Mansplaining to Women Veterans

Kristine Kathryn Rusch has a post on Facebook that’s gotten pretty interesting, and a lot of comments.  It’s on mansplaining.

Mansplaining is when a man with lesser experience, or even no knowledge lectures to a woman who has that experience. It implies that she is ignorant because of her gender.  Pretty much it’s: “You don’t know what you’re talking about and I do because I’m a guy.”

Even if he has no clue what he’s talking about.

That happened on Absolute Write. I was answering a writer’s question about the military, and mentioned that most military people don’t use profanity non-stop the way Hollywood depicts it.

It’s one of those things that depends on the type of unit, the rank of the people and even the people themselves.  I know the all male military ones do use more because they have trouble interacting around women soldiers.  And I’ve been in an “adult” unit where the culture was no profanity.  In my truck driver unit, there were some people who used none at all, some who used it sometimes, and ones who got themselves into trouble because they couldn’t turn it off.

It also depends on the book itself and who the readers are.  If you’re writing a romance with a military character, there is no way that you want any profanity landing in that book.  But a military thriller…yeah, some would be appropriate and expected by the audience.  Military science fiction, too.

Male writer who had never been in the military trots onto the board and explains that I was wrong.  That any military character would not be realistically depicted with out the non-stop profanity.

Really?  He told this to a veteran?

The feel of the military in a story isn’t INSERT PROFANITY HERE.  It starts with understanding the difference between the officers and enlisted, and what the rank structure means in relation to your characters.  Without that, profanity’s not going to help.

With the dam bursting over MeToo, there’s been a lot of articles about the women veteran’s experience.  I remember one where the various organizations like Veterans of Foreign Wars were complaining about membership being low, and women commented that they did not feel welcome.  Many of them said things like they were treated like a veteran’s wife, not as a veteran.

The men promptly jumped in and explained that none of the women knew what they were talking about.  Their local chapter wasn’t like that at all, so we were all just plain mistaken.  And besides, they lectured, if we thought the system was broken, we should join and fix it.


Not every man does mansplaining.

The problem is that the women veterans struggle to have their voices heard because there are those that are busy trying to drown it out.  We need to do better.



The Voice of Women Veterans

The Washington Post published the Five Myths about Female Veterans today, and unfortunately, all of the are true.

When I came home from Desert Storm, I was hungry for something that explained how I was feeling.  China Beach had just been cancelled and gone into reruns.  I devoured it.

I also read and reread A Piece of My Heart, which is a book of stories of women veterans from the Vietnam War.  It was just about the time when the Vietnam vets started telling their stories, so there were a lot of books coming out.  I read all of them, because, other than Pieces of My Heart, there wasn’t anything representing the voice of the women.

I even went to the Veterans of Foreign Wars down in Tacoma, Washington.  I walked in and there was a bar with a bunch of old men sitting at it.  I might as well have been asking directions.

That’s still a mixed bag for the women.  Some have great success at their local organizations.  Others come in and are told to apply for the Women’s Auxiliary.

I’m also on a Facebook page for Desert Storm Combat Women.  Many of them report going to the Veteran’s Administration, and their civilian male spouse is addressed as if he is the veteran.  Or they have to prove they are a veteran while the male veteran standing next to them does not.

We have a local grocery store in Washington, DC that gives veteran parking. For the overseas people, it’s not a disabled slot or has any legal requirements; it’s merely something that a store does as courtesy, like the slots for pregnant women.  Two women have come out to find nasty grams on their windshields.  I park there myself, so I’m expecting one day for someone to do the same to me.

There’ll be an article in the Washington Post on something like PTSD, disabilities, or problems with the VA, and the reporter gravitates to all the men, unless it’s about a woman’s issue.

As a writer, I’ve submitted to a lot of veteran anthology calls. I was often the only woman veteran.  Usually they got a wife or daughter talking about a family member, but even there wasn’t many women’s voices represented.

Obviously, the women need to speak up more, but at the same time, it gets old hearing the same stories again and again.

Just remember that there were 40,000 women in Desert Storm.

Cover for Women at War: Stories & Poems

Desert Storm war veteran Linda Maye Adams shows the diversity of what war is like for the women who deploy in this collection of short stories and poetry.  The stories run from “First Night,” and “Between Black and White,” because war seldom ends when the war does.  The poems include

“A Woman Goes to War,” “Once Upon a Time,” “Only Questions,” “Little One,” “The Lonely Sounds of War,” “No Safe Places,” “Just Like Me,” and “That Wish.”




