Author Interview about The Lonely Soldier

What made you interested in the subject of female soldiers?
H.B.: It began with the Iraq War. I went to a meeting of Iraq war veterans and met two young women there. One told me nobody believes she was in the war, even though she was shot at every night for a year. And then she said, "There are only three things the guys let you be if you’re a female in the army: a bitch, a ho, or a dyke." We began to talk, and I quickly saw that women are fighting a double war: against the so-called enemy and against discrimination and sexism from their own male comrades.

How did you find the forty or so soldiers you talked to?
H.B.: Through veterans organizations. Women soldiers are very eager to be heard and understood because they are so often ignored and dismissed, so often not taken seriously. Many approached me because they wanted to tell their stories. They wanted to be heard.

What are the main issues facing women soldiers today?
H.B.: Sexual harassment and assault. Lack of respect, which underlies that same assault. Discrimination. Lack of health and psychological services within the military and in the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Where does this lack of respect for women stem from?
H.B.: Some of it is from society at large, some of it from a military culture that is historically male and misogynist. But much of the discrimination against women also stems from the fact that they are not officially allowed in combat, and so are not seen as "real" soldiers or Marines or sailors. This is deeply unfair, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan, where there are no old-fashioned front lines and where women are in combat all the time. The Defense Department allows women to be sent out with infantry battalion as "combat support." In Iraq, that often means being in the exact same position as combat troops.

Should women be in combat?
H.B.: Women should be allowed to choose any job they wish in the military. Women are adults, and nobody should have the right to tell them what jobs they can or can’t do: they should have opportunities equal to men. Now, not all women will want to be combat soldiers, just as not all men choose the infantry. But it should be the woman’s choice, not the government’s or the military’s. Anything else is infantilizing and discriminatory.

If women are sexually persecuted so much in the military, should they even be soldiers?
H.B.: Women are sexually persecuted in civilian life, too, but we don’t tell them to not to exist! Sexual persecution is caused by certain men and the misogynistic culture of the military. That is what needs to be fixed.

Are women any good as soldiers?
H.B.: Yes! Women have been in armies since the beginning of time, especially in guerilla armies. In the U.S., female troops have been awarded many military honors and medals for valor and bravery.

What can be done to improve matters for female troops?
H.B.: Open combat positions to women. Aggressively pursue and prosecute all rapists and sexual predators in the military, starting both from the top down and the bottom up. Stop tolerating all discrimination and condescension towards military women. It’s a long list—ee the last chapter of my book!

Lastly, what advice would you give to young women contemplating enlisting today?
H.B.: Don’t go in blindly. Decide whether you believe in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and whether you would feel morally comfortable about fighting in these wars. Inform and prepare yourself to deal with sexism in all forms. Check out whether the benefits offered by the military are worth the sacrifices you will make. Know that recruiters lie. Know that you sign away virtually all your rights as a citizen when you enlist in the military. Weigh the pros and cons carefully: Yes, the military will offer you a career, pay, health and tuition benefits (eventually) and give you a path out of your family, home, town. But in return you will belong to a huge, cold, indifferent, inefficient bureaucracy for eight years or more, risking your health and your life.
The Lonely Soldier