First woman pilot joins the Red Arrows

// 13 May 2009

Kudos to Flight Lieutenant Kirsty Moore, who has become the first woman to join the Red Arrows (an RAF display team), reports the Mail.

She had already distinguished herself as one of only ten women fast jet pilots in the RAF.

Now Flight Lieutenant Kirsty Moore has won an even greater honour – the first woman to join the Red Arrows.

The 31-year-old redhead was chosen ahead of dozens of male hopefuls to gain a place on the world-famous display team.

She was told the news yesterday as she landed her Tornado jet at a base in Qatar, following a mission in the skies over Iraq.

The RAF has had female pilots since 1991, and female fast jet pilots since 1994. But it is only recently that the first women clocked up enough experience to meet the strict criteria for applying to the Red Arrows.

Comments From You

Ruth // Posted 13 May 2009 at 6:18 pm

And we need to know she’s a “redhead”, exactly why, oh Daily Mail reporter? Oh, yes, because the most important thing is not her flying career but her hair.

Sigh.

But: jolly well done, her. Hope she has a blast (as it were)…

Vxn // Posted 13 May 2009 at 7:56 pm

Nice that it’s being reported, but typical of the Daily Male to input something about her appearance.

“The 31-year-old redhead”

What’s the point?

Charlie // Posted 13 May 2009 at 11:43 pm

I kind of like knowing she’s a red-head (being one myself it’s a one up for the team :p )

Awesome for her though, and I think inspiring as well

Aimee // Posted 14 May 2009 at 8:01 am

Oh my goodness! This was my childhood dream!!! I’m so happy for this woman, and i’m so happy that she’s made it… although I am a little sad it’s not ME, goddamnit! :)

Jen // Posted 14 May 2009 at 2:09 pm

Not so good that she’s “patrolling the sky above Iraq” though. How many women is that benefitting, really? In that context, doesn’t it make sense the Mail would mention something about her appearance – in terms of who she’s a role-model for, as opposed to whose country her employers are patrolling?

Besides, it shouldn’t be forgotten that the military is all about killing and getting killed for a living. Being in the army is exploitative of the soldiers themselves (and it’s not like veterans generally get well-treated either) and of course of the people on the receiving end. And she’s hardly the first woman in the military, either, for ages it was one of the few possible professions for working-class lesbian women, precisely because they’re some of the most disadvantaged people in society.

Why you would cheer the fact that we’ve got great white heterosexual role models in the army is beyond me. It’s incredibly right-wing. So it’s a display team – you surely can’t be blind to what it symbolizes.

Jess McCabe // Posted 14 May 2009 at 2:20 pm

It is a display team, not a combat role.

Yes, the military is inherantly messed up. Still, that doesn’t mean it’s not interesting to see a very talented pilot succeed in a non-combat job which doesn’t involve killing people.

She’s not the first woman in the military, but she’s the first woman in this particular job, which involves excelling in a role that patriarchal norms would dictate (see the comment section) women are not suited for. I’m guessing that the other alternative to train as a pilot would be to take very expensive private lessons, so effectively if you want to become a pilot the RAF is your only real bet, as well.

Jen // Posted 14 May 2009 at 3:03 pm

Yeah, she’s symbolically displaying military might and nationalist supremacy instead of physically displaying it, that’s not a very big difference.

The majority of women in the military would have been lesbians until relatively recently. I wonder how many of them would have had half a chance of ending up in her position? Or if the Mail would be holding her up as some kind of icon of greatness if she wasn’t relatively feminine-looking? I mean, they’re practically treating her like the Spirit of Liberty statue on the bonnet of a Rolls Royce or something.

I’m sure she’s a very good pilot and that she had to work even harder than her male colleagues to get where she is now. Point is, I don’t understand how you could take an article about a fighter pilot “patrolling the skies over Iraq” and say only positive stuff about it.

I mean, you spend quite a lot of time pointing out symbolic violence against women in advertising and complaining to the ASA about it (dunno why you bother, because the ASA is there to protect advertisers from getting into trouble, and certainly not for any benevolent justice-loving reason).

