sunflowerp: (BattleReady)
[personal profile] sunflowerp
My day is off to a roaring start, and by "roaring", I mean as in "strident feminist rage". Google News Canada handed me this stinking turd of a sexist, patronizing opinion piece this morning. I seldom have occasion to use the epithet "male chauvinist"; for most purposes I find "sexist" adequate - but Michael Coren, perpetrator of said piece of verbal defecation, has earned the designation, with (dis)honors.

The "Karine" to whom he refers - at no point extending her the dignity of a surname - is Trooper Karine Blais of the 12th Armoured Regiment, who was killed last Monday while serving in Afghanistan. This National Post article covers the facts and provides some background, painting a clear picture of Tpr Blais as a dedicated soldier and an adult with full agency.

Coren, OTOH, describes her as "a young girl dressed as a soldier" - and then has the bald-faced nerve to claim it's a compliment! No, Mr Coren, it is never a compliment to depict a 21-year-old (male, female, or for that matter non-binary-identified) as a child. Not content to erase her adult status, he goes on to erase her competence, and the adult status and competence of every woman serving in the Armoured Corps - and possibly smears the integrity of the Canadian Forces while he's at it: "Because there are few if any women who have the skills required to serve as a front-line combat trooper." Yes - exactly as many as have been trained in those skills. And precisely the same thing can be said about men. No one has skills as some sort of magically-bestowed gift; skills come from training and practice - training and practice which Tpr Blais certainly received, or she would not have been in Afghanistan, nor hold the rank of trooper. Coren thus implies that either a) women are constitutionally-incapable of acquiring these skills, or b) the Canadian Forces isn't providing training - or both; they're not mutually exclusive. To either of these, I cry, "Cite your sources!" (It's possible that the CF's current training standards are inadequate; they're stretched pretty thin these days - but I still want the claim backed by hard facts, and I'll want even stronger evidence if the claim is that men get the necessary training and women don't.)

I doubt very much that Coren has the slightest idea what skills are required of a "front line combat trooper" (nor much conception of modern battle conditions, nor the specifics of conditions in Afghanistan) - he goes on to wax dramatic about "Taliban tribesmen" (putting a racist cherry on top of the turd sundae) rushing trenches, and Tpr Blais' probable lack of brute strength with which to fight them off. "Trooper" refers to the lowest rank of trained personnel (until they've successfully completed training, they're privates) in the Armoured Corps. That's not "armoured" as in "body armour", that means armoured vehicles - TANKS (in which, incidentally, being short of stature and slight of build is a significant advantage). Yes, they do other things - I can't be certain from the NP article, but it sounds like she was doing a routine reconnaisance patrol in a jeep, also a likely thing for a zipperhead (CF slang for members of the Armoured Corps) to be doing. Zipperheads aren't expected to, or trained to, battle opponents hand-to-hand - tank combat is a whole 'nother kind of fighting, and if they're doing recce in jeeps, they either GTFO (because reporting is as important as observing, in reconnaisance - that's also why radio is another key skill) or they use the machine gun which the CF has generously provided. Note that the NP article makes reference to two other soldiers injured in the same incident - standard recce crew there, driver, gunner, and radio op. Unfortunately, neither machine guns nor prudent departures nor tanks - and most certainly not sheer physical strength! - are much of a defense against things-that-go-boom planted in the road.

Which brings us to the next point: welcome to modern warfare, where sheer muscular strength is seldom relevant, even for the infantry - they have rifles. Yes, infanteers with rifles can be overrun by sheer numbers of "tribesmen" wielding "long knives and heavy clubs" (see "racist cherry", above) - but firearms aren't colloquially referred to as "equalizers" for nothing, and if the rifles aren't sufficient to prevent a position being overrun, it's really not going to matter a good goddamn how much those defending the position can bench-press. And that was true even back in the long-past days of trench warfare. (Just how old is Coren, anyway, I wonder?)

