I am not sure I can come out for or against this issue, because I can see the positions on both sides, and I am going to lay them out there, and you can use what I observe, to make up your own mind. And I admit, I am going to go all over the place with women's roles in the military. Because to me, it's all interconnected.
If you haven't seen it already, there is a storm brewing over women, breastfeeding in the military. I have been out of the military for a while, so I can't say whether this has been an ongoing thing, or if this is just an issue that popped up after the publication of a certain photograph.
Right now, in this day and age, I will say, that women simply cannot win. We cannot be single, we cannot be chaste, we cannot be sexually active, we cannot be mothers, we cannot stay at home or have a job--really, truly, my observations make it very clear that the forces allied against free women, will be critical no matter what we do as individuals, or as a community.
I had mixed feelings when I first looked at the photograph of these two Air Force Women in Uniform, Breastfeeding. You can view the image here at the Huffington Post.
In a perfect world, on Xmas day, I would say that they should be more discreet. That they owe that to the uniform to respect the service that they are in. But that is not the world we live in or on. That being said, I know why they will be in trouble, and why it is highly likely that their careers will suffer or even be ended as a result. It will be because they allowed this photograph to happen, for a publication, in uniform with their lady-bits [i.e. mammary glands] partially exposed, and more than likely they did not run this by their command Public Relations personnel prior to this. Because usually when a military member is asked to participate in a press event, the command is consulted. Military Chain of Commands do not like surprises. And I suspect that this was a big one.
The article acknowledges that even though there are rules about what one can and cannot do while wearing the uniform, that Breastfeeding isn't covered. Similar issues came to the fore years ago with body modification and tattoos, but oddly enough, I think that this will be bigger and more controversial because it involves, women, and their boobs.
There are a lot of things you are not allowed to do in military uniform -- including eating or talking on a cell phone while walking (these are okay while standing still), keeping your hands in your pockets, chewing gum, holding hands, kissing and hugging (except during homecomings and deployments) -- according to a list of 11 such restrictions on the website of Veterans United. Technically, soldiers are also expected to always have their right hand free so they may salute at any moment.So why would I have mixed feelings about this, if it appears to be so cut and dry? Because an alarming number of people act as if women in the military do not have normal family lives, or needs, and that this unrealistic imagining extends far beyond that time, to even when we retire or leave the service.
The VA is less than understanding about military vets who have children, and that is especially true it seems of female vets with children. Things have slowly been changing [or so I hear] but not nearly fast enough for my tastes or needs. The attitude I received from the VA was that, "That Baby didn't come with your Seabag!"
People used to and probably do still get very angry at female members who became pregnant while single and serving. Of course back in my day, you couldn't get an abortion even if you wanted one, thanks to the very old, NeoCon War on Women. So you think it's cool if you are married and get pregnant? NOPE, much grumbling there too. So you wait til you get out--STILL NO GO! How dare you get pregnant and think you are entitled to benefits, isn't that what your husband is for? Don't you have some relatives to baby sit for you?
Because the VA and the military are all about being sensitive to this stuff [note snark].
As if, being married for over a decade and getting out, would never lead to me having an infant at the breast and a toddler in tow. So I was unable to make appointments, because the VA was not supportive of my family condition, nor respectful of my needs as a mother to be with my small children and not just launch them like a football at any old homo-Sapien to watch, in order to make said appointments. Because you know it really is all about the VA and not about the Vet. I am sure there are male vets who have encountered similar problems, because there are fathers in uniform too.
And since many Vets are blue collar, enlisted, day care isn't just expensive, if the family is in dire straights, the cost can be prohibitive. And there is also something unbelievably wrong about leaving a child incapable of coherent speech with a total stranger. Call me silly, but that is how I feel about it.
So I look at this picture and I know that they will be in violation of uniform regulations. I feel for them, but I just cannot get angry about it, because I know that they cannot win. That females in the military are still fighting some pretty big fights about the integration of the forces. That there are still a large contingency of politicians and brass who cannot allow us to be fully functional women-soldiers and be mothers simultaneously, or even just non-pregnant women. That hurts their tiny brains. But, at the same time, women who satisfy their fantasy of sterile-Warrior-sHe-males will still get the raw end of the stick, because they deviate from the male, June Cleaver sex fantasies about femininity and sexual purity. How dare we! The nerve of some females!
But what do we expect? The forces are integrated. Women are spending decades in the uniform, and there is no reason for them to have to give up the notion of family, when it's clear that such an expectation is not put upon their male counterparts who spend their lives serving. Men are not expected to avoid marriage and fatherhood, so explain to me how we can put this on women? And a woman who has a child, has the option of breastfeeding. I am surprised when the services officially integrated women in the 60s, and then later allowed women to continue serving during and after pregnancy, that this was never brought up. This glaring hole in the regulations is a testament to the refusal of males in positions of authority to really consider how women serving, will have unique needs as women.
Sure, sometimes that comes up when people criticize the presence of females in the military. You know all those bloody rags from our menses, and cramps, and unplanned pregnancies, and hot monkey sex we are supposed to all have in the coat-closet, indiscriminately. Oh sure that comes up in that context, but none of it is addressed seriously. Women are not given the benefit of the doubt to contribute to ways of dealing with the genuine issues. How can we? When we are weak, immoral sluts intent on ruining the military service with our ovarian weirdness! [more snark]. And this mindset is infectious. You as a woman try to distance yourself from all of that. You start to hate other women and yourself too, and other women hate you. Because in that world, we are all convinced that every other woman is fucking it up for the rest of us.