This is symbolic violence against women on a far, far greater scale. She has the same narrative role, here, as the models in those adverts – she gets to symbolize it and embody it. If you recognise her achievement, you have to recognise that models work damn hard too.

The military isn’t just fucked up, it kills and tortures people en masse, mostly women of colour. I’m not holding Lt Moore personally responsible for this, I happen to think soldiers are some of the most exploited people in society (hence why military recruitment ads are found in lads’ mags aimed at working-class men and hence why a lot of women in the military were lesbians until recently).

I just find it alarming that you would see in her a symbol of equality and an inspiration. If she is, it’s really only to white middle-class women, so in fact she’s not a symbol of equality at all.

In fact, an article about a bright-eyed redhead flying a military fighter plane in the Daily Mail should, surely, have set off some alarm bells, shouldn’t it?

Jess McCabe // Posted 14 May 2009 at 3:24 pm

Jen, I just think we see this differently.

Do I think the military is inherantly fucked up? Yes. Do I think it shouldn’t exist? Yes. Do I think the Daily Mail’s reasons for reporting this story are influenced by the fact it’s about the military, that the pilot is white, (is she straight? I don’t remember anything about her sexuality in the story)? Yes.

Any role in the armed forces is inherantly compromised, however far from actually carrying out violence. Yes, displays of that type are to an extent military propoganda…

Do I think that means all that entirely invalidates the idea that we should note in a short, cut-and-paste for the record post, pay attention to this pilot’s achievement? No. Does it mean that the story can’t help to dismantle ideas about what women are and aren’t capable of achieving? No. I

The thing I would wholeheartedly say is that I’m certain there are loads of women in the various armed forces who are pushing boundaries all the time, and we don’t hear about their successes partly because they’re not white, hetero, etc. It’s a big issue, and I should have noted it in the post.

Jen // Posted 14 May 2009 at 3:47 pm

Well, I should note it didn’t say anything about her being straight and I don’t want to assume either, but she doesn’t look like she wouldn’t be, she’s not unfeminine-looking… I think if she had a buzz cut and hairy upper lip they’d probably report it a little differently.

Any role in the armed forces is inherantly compromised, however far from actually carrying out violence. Yes, displays of that type are to an extent military propoganda…

To an extent? They are entirely. What we’re disagreeing on, I think, is that a lot of skill and hard work goes into a lot of things, including killing a lot of people (and some of that work involves finding ways to make killing a lot of people look good).

I just saw a thread about a white woman attaining a certain status in the field of symbolically killing lots of women of colour, and a bunch of commenters going “that’s just what I wanted to do when I grew up!”. I don’t see any Iraqi women seeing it the same way, somehow. It’s just too big a deal to ignore. I wouldn’t be cheering for greater gender equality in the NRA or the Ku Klux Klan either, even though you can bet lots of women work really hard behind the scenes in those organisations too, even though their aims aren’t exactly admirable (or even non-psychotic).

Just because the army shows a more respectable face, and it’s institutional, doesn’t make it that much different from those other organisations. In fact, at least they’re not institutional or international in scope.

And, I don’t think it makes much of a difference that it’s a non-combat role either. Churchill was in a non-combat role, that didn’t prevent Gallipolli from happening. Propaganda is still an important part of the process.

I think you’re being slightly blind to the sexism in this story as well. The Mail are literally treating her as an icon, saying her hair matches the planes and all that. It’s already traditional to refer to ships and planes in the feminine, and even quite a macho thing to be “married to the war”, she’s basically being used by the Mail as some kind of feminine icon of war. It’s kind of hard to put it across without sounding like a prat, since I don’t really have the appropriate vocabulary, but I’m sure you see what I mean.

So, yeah, within that context, I don’t want to ignore her achievement. Then again, whose achievement are we supposed to be celebrating here exactly? Millions of women are extremely skilled and work extremely hard in fields that are not traditional for white middle-class women, and never get the recognition. The only remarkable thing here is that someone gave her a cookie: they’re the ones we’re supposed to be patting on the back for being so wonderful and egalitarian, she had nothing to do with it. But anyway, I just happen to think that the context of institutionalised mass murder and rape and torture is too big to ignore.

