describe peers and lower-ranking female soldiers that women expect to be a bitch, a ho, or a dyke depending on the day.

The name calling might be the least of it, but it’s pervasiveness is, I think, probably representative of the respect — or lack thereof — for women in the military. The woman a soldier calls a bitch, a whore, or a dyke one day might save his life the next.


7 Comments so far
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this is a crushing find. the coincidence seems at once impossible and yet utterly indicative. someone should follow up on this.

Comment by professorplum

That’s exactly how I felt. It’s just too close to be coincidence and is therefore so jarring. I am going to do a little poking around, but I think there are several books coming out about women in the military (and in Iraq specifically)…I’ll keep my eye out for them.

Comment by bean

It could be related, i.e. the second woman read the first woman’s Salon article and felt it resonated with her own experiences. Or, more likely, it could be due to a semi-formal in-group rule. There are a lot of specialized slang terms that everyone who went to the military knows; it could be that “women are dykes, whores, or bitches” is one such adage, on a par with the IDF’s “a good Arab is a dead Arab.”

Comment by Alon Levy

Given the timing, I don’t think it’s possible that one woman read the other’s interview — the NY Times was probably far into fact-checking when the Salon piece was published. But I do think there is something to the specialized slang thesis (if I may call it that). What’s interesting, Alon, about your example, is that both the labels given to women in the American military and the IDF’s specialized slang are forms of discrimination — sexism and racism, respectively. Is there, I wonder, a specialized slang that is not about hate, exclusion, race, sex, etc.? Does it have the same kind of power?

Comment by bean

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Is there, I wonder, a specialized slang that is not about hate, exclusion, race, sex, etc.? Does it have the same kind of power?

Oh, sure: the myriad acronyms used in the military. It’s possible, though I have no evidence, that this also underlies the sexist and racist slang. The military uses acronyms officially; therefore, soldiers tend to make up acronyms of their own, such as “Snafu,” some of which seep into online culture, which has its own basis for using acronyms. Similarly, society is sexist and racist, and the military is especially so; therefore, military slang tends to incorporate very sexist and racist mores.

This also relates to certain instances of sexist language in general. But the greatest one, grammatical gender, has origins whose connection to sexism, if any, is unclear.

Comment by Alon Levy



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