The army’s had an embarrassing week. It’s been roaming around the news that someone leaked an email officers sent each other saying that “ugly women” should be featured in ads depicting soldiers because they are perceived as more competent.
I get how they arrived at that. When NCIS cast Lauren Holly as the new director, they got comments that was she was too pretty for the role. I actually agree with that. She was “model pretty,” which is to say a standard most people wouldn’t fit into. She did not look like a high-powered Washington, DC woman; rather, she just looked like she was cast because the producers thought guys would be attracted to her and watch the show.
But the reality is that a job like the director of NCIS, or any other government agency, would be very wearing on a person. High-powered government officials have long hours, equally long meetings, and probably not eat right because of all those long hours and meetings. Even when they go home, they are on call. If there’s a crisis involving whatever they do, they get called. Sorry, but the character isn’t going to look like a model with all of that.
There were two problems with what the army did here.
The first was that they assumed that because a female soldier was pretty, she wouldn’t be competent or would be sleeping around to make rank. News flash! We all went through basic training and suffered having a drill sergeant yell in our face.
The second was a more curious one. How would they define “pretty”? Or, let me put a different way: Would you want to be the one they defined as “ugly”?
None of this is helped by the media and the book industry. We have an ad airing now that’s gotten a lot of controversy because it’s men in boxer shorts and jackets. Yet, no one is bothered by another ad where a woman dances very proactively and is dressed in something that I don’t think qualifies as clothes. Book covers for urban fantasies are designed to be provocative and have characters who need to be surgically removed from their clothes. Yet, if any women complain, the men are like “What’s the big deal?”
But a key difference — and I think even the army missed this one — is that the media and the book industry are using s** to sell (I’m trying to avoid getting a ton of spammers here) products. With the army, all the soldiers — male and female — are dressed the same. It’s awfully hard to make a military uniform glamorous, especially when it doesn’t fit really well to start with.
Yet, looks are still the first thing these officers went straight to. It’s not an easy answer, because it so wrapped up in our culture. But there are actually answers to beginning to solve the problem the army was clumsily trying to address. It’s just a first step, but might make a difference.
If the army wants women to look more competent:
They should photograph them more. When I’ve searched for photos of military women for this blog, I can barely find any.
They should photograph women doing army things, like the men. When the army does photograph women, it seems like most of them have the soldier talking to children.
There are some soldier stuff photos, but there’s not a lot. It’s like the photographers get out in a group of soldiers and tune the women out entirely as if they weren’t there. It sends the message that the women really aren’t that important, and that what the men do is. Yet, we’ve had women die in combat, women save lives. I’m watching episodes of China Beach, and without the nurses, some male soldiers probably would not be alive today. And we’re worried about women being too pretty? Please.