Friday, October 24, 2014

Military ranks should reflect reality, beauty of diversity

11/25/2013

Images used in advertising run the gamut from ideals to reality — think of the beverage with just the right amount of condensation droplets running down the side of the can or bottle to make it seem like the most thirst-quenching beverage ever. Should the situation be any different with the U.S. Army?

A controversy erupted last week when an email from Col. Lynnette Arnhart — regarding the depiction of women’s looks in U.S. Army recruitment materials — went public. Arnhart was well-intentioned and wanted to focus efforts on professional female soldiers as they are — everyday, average-looking women, rather than glamorized, attractive models. A quick look at the military, however, would show many competent women soldiers who are both professional and highly attractive.

Images used in advertising run the gamut from ideals to reality — think of the beverage with just the right amount of condensation droplets running down the side of the can or bottle to make it seem like the most thirst-quenching beverage ever. Should the situation be any different with the U.S. Army?

A controversy erupted last week when an email from Col. Lynnette Arnhart — regarding the depiction of women’s looks in U.S. Army recruitment materials — went public. Arnhart was well-intentioned and wanted to focus efforts on professional female soldiers as they are — everyday, average-looking women, rather than glamorized, attractive models. A quick look at the military, however, would show many competent women soldiers who are both professional and highly attractive.

Is this same shifting standard being applied to males featured in Army recruitment materials? Is the military steering clear of hunky men because they overly glamorize the job (as is the reasoning behind using less-attractive women)? If not, why not?

One female soldier who was particularly outraged by the disclosure is Miss Kansas Theresa Vail — a beautiful member of the Kansas National Guard — who said she was told she was too pretty to join the U.S. Army when she signed up at age 17. Vail wants an army of women to step forward and voice their disappointment in the stereotypes guiding Arnhart’s line of thinking, which could impact other decisions yet-to-be made on physical and mental standards for male and female soldiers.

The internal email dialogue came to light thanks to the online news outlet Politico, all while the Army continues its strategic effort to integrate women into the military. Part of the effort includes a gender study that some think would be undermined by Arnhart’s leadership on the project. Arnhart, who worked at the Training and Doctrine Command’s analysis center at Fort Leavenworth, objected to glamorizing women in public relations materials. While this might be an internal email that was taken out of context and didn’t represent official U.S. Army policy, it shows just how difficult change and integration can be — especially when separate standards are being applied to women.

The military has until Jan. 1, 2016, to identify all the positions that can be filled by female soldiers and to provide reasons if women aren’t eligible. One linchpin in the discussions is whether women should be serving on the front in combat at all. In that situation, as with standards of beauty in military marketing, the prerequisites to serve should be the same for men and women.

Arnhart now has stepped down from her leadership role, which was filled by Gen. Robert Cone, “to protect the integrity of the ongoing work on gender integration in the Army,” an Army spokesman told the Associated Press.

Though women have served in the military since World War II, nearly 215,000 women actively served in all branches of the military in 2012, according to the Department of Defense, with an additional 585,000 women in the National Guard and Reserves. The highest percentages of women is in the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Coast Guard at 19.1 percent and 16.4 percent respectively. The highest number of women serving in the military is in the Army with nearly 77,000 active-duty soldiers. Surely featuring some of those female soldiers in public relations materials for the military would show them serving professionally, albeit with dirt on their faces — pretty or not — and weapons in their hands.

Advertising can and should show the good, the bad and the ugly of being in the military because serving in a combat role isn’t a glamorous assignment even if an attractive and competent female is the one on the firing line. No one should go into the military without their eyes wide open, knowing that death is a realistic outcome from their service to their country regardless of their gender or beauty.

— Jeanny Sharp,

editor and publisher

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