Janey Got Her Gun
During one of my site visits to the Citadel, I had this exchange with a military captain, a woman who was on the staff of the psychological counseling services. She was describing her activities in the Air Force Reserves as a loadmaster on cargo planes during Desert Storm. When she began, her fellow reservists (male) were exceedingly chivalrous, giving her a wide berth, making sure not to touch or bump into her, and also did not include her in informal activities. She felt like an outsider. This, of course, made her uncomfortable, because she wanted to fit in.
Eventually, she said, their attitudes changed. "What caused this change?" I asked. "The fact that I was there, doing my job," she answered. "Has this been good for you, to be free of such excesses of chivalry and to be treated as equally competent?" I asked. "Yes." "And do you think it's a good thing for the men to have changed in this way, to now be able to look at you as an equally competent member of their reserve team?" "Of course," she said. "And do you think that they could have made such a change without your presence there, without your having been accepted into the reserves and willing to stick it out?" I asked. "No," she said, somewhat flustered.
New players and new rules may, however, be just what is needed down at the ol' PX. The reality is that cruel and inhuman punishment as masculine initiation--whether in the Marine Corps or at the schools where boys play soldier with no consequences--may have been functional for Braveheart, but even by Vietnam it was an anachronism, made palpably evident by the filmic evolutionary throwback John Rambo. The wars of the present and the future--whether in the Persian Gulf, Kosovo or somewhere else--will have far different rules of engagement and far different criteria for heroism.
Since the Supreme Court decision, life hasn't been easy for women at either school. The Citadel remains beset with problems. Two of the first four women cadets left the school after their complaints of sexual harassment--they'd been doused with lighter fluid and then had matches tossed at their shirts, for one thing--were met with another circling of the wagons. And just recently Petra Lovetinska, the school's top-ranking female cadet, was demoted. Apparently, there is a time-honored tradition that knobs are commanded by seniors to pour ketchup or salad dressing on the shoes of other seniors. (This, like most "traditions" at the Citadel, is probably no more than twenty years old.) Lovetinska didn't particularly enjoy having the salad dressing poured on her, so she wiped her shoes on the cadet's trousers. She--not the knob or the senior who put him up to it--was disciplined by the school. In other words, she was demoted for resisting this utterly sophomoric prank.
At VMI, it's been equally unpleasant for both women and men, and roughly equal percentages drop out of the ratline. VMI accepted its defeat--if not exactly gracefully, at least with a certain amount of resigned integrity, neither bowing to "watered down" double standards nor resorting to vicious informal subterfuge. If the Citadel has remained unreconstructed, continuing to fight a rear-guard action like that rogue Tennessean Nathan Bedford Forrest, the Confederate general (and former wealthy slaveowner) who is credited with founding the Ku Klux Klan, VMI has taken a more noble course, like that noble son of Virginia, Robert E. Lee, whose dignity in surrender provided a model of Southern honor for generations of young boys, North and South, to emulate.
And Erin Claunch? Well, just as Petra Lovetinska was being demoted at the Citadel, Claunch was selected as one of two battalion commanders at VMI, the second- highest military position at the school, leading half the Corps of Cadets. Was she selected because she was a woman? Hardly. After outperforming most of the men in the unchanged VMI physical fitness regimen, running cross-country and maintaining a 4.0 average, "it was just a matter of her being qualified for the job," commented one of the male cadets who was on the selection board. Gender, insists Derek Bogdon, the cadet selected as the other battalion commander, is no longer an issue at VMI. "They're our brother rats," he says. "They went through the same thing that we did."
Citadel loyalists and their sycophantic feminine followers like Stephanie Gutmann could learn a thing or two from Erin Claunch. Can women do it? Sir! Yes Sir!