Ground Zero: The Gender War in the Military

Linda Bird Francke, Author
Linda Bird Francke, Author Simon & Schuster $25 (304p) ISBN 978-0-684-80974-8
Reviewed on: 12/30/1996
Release date: 01/01/1997
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Intending at first to take a straightforward look at women in the military, Francke (The Ambivalence of Abortion) immersed herself in modern military culture. She visited the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, sat in on government policy meetings and even attended the funeral of a female pilot killed in action during the Gulf War. Wading through military jargon and spin, however, Francke found that, ""the conservative male culture"" of the service ""hate[s] women within its ranks"" but, without a draft, is dependent on them. Within the military culture, she says, there are forces that ""divide the sexes, dictate women's harassment and demean their achievements."" For illustration, Francke draws on some of the familiar horror stories, including the goings-on at Tailhook and the case of the female cadet handcuffed to a toilet at the Naval Academy. But the most persuasive anecdotes, many from the perspective of the women involved, are those that have heretofore been unpublicized, such as that of military women coerced into sexual relations with men under threat of being reported for lesbianism (which is cause for discharge), or of collisions with the ""hard-line"" policy on maternity leave. Evenhandedly presenting material that seems to argue against her thesis--senior enlisted women, for example, have testified that women should not serve in combat--Francke convincingly depicts both poles of the gender war. Her conclusion that the military's internal gender war will never be over may strike some as unsatisfying, but few will argue that she has turned in less than an exemplary situation report. (June)
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