Laura // Posted 14 May 2009 at 4:32 pm

I don’t think you sound like a prat, Jen, I think your analysis is spot on. I must admit that before I read your comment, my instant reaction was “go her!”, but you’re right that when “equality” is about women breaking into a male dominated institution which oppresses other women and races, when “equality” is about women being able to assert power based on traditionally male values, it’s no equality at all. I think it’s easy to automatically react positively when we see a woman make it in a male dominated realm, but in the case of oppressive institutions such as the army this represents only a personal step forward, not a step forward for all women.

That said, I do very much admire her aviation skills – I wish I could fly like that! Well, I wish I could fly full stop. I think that’s what kids see when they see the red arrows – awesome flying skills, not military violence, so I can understand why people would have wanted to do this when they were little.

Hmmm // Posted 14 May 2009 at 6:51 pm

The military offers career opportunities for working-class people. They get a chance to learn some skills and get qualifications.

Exploitative?

Not when you consider that these are people who would otherwise end up in a life of crime, on benefits…at best, working in McDonald’s.

And not all military roles actually involve being on the front line, you know.

Jen assumes Moore is middle-class and heterosexual from her appearance? Have you ever heard of femme lesbians?

Yes, in an ideal world the military would not exist.

Unfortunately this is the real world, and countries need to defend themselves.

Not condoning the awful behaviour of *some* soldiers, including rape – I am saying let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. The military can be reformed – having more women in it might even help with that. After all, most rapists are men.

Rob M // Posted 14 May 2009 at 6:56 pm

Millions of women are extremely skilled and work extremely hard in fields that are not traditional for white middle-class women, and never get the recognition. The only remarkable thing here is that someone gave her a cookie: they’re the ones we’re supposed to be patting on the back for being so wonderful and egalitarian, she had nothing to do with it.

So… Are you arguing that you should never give recognition to any one person achieving a significant ‘first’? Because it’s not really anything to do with them, it’s down to the people (and system thereof) who allowed them to do it?

It’s a more interesting argument than the “[British Armed Forces] aren’t much different to the KKK” one but I’m not sure it’s a much better one.

aimee // Posted 14 May 2009 at 11:52 pm

I didn’t even KNOW it was a military thing when I was little! I just wanted to fly planes. :(

For the record, I detest the military too.

I just know how difficult it is for women in this area of work… I once went to a careers fair where a man from the RAF told me that women couldn’t fly fighter planes because their wombs might fall out! Being niave and young I believed him…! Women are turned off just for showing an interest! Imagine how it must be for the women actually in the RAF? I just think it’s an achievement for a woman who is in the field she wishes to be in.

Jen // Posted 15 May 2009 at 9:56 am

Plus there’s the media treatment of anyone who’s even remotely genderqueer in the army.

“And here’s John… wearing lacy panties!!”

[suspended chord]

“And here’s John… frolicking about in his army uniform and lipstick!”

[someone kicks the crap out of a violin in the background]

“And shortly thereafter he topped himself”

[sordid physical details, irrelevant details about his mash potatoes the night before being sculpted into the shape of his mother, Close Encounters style]

“If any of your fathers, brothers, or cousins are displaying any of these symptoms, here’s the number of the NRA, the hunting lobby, and the Steelworkers of Great Britain. Take them to meet some real men!”

Well, I’m joking, but I’m not really exaggerating the media coverage of these situations (and the reality has to be much worse than the media coverage).

Trust me, with the winning combination of the Military and the Daily Mail, if Lt Moore bore even a slight ressemblence to Annie Lennox, the headline would have been “Dikey Doris Flies Back to Front”.

Rebekah // Posted 15 May 2009 at 11:20 am

This was my childhood dream… but it’s still my dream now.

Jess McCabe // Posted 15 May 2009 at 11:40 am

Not when you consider that these are people who would otherwise end up in a life of crime, on benefits…at best, working in McDonald’s.

Hmmm, are you sure you are really saying you think working class people face the choice: join the armed forces, or face a “life of crime” or benefits or McDonalds?!!!!

Jen // Posted 15 May 2009 at 12:26 pm

Jen assumes Moore is middle-class and heterosexual from her appearance? Have you ever heard of femme lesbians?

