A Soldier's Style

“You girls are too pretty to be in the military,” was the backhanded compliment my friends and I would often receive. This always irritated me, and for good reason — but, when I thought about it, I believed it. I wanted to be a female who was too pretty to be a Naval officer. I wanted to wear my favorite Club Monaco pencil skirt instead of the high-waisted, polyblend pants that made my hips expand and my butt flatten.

But I couldn’t. For some reason, I had to admit, when I put on that unflattering uniform and forfeited my feminine fashion, I became more competent as a Naval officer. Still, the worst part of all this is that even though we give up our femininity as soon as we lace up those wretched combat boots, we still haven’t achieved equality — in the military or the civilian world. (Especially since women still aren’t allowed in special operations units, including the Navy SEALs.)

Consider: A friend of mine is a Marine Corps officer. She was a cross-country runner during college and a math major to boot. She’s the epitome of a strong, capable woman and what the Marine Corps looks for in its officers. But they are going to be losing her as soon as she can get out. “I just want a job where I can wear makeup and high heels everyday!” she told me. Not exactly a scene from “G.I. Jane,” is it?

However, it is a symptom of what’s wrong with attitudes toward what is feminine. What’s so wrong with high heels and makeup? Putting yourself together attractively is an exhibition of your self-respect and confidence. When she expresses her desire to do just that, she’s scoffed at. And yet she can do the job just as capably as her counterparts who don’t don threads that look like something out of InStyle.

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Feminist Guilt, Anyone?

When I was 14 years old, I traveled through Asia on a 60-day modeling contract. I did swimsuit ads, lingerie ads, and even maternity ads. Yes, I allowed myself to be objectified through the lens of a camera and took part in advertisements that I now realize encouraged teen pregnancy. But the fact was that I needed out of my little North Vancouver suburb immediately. I’d been offered a scholarship at a private arts school in New York City, and my parents could not afford to pay for NYC rent, and I had dreams. Big dreams. And as we all know, big dreams require money. Even if you’re a feminist.

The after-effect, however, is clear: Even as I make the case right here, right now, that I shouldn’t feel guilty about all that, I feel a little … guilty. It’s the scourge of our post-NOW generation: feminist guilt. Almost all of us have it, in obvious ways (from, say, giving up law school to follow a boyfriend to another city) and in subtler forms (from, say, wearing a slutty skirt at the request of a paramour). In fact, we can figure out a way to feel feminist guilt over just about anything now — quitting work to care for the kids, not embracing motherhood enough, enjoying cooking too much, eschewing cooking because it’s women’s work, liking chicklit, hating chicklit, loving men too much, indulging a shoe or lipstick fetish, dieting, exercising … give us enough time, we’re liable to make eating, sleeping, showering, and breathing into crimes against feminism. And if there’s one major reason sexy, strong women turn into “I’m not a feminist” types — or, worse, into Ariel Levy’s “Female Chauvinist Pigs” who express their liberation as Girls Gone Wild or Pussycat Dolls — it’s because the cause’s clear calls to action (violence against women, that pesky wage gap, and the plight of women in a slew of places overseas, to name a few) are obscured behind an endless list of superficial reasons to feel bad about being a woman. Somehow, once again, it’s all our fault — whatever “it” may be.

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