Don't stand out. Don't stand up. Don't talk back, don't do anything that could be construed as requiring special treatment for your female-ness, and that includes cramps, pms, pregnancy, boob-problems, hygiene issues in the field, rape, harassment, etc., You are female, but you hide it in some weird way, hoping to be accepted by the men as one of them. Though when I was in, that almost never happened. When I was in you were either a Dyke or a Slut. [Please note that this is not meant to be an insult to gay women--at that time, if that label stuck, I would have been forced out of the service and would have lost my benefits, so it was a big deal and a sad one at that for a lot of different reasons]. Women who have been in more recently, feel free to offer your testimony, though I have heard from others over the years in uniform, that not much has changed.
I will say, while I served, I dealt with pregnant female co-workers and I grumbled the whole time. Because I was not a pregnant female, I was deemed the one to take up her slack, when she was forbidden to lift more than 5 or 10 lbs of material, when she was no longer allowed anywhere near cleaners, or solvents or other hazardous materials, or when she had watches to stand, I stood them. I felt unappreciated by her and others. I felt like I was being punished. And probably she did too. I got extra work, she got shut out of being a working part of the team, both are signs of a loss of status, or so it felt at the time. But, that might have been due to my age and lack of experience. I can imagine though, how similar thoughts in males expected to take up this slack, might blossom into genuine bitterness. Especially if they thought women had no business in the service to begin with. This also happened to me while I worked in a barracks for a time. All the females except for myself were pregnant. So I did all the work. They were forbidden to any of it, because they were pregnant.
Could they have done the work? Some of it sure. But the military likes to make it difficult for women to fit in. So they go overboard with safety measures, to make sure that everyone knows you are pregnant, helpless and a hopeless mooch on the system. That way, everyone can feel justified in hating you while you are gestating and being female, because you get special treatment for being weak and female.
As a young service-woman, I didn't understand this "special treatment" of pregnant women, and I resented it. I didn't get the politics of it, or even that there were cases where it might really be called for.
I think it would have been different if there had been more solidarity between females in the service, in general, but there wasn't. There was no guidance, no explanations, only an undercurrent of hostility and blame. So you felt very little loyalty to your fellow female co-workers. Add to that, the notion that getting pregnant while in uniform was shameful at that time, that such a woman was ruining for all us toughs, and that created a lot of tension between women in the uniform.
When you are young, you imagine that everything is black and white, this or that. Women join the military to be something other than a home maker, something other than what your mom was, because you wanted to be outdoors, you wanted to get dirty and be in a wholly other place, deemed "proper" for women. And during that whole time, you were given a lot of shit from males, especially young ones about your alleged place in the world, your proper role, and so motherhood, and being a wife were things that you despised, that implied ownership and non-personhood. Because the men made it very clear, that you belonged, barefoot and pregnant in a kitchen with a baby on your teat. And that role somehow made you unfit for service, weak, and ridiculous.
As a mom now, I get how wrong that is. But as a young, barely out of my teens female, I would not grasp that until much, much later. But here we are. It can no longer be denied that women get pregnant, that they get married and start families. And that this doesn't have to be a total inconvenience to the Military or the VA, unless they like it that way. Which I suspect they do. Because these institutions are still angry at us for not being men, and angrier still, if we act like women. And it doesn't seem to matter how long you were in, or what you did, or how long you were out, or anything at all.
Their dislike and disapproval of our kind, is the root of it all. And so these women breastfeeding, while I am sure it will create temporary waves, I don't think it will make anything better or worse. Females are being raped on their way to the showers and bathrooms in war zones by their fellow service members. Rape is the ultimate sign of of a bitter hatred. And women have been trying for decades to get the DoD, to straighten up and fly right with regards to rape and harassment of women and what has happened?
Not much, not enough, since this is still a pretty huge problem.
More attempts to keep us out of combat, even though we are already there. A VA that is still not equipped to handle the increasing numbers of female veterans, even though we have female vets in every era going all the way back to WWII. So I don't see how breast feeding will be so wrong that it could eclipse an innate hateful disapproval of women in the service at all. And given our society's inability to separate the act of breastfeeding from sexual foreplay, I foresee problems for these ladies regardless of their best intentions. Maybe if other female service members and their civilian counterparts rally for them, some good might come of it, but on the whole, I bet these women will be made an example.
I think that when we allow women to be whole, complicated human beings, that it will be easier to truly integrate our armed forces in a meaningful way, and maybe our society too.
2:41 PM PT: I think I could have represented my position better. I am all for breastfeeding. I don't have a problem with women pumping at work or any of that. My ambiguity comes from the photograph. Sorry for any confusion on this.
Update to the story:
HLN-Military Mom's Catch FLak for Breastfeeding.
The Chain of Command for these women have stated the following:
"Military regulations prohibit the use of the uniform, title, rank or military affiliation to further a cause, promote a product or imply an endorsement...I want to be very clear that our issue is not, and has never been about breast-feeding. Our issue is that the uniform was used by an outside entity to further their cause - and with all of the attention this has received, it appears that they succeeded."This is the same regulation that states, that active duty personnel cannot wear their uniform to protests or to campaign for a politician. Why? To maintain objectivity. when the military is allowed to use the uniform to endorse a political view or a protest movement, etc., it gives Americans the impression that the military is backing something with the implication of potential force. It's a pretty good regulation if you ask me, because it avoids the kind of problems often encountered when living under a Junta. And it also allows the members of the military to maintain diversity in the ranks.
There are other interesting statements in this story, it's worth the read and the discussion.