Soldier, Storyteller: A Woman Soldier Goes to War

On August 2, 1990, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.  Within twenty-four hours, he controlled the entire country.  Five days later, the United States was deploying soldiers and had named the military operation Desert Shield.

This would be the largest deployment of women at the time.  Over 40,000 women went to war.  It was so new that people questioned whether women should be there, and what would happen to the families they left behind.

Linda Maye Adams was one of those soldiers.  Soldier, Storyteller is a rare inside look at war from a woman’s perspective.

Her memoir answers the question: “What was it like?”

Cover for Red, White & True

Even as we celebrate the return of our military from wars in the Middle East, we are becoming increasingly aware of the struggles that await veterans on the home front. Red, White, and True offers readers a collection of voices that reflect the experiences of those touched by war-from the children of veterans who encounter them in their fathers’ recollections of past wars to the young men and women who fought in the deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan.

The diversity of perspectives collected in this volume validates the experiences of our veterans and their families, describing their shared struggles and triumphs while honoring the fact that each person’s military experience is different.

Leila Levinson’s powerful essay recounts her father’s experience freeing a POW camp during World War II. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tracy Kidder provides a chilling account of being a new second lieutenant in Vietnam. Army combat veteran Brooke King recounts the anguish of raising her young children by day while trying to distinguish between her horrific memories of IED explosions in Baghdad and terrifying dreams by night.

These individual stories of pain and struggle, along with twenty-nine others, illustrate the inescapable damage that war rends in the fabric of society and celebrate our dauntless attempts to repair these holes with compassion and courage.


Woman WWII Prisoner of War

Every time I hear about themed months or “firsts” (first woman this or that), it’s sad to see.  The first is that it seems to be the only way women get visibility for accomplishments and that we really should be beyond firsts … and still aren’t.

When I first got to Washington DC, everyone was still squabbling over the Vietnam Women’s Memorial.  The men were actually saying that the women didn’t do anything … why should they be honored?

This woman was a secretary to a military officer during World War II in the Philippines.  The Japanese attacked and captured her.  But she was smart and thought about what she could do to help herself:

After American and Filipino forces surrendered in May 1942, Finch hid her American background and instead passed herself off as a Filipino citizen to avoid being placed in prison camps with other American civilians.

Then she helped out both the resistance and the POWs:

Landing a secretarial job with a Japanese-controlled fuel distribution company, she managed to direct supplies to the Filipino resistance movement as well as food and medicine to POWs, including the Army officer who was her former boss in the intelligence office.

Unfortunately, she got caught, and the Japanese tortured her.  But she never broke.  Then she was released by American forces.

When she moved to the U.S., then she enlisted in the Coast Guard!

A Tribute to Women Veterans

Women veterans tend to get forgotten because the assumption a veteran is a man.  This is a song that pays tribute to the women veterans.  Enjoy!

U.S. Army Veteran and Paralympic Swimmer

This is a great story about Sergeant Elizabeth Marks, who was injured in the war and became a Paralympic swimmer.  Usually when I see stories about wounded veterans, they’re always about men, and they describe in excruciating detail how they were injured and then all the medical procedures, like their life ended at that moment.  This one focuses on her journey becoming a Paralympic swimmer.

Women who served in Vietnam

When I went on the cruise last yet, there was a surprising number of women veterans.  It included a nurse who had retired as a colonel, and she’d served in both Vietnam and Desert Storm.

The women who came home from that war was largely force to pretend like they hadn’t been to a war and nothing had happened to them.  Unfortunately, some of the worst came from the male veterans:

[Starnes] was the only female in the room and was verbally abused by male veterans. She tried to explain that in Vietnam there was no safe area, everybody who served was in combat, but they didn’t want to hear. She left feeling ashamed and never again sought help.

I remember when the Women’s Memorial was created, and when the women’s statue was added to The Wall’s site.  The male veterans were terrible, protesting angrily that the women shouldn’t be honored because they didn’t do anything.  Complete disconnect. 

They were unable to put themselves in someone else’s shoes.  They were unable to see that the horrors they were living with, the women were also living with. 

War is not gender neutral.

What does a veteran look like?

I’ve seen a couple of these turn up over the last few days: A woman veteran uses one of the courtesy spots some merchants provide and gets a nasty note from anonymous person telling her she can’t park there because the parking spot is for veterans (read: men).

Once the soldier takes off the uniform, what exactly does that veteran look like?

They might be tall.  They might be short.

They might be thin.  They might be heavy.

They might wear a suit.  Or they might wear a skirt.

Not all veterans are men.