Janey Got Her Gun | The Nation


Janey Got Her Gun

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VMI's tale of successful assimilation provides ample evidence to rebut Stephanie Gutmann's shrill and strident antifeminist polemic, The Kinder, Gentler Military. Gutmann argues that the costs of gender integration have been far greater than the benefits. Though one wants to ask "to whom?"

Michael Kimmel served as the Justice Department's expert witness on gender issues in the VMI and Citadel litigation.

About the Author

Michael Kimmel
Michael Kimmel is a professor of sociology at SUNY, Stony Brook, his books include Manhood in America (Free Press) and...

Gutmann rehearses the three classic arguments that have been deployed against women's entry into every single public-sphere institution throughout our history. First, she claims, women just can't do it. The average woman cannot perform adequately and effectively; gender integration means a double standard. (This tired and untrue canard is reminiscent of Harvard education professor Edward Clarke's warning in 1873 that women are not mentally capable of withstanding the rigors of college education and that if women went to college their brains would grow bigger and heavier and their wombs would shrink.) Second, Gutmann argues that the presence of women pollutes the homosocial purity of military life, diluting the experience for the men (before the Tailhook harassment scandal, one pilot mournfully recalls, naval aviation was "a real brotherhood"). This leads to a softening of discipline and "unit cohesion"--that deep, binding, pure and non-erotic sacrificial love that the men feel toward one another. Gutmann expresses sympathy for the "shamefully unmilitary situation" of one benighted sergeant who now has to "mentor" young recruits "instead of the manly pursuit of bellowing at boys." As a result, today's military is one of America's most politically correct institutions--overrun by GI Janes who can't do enough push-ups and by rules that prevent the most egregious excesses (she actually provides a ringing, if tinny, defense of Tailhook as just boys being boys).

These are the standard victim-blaming complaints, and Gutmann repeats them thoughtlessly, before adding another: The presence of women makes it harder to get men to join up. How are they going to prove their manhood with women around doing the same thing? (That warfare itself has changed doesn't enter into the discussion.) Her investigations turn up a host of career sailors and soldiers who agree that military heroism is attainable only after one passes through a training regimen of brutality and torture, of deliberately stripping away dignity and full-throttle spit-in-the-face screaming at the young recruit. Gutmann seems unable to find any military personnel who think gender integration is a good thing.

Gutmann is afraid that the new kinder, gentler military is also softer and weaker, that men have become "feminized" in their forced adherence to the new rules of decorum. She isn't nostalgic for that world of Southern honor; she mourns the demise of military machismo, that brutal do-or-die-ism of the fiercest fighting force ever assembled. Phyllis Schlafly once called the Justice Department's case against VMI a "no-holds-barred fight to feminize VMI waged by the radical feminists and their cohorts in the Federal Government."

Such fears, though, have it exactly backward. Virtually all the research on women in the military--and women in every public arena formerly closed to them--finds the real problem to be the perceived masculinization of the women. Femininity is always questioned when women enter a new public arena, whether the military, the college classroom, the factory or the corporation. As the old adage puts it, men are unsexed by failure; women are unsexed by success. "This is VMI," one female cadet put it, "where the men are men and so are the women."

Of course, it's a done deal anyway, and women are in the military--and police forces, fire departments, VMI and the Citadel--to stay. Gutmann recounts a telling exchange. During the Tailhook hearings, Barbara Pope, the only woman on the Navy's investigation panel, began to mutter about old-boy networks, foot-dragging and clubbiness, all of which hampered the investigation. "What you don't understand, Barbara," Rear Adm. Mac Williams admonished her, "is that men in the Navy don't want women in the Navy." "Mac, you don't get it," she replied. "Yes, some men don't want women in the Navy. Things were easier when women weren't there. But if men can't accept women and integrate women into the military, then they shouldn't be there."

And increasingly, they aren't. Women are there, and the men are getting used to it. Just as those male journalists had to get used to women like Gutmann and Manegold in their ranks--though men had earlier issued dire warnings that women didn't have the nose for hard journalism and that women wouldn't be able to get a story because of the sexual tension with sources (who were, presumably, only men).

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