I shouldn’t need to clarify this, but I said she doesn’t look like she wouldn’t be. The Daily Mail would only represent someone as being anything other than heterosexual and middle-class if they looked the part according to the Daily Mail narrative. For all I know she’s been exploring vaginas since the age of twelve.

Although I’m not sure it’s possible to become an officer that young if you’re working class, after all there is class prejudice in the armed forces. But there again, the Daily Mail would generally represent someone they liked as an “ordinary hard-working middle-class person”, so it makes no difference what I assume – I’m talking about her place in the Daily Mail narrative.

Don’t make me get impatient because you don’t understand the concept of “narrative”, I’m trying to stay nice and polite here.

So… Are you arguing that you should never give recognition to any one person achieving a significant ‘first’? Because it’s not really anything to do with them, it’s down to the people (and system thereof) who allowed them to do it?

Well, I’m not really that into individual recognition, no (although, for what it’s worth, piloting a plane is difficult, so kudos to anyone who does it). But that wasn’t what I was saying there. There are millions of people who do more difficult things than she does every day, recognition of this fact would be one thing. I mean, some guys build the fucking roads you walk on, what do they get? I’ve known at least sixty people (mostly women) who saved cancer patients’ lives on a daily basis, all they get is the odd cake or box of chocolates.

What we’re getting here is “thank fuck the military recognised her prowess even though she’s a woman”. Now, there is the fact that, because she’s a woman, she probably had to work a lot harder than a man would to get to that position. But the only thing making her remarkable to the Daily Mail is that this is the military, and she’s one of “our boys in Iraq”. This isn’t gender equality they’re supporting.

The military offers career opportunities for working-class people. They get a chance to learn some skills and get qualifications.

Exploitative?

Not when you consider that these are people who would otherwise end up in a life of crime, on benefits…at best, working in McDonald’s.

Oh, you’ve got to be kidding. Working class people have crap career options – so let’s send them to step on landmines for a living, instead of creating a system where it’s viable for them to go to university and have the same career opportunities as the minority of middle-class people? And yeah, it’s much harder for working-class people (they have to persuade head teachers to allow them to sit scholarship exams and things) but some do go to university, and they certainly don’t all end up in a life of crime and misery – at least it’s not like they have a genetic predisposition to it that means better circumstances for them would make no difference. Who the fuck are you, Margaret Sanger?

Unfortunately this is the real world, and countries need to defend themselves.

And what, in the real world, is the UK defending itself against in Iraq, exactly?

Not condoning the awful behaviour of *some* soldiers, including rape – I am saying let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. The military can be reformed – having more women in it might even help with that. After all, most rapists are men.

What, and the power of oestrogen will change everything? Being in the army, particularly in wartime, is a psychologically fucked-up thing for anyone, including women. It creates the context for that kind of thing to happen. Women might not rape anyone (I wouldn’t care to assume that, though), but believe me, it’s not a bit of oestrogen that will prevent people from committing all manner of other acts of torture.

And no, I don’t really see any benefit to the army at all. I’ve got nothing against soldiers, I know a couple of really good guys who are or have been in the military, one is an old friend from way back, they’ve done mostly work for the Red Cross and stuff like that (though one’s been in Bosnia, so I don’t care to imagine what he’s seen over there, nor does he talk about it). If there was some kind of peaceful, non-combat organisation carrying out that type of work and community service-type work, then maybe, I can see the military evolving into that some day. Short of that, I don’t see any point to it at all – it’s just turning working-class people into cannon fodder in order to promote nationalism and colonialism.

I wasn’t actually expecting to have to explain my socialist feminist anti-military sentiments on The F-Word, but never mind.

Hmmmm // Posted 15 May 2009 at 1:32 pm

Jess – thanks for the glib paraphrasing of my comment.

No, I wasn’t saying that working-class people face a choice as in someone holds a gun to their head and says ‘join up, or work in McDonald’s?’

Obviously my comment did not apply to *all* working-class people. Of course, some will be able to succeed in life. It takes a lot to lift yourself out of the disadvantage of a poor background. It shouldn’t, but it does. Not everyone has the talent and determination, though.

