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We're in the army now.

Generally speaking, I don't love a woman in uniform. The essential military values go against all my feminist inclinations: the authoritarianism, the hierarchy, the pursuit of war. And try as the ideologues might to get me all misty-eyed over the anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, I still see that event as a monumental waste of young lives, and war as a collectively traumatizing event.

I do get why young Canadians might opt for a military career. The educational opportunities--especially for those who are financially strapped--are huge, and, until the past five years, modern military manoeuvres for Canadians had more to do with snow shovelling than actual combat.

But still, I wince when I see women in army fatigues. That is, until an incident like the hostage-taking of 15 British sailors starts messing with my head, and suddenly I want to see Faye Tourney back in action in full military gear.

Tourney is the seaman captured along with 14 other British navy personnel and accused of venturing illegally into Iranian waters. Though, at this writing, the entire story hasn't emerged, Tourney was reportedly separated from her fellow hostages, isolated and threatened. She also--and we can assume under duress--wrote a letter stating that the British ought to consider withdrawing troops from Iraq.

In response, Chris Brown, a professor of international relations at the London School of Economics, chided Tourney, saying it's inappropriate for people serving in the armed forces to make such statements.

Notice a few things here. First, what a prof sitting on his duff in London knows about the experience of being held hostage is, I'm guessing, not much. Second, the male sailors also made very public statements suggesting their ship had gone off course. Our prof in London said nothing about that. And third, there is no question that Tourney was targetted as a possible weak link, was told that everyone else had been sent home, and thus totally terrorized.

Her male counterparts appeared to have accepted all manner of gifts from Iranian President Ahmadinjad, waved sweetly to their captors and flew out of Iran wearing expensive suits. Tourney was not gifted with such divine duds. Rather, in a photo taken of the captives just before they left Tehran, Tourney was seen front and centre among the splendidly clad sailors standing grimly wearing an army jacket, cargo pants and a print scarf, obviously meant to signify a burqa.

I'm not here to comment on the debate surrounding the head scarf chosen by many Muslim women and whether it can be reclaimed as a symbol of pride in identity and female empowerment. But here, it seems to me, the head scarf was used as a symbol of humiliation. The male sailors can be seen as worthy of smartly designed Western wear--they're just fighting for love of country the way guys do--but Tourney, in a sartorial slapdown, was reduced to an inferior status. The message to Tourney seems to have been, "You not only violated our waters, but you violated our values by wanting to be a soldier. And we cannot tolerate that."

It's enough to make you want Tourney to get home and put that sailor suit right back on. (And almost enough to forgive her if she does sell her story to the tabloid press for mammoth sums of money.)

If equality were our only goal, then we would celebrate the fact that Canada welcomes women into combat roles in the military and mourns them deeply when they are killed--as was captain Nichola Goddard, the first Canadian female combat soldier killed on the front lines. But cheering women in the army is kind of like cheering when a woman becomes chief executive officer of a tobacco company. Equality, I say, isn't enough. I want to end war and dismantle morally bankrupt killer corporations.

And yet, as long as long as a woman like Faye Tourney makes her choice to serve in her country's armed forces, then we must be outraged when she is denied her dignity--whether by her captors or at home.
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Title Annotation:canadian female's gender equality and career choice
Author:Cole, Susan G.
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jun 22, 2007
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