I'm not even going to bother with the essentialist hogwash about women being innately different from men; there are plenty of people exhibiting that sort of sexism. What makes Coren special is his insistence that those differences constitute incapacities - the inability of women, of Tpr Blais, to learn skills, or even to be, in his eyes, an adult, though she has been eligible to vote for three years, a time period in which she would have had several opportunities to exercise that eligibility.

That's what moved me from mere annoyance at yet another sexist running off at the mouth, to strident feminist rage. The argument that women shouldn't be in combat roles because of those purported differences - that's sexist. The portrayal of Tpr Blais (and by extension all women serving in the military) as a child playing dress-up rather than as an adult - that's male chauvinism, of a strikingly reactionary and anachronistic sort. And his disclaimer that this is somehow a compliment? A disingenuous attempt to color himself as the "good guy".

I show you the soles of my combat boots, Mr Coren. I'd throw them at you, but I didn't hang onto them for two decades to waste them on the likes of you. (I'll note that, the state of Canadian opinion journalism being what it is, it's entirely possible that Coren doesn't believe a word of it, but was just doing his opinion-columnist job of Stirring People Up, the better to sell newspapers. But if you're flinging fecal matter around, it doesn't much matter if you know it's fecal matter or are convinced it's rose petals, you're still spreading shit.)

I don't know if Karine Blais identified as a feminist. But I do know that she was choosing to live a life - both in her military service, and in the choices she was considering for her subsequent civilian career - that defied the rigid normativity of gender roles and behavior advocated by Coren and his ilk. It's tragic that she won't be able to realize her future dreams, but it's not a tragedy unique to her womanhood (or hers and that of Maj Nicola Goddard, Canada's first female soldier to die in combat); she is the 117th soldier to be killed in Afghanistan, and each and every one of them represents an individual who won't be able to realize hir future dreams. But, each and every one of them died doing something that was also part of their dreams - whether the dream was of helping to keep Afghanistan from being reclaimed by a notoriously-repressive regime, or simply to serve in the CF - and each and every one of them knew that they might give their lives for that part of their dreams, and chose that risk as adults. And I weep with pride and sorrow for each and every one of them.

Serendipity and synchronicity: I was already thinking about feminism in context of military service; yesterday I chanced upon a very new blog by GI Jane, and the thread at Feministing (of all the unlikely places for me to enjoy a comment thread; my previous experiences there have left me wanting to throw things) that led to its inception. Any of you who are interested in women's actual lived experiences in military service (as distinct from the "ooh, the military is so macho and sexist!" trope that much of feminism considers to be all it needs to know), the Feministing thread has a great discussion with several current and former servicewomen chiming in, and Jane's entries on her own blog are wonderful - only two so far, but she covers lots of ground and does it well. (Alas, I couldn't get comments to work properly there, using either Navigator or Firefox; if anyone has better luck, let me know what you did.)

(no subject)

Date: 2009-04-19 09:54 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I'm not going to comment on the entire thing (I don't think I can focus my eyes long enough) but from what I got.. I bet that turd doesn't even grasp what kind of training you have to do to actually get sent over seas. Its not easy. Its not just signing your name and getting shipped over. Its not just one camp and you are done. There are teenagers who work until well into their 20s still trying to pass to get sent over seas.


(no subject)

Date: 2009-04-19 11:58 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I love your lego shield.

(And I agree with everything you wrote, which is why I don't have anything more useful to say.)

Voting and soldiering - a long linkage

Date: 2009-04-20 02:25 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] (from
Hey Sunflower - service as a soldier was one of the key arguments for universal manhood suffrage. If a man might have to risk his life for his country, he should be able to take part in choosing its leaders - or so went the argument 200 years ago. Logically, women didn't serve as soldiers, hence they had no right to vote. Later, some feminists portrayed the risks women faced in childbirth as an analogous form of service to country, and argued that this should win them the right to vote.

I like your distinction here between mere sexist and male chauvinist (pig!). It works for me!


November 2009


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