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31 May 2006 00:00
I’ve always believed the military is no place for pussies (feminist gallery: exeunt omnes).
And when countries steeped in centuries-old traditions and ideas regarding the place of “their women” suddenly find themselves in the terrain of a 21st-century war zone, it doesn’t help when the new guy on the block starts rubbing “his women” in your face.
In some places, figuratively, like the burqa-less Marine-ettes zooming around their bases in jeeps in Saudi Arabia, like models out of a shampoo ad.
In others, quite literally, like at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where United States military interrogators are said to be using female officers to “rub themselves up” against alleged al-Qaeda combatants, and perform lap dances—all in a bid to get these hardened men to own up to some diabolical deed.
But the prize for adding the biggest insult to injury must go to the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), bless their hearts.
In Israel/Palestine—that ugly morass on which so many of the world’s political problems today may be blamed—the military is racked, packed and stacked with girls.
Because of conscription at age 18, and that wonderfully egalitarian bit of legislation known as The Law of Return, the Israeli army is peopled by, among others, pimply faced and anguished hormonal female teen-agers from Marseilles, Addis Ababa and lord knows where else.
As if the IDF didn’t have enough to worry about, what with a shiny, primed missile waiting in Iran with their name written all over it, the Hamas wolf at the door, and an ex-prime minister and war hero a vegetable in a Jerusalem hospital.
Now an outbreak of girlieness has infected the ranks. The army is reining in renegade female soldiers slyly taking needle and thread to their standard army issue pants, and lowering the waistlines.
Newspapers cluck-clucked. “In a country where military service is compulsory for 18-year-old girls, keeping fashion off the army’s doorstep seems almost impossible,” bleated one.
These girlie soldiers had been complaining for some time that their rears and hips didn’t look cool enough in the standard-issue pants. As hundreds of restyled pants were carted off to the stores for darning, the military top brass sat stony-faced—calling it all something like “a threat to the very core of military discipline”.
A disappointment, no doubt to the pricked ears of the human rights NGOs who thought the army was finally getting tough and disciplining its soldiers for roughing up Palestinian labourers on their way to work (as happens daily) or shooting little schoolgirls in the head, then coming down from the guard tower to “confirm the kill” (as really happened).
So why conscript them if they have nail varnish on their minds? Clearly these girlie soldiers are better off at trance parties, and the men left to defend their and the nation’s honour.
But what really leaves a bitter taste is what it is doing to the psyche of the Palestinian man. In such traditional societies, where women are still in traditionally assigned gender roles, using “your women” as part of your arsenal of humiliation because you, and not he, wields the gun is execrable.
The anger already felt by that worker who rises at dawn to pack bricks in some Israeli town to feed his family—and is being marshalled through the cattle pen as though he were an animal—is increased a million-fold when he has to be shouted at, ordered around and looked down on by a woman. What more if she is chewing gum, a nipper, and strutting around like a popinjay in hipsters, “muffin top” for all to see?
Who knows how many Palestinian men getting barked at at checkpoints by female soldiers are thinking of the infamous Abu Ghraib picture of Lynndie England grinning into the camera as she yanks on the dog leash of her Arab male prisoner.
Babes at blockades could also be dangerous to the real soldiers, that is, the men. Last year American newspapers claimed to have uncovered a plot within the “terror networks” to specifically kidnap female soldiers. Unlike in Israel, the US army bans women from land combat, but it’s okay if they drive people around, ferry supplies, that kind of thing.
Ah, for the days of yore. For the age of the Norsemen; of Homer’s Odyssey, all those good old days when the only time les filles were near a battlefield was as freelance soothsayers, war-song cheerleaders and victory-party prettifiers.
If the best women like the girlies in the IDF can show for their combat readiness are their pelvic girdles, they have no business being there.
And like Osama bin Laden, methinks they have especially no business stomping around with rifles in The Lands of Islam.
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