Women will now officially be allowed “in combat,” the U.S. Pentagon announced yesterday. Hurrah! A mere 20 years after I wrote what was undoubtedly a moving (and an apparently well-before-its-time) Social Studies class report about why women should be allowed in combat positions, we have reached this important milestone in equality.
Of course, like the lifting of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, this marks one of those strange moments in history when a less-than-equal group is celebrating its members’ right to get themselves killed in war. But it is a milestone, for many reasons — from the simple acknowledgement of reality and sacrifice to the opening of real avenues for employment and promotion. This marks one more way women can no longer be “othered,” coddled and then diminished because it’s assumed they can’t do something just because of their gender.
And, perhaps most importantly, this could totally change war movies.
The change, naturally, will show up slowly in the military — there is not likely a line of women forming around the block at the Pentagon today, seeking these newly opened “in combat” jobs. That means it will show up even more slowly in our pop culture; but it’s bound to happen. Thanks to this and Kathryn Bigelow, we’ll probably, hopefully start to see more women sought to direct war movies, and maybe, as a result, general big-budget action movies. This is critical when directors’ box office success is tallied as a signifier for their ability to draw a huge crowd.
Zero Dark Thirty gave us the rare spectacle of a female lead — one whose gender is not that big a deal — in what’s essentially a war/action hybrid film, no doubt partly a result of Bigelow directing. We’ll likely see more of this as well, which — dare we dream? — could even open doors to female superheroes who aren’t merely sexy eye candy. In other words, maybe they’ll wear some clothes.
We’ll probably start to witness women as part of the front lines in films that depict our current and recent wars. They’ve been doing plenty of work there, anyway, and lifting the ban simply acknowledges that. Perhaps we’ll get a film that tackles the relationship tensions that spring up between men and women in the military together. (Not that this is reason not to let women serve; but it is good drama.) And how cool would a Band of Sisters-type drama be, a story of how women in uniform support each other?
HBO, I have your next Emmy-bait project.
Hollywood.com correspondent Jennifer Keishin Armstrong is the author of two forthcoming books, Sexy Feminism (due out in March) and Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted, a history of The Mary Tyler Moore Show (due out in May). For more information visit JenniferKArmstrong.com.
Follow Jennifer on Twitter @jmkarmstrong