It is unfair, but a middle-class person with very average abilities will probably find a decent job and do reasonably well in life – the same person born in a working-class background wouldn’t.

Of course there are other examples of careers which allow working-class people to succeed, in effect, become middle-class. The police, for example. There are also traditionally working-class occupations such as skilled trades, labour, care work, but such opportunities are far less available than they were.

There are areas where young working-class people have almost no chance of finding employment at all, and their parents and grandparents have never worked either. I’m not saying they don’t *want* to work, but there just aren’t the jobs.

The largest employment sector is now service. We have a service economy. For working-class people that means the lower end, yes – or if you don’t like that, working in Pizza Hut, Starbucks, or in Tesco…my point is not about specific multi-national companies, but the suitable employment opportunities will be in lower end service – food/ drink and retail. And there’s only so many people who can work their way up to management – or want to.

As for benefits, for those who can’t or don’t want to work in McJobs, or who live in areas where there just are not job vacancies, then yes, that is the alternative.

Many of us would be tempted to supplement pathetic benefits with crime. In certain estates *not all working-class areas* people virtually have to join a gang to survive – or it is certainly encouraged.

I am simply saying that joining the military does offer opportunities to get a decent career – and learn a trade which is later useful in civilian life.

OK, yes, it is to some extent a choice. But remember the adage – walk in someone else’s shoes. It is easy to say from a cosy white middle-class perspective that no-one should join up, and that even the most junior squaddie is evil and responsible for atrocities in Iraq & Afghanistan – but they’re not. They are just doing what they can to improve their life, and shouldn’t be judged or blamed.

Jess McCabe // Posted 15 May 2009 at 1:40 pm

@Hmmmm Thanks for the clarification, I think that make it much clearer where you’re coming from…

Hmmmm // Posted 15 May 2009 at 2:04 pm

Jen – I hadn’t seen your comment. I think my response to Jess clarifies.

I didn’t ask you to explain anything. I understand, thanks. I just don’t agree. Is that allowed, in your world?

‘she doesn’t look like she wouldn’t be straight’ still assumes that you can tell whether someone is straight or gay by their appearance.

You are rather condescending – I have a degree, I think I understand the concept of narrative. You did not seem to be talking about how the Daily Mail *presented* her but making assumptions about her.

You’re not into individual recognition? It is my turn to say you must be kidding. At the very least, Moore has achieved something just because she is a woman in the military. Sure, I agree that everyone’s achievements should be recognised, but in reality…

I didn’t mention genetics. Of course I don’t believe working class people are genetically inferior – not everyone who disagrees with you is some kind of eugenicist. I was saying that as you say yourself, working class people have crap career opportunities. Yes in an ideal world that wouldn’t be the case, but at present we don’t have one, so joining the military is a possible way to get out of that.

I didn’t say that I supported the Iraq war.

However, not all wars are Iraq. Some are justified.

If there is an actual clear immediate threat to a country, it has the right to defend itself.

Yes, the military should be reformed. The military *does* do community service and conflict prevention work – as you know. I just don’t believe it is inherently patriarchal to have military capability.

I suspect your friends who have been in service don’t think of themselves as exploited dupes and cannon fodder.

Jen // Posted 15 May 2009 at 3:14 pm

It is easy to say from a cosy white middle-class perspective that no-one should join up, and that even the most junior squaddie is evil and responsible for atrocities in Iraq & Afghanistan – but they’re not. They are just doing what they can to improve their life, and shouldn’t be judged or blamed.

You’re right on about that and you’re absolutely right about the rest of your comment. I have no time for anti-soldier sentiments or, for that matter, anti-cop sentiments. In fact, I have a lot more time for someone who decides to join the army in the hope of learning something useful and maybe doing some good – people go into suboptimal situations for all kinds of good reasons.

It should also be noted, as I have in previous comments, that veterans are some of the worst-off people in society.

I have issues with the institution itself (much like a lot of other institutions), but not with individuals who decide to be a part of it, especially at that low level.

However, I do think it should be noted that the range of choices you mention is quite horrific, and if the best choice is the army (and we shouldn’t forget what the army is) then we shouldn’t be satisfied that that’s just the way it is. I find it quite sinister that lads’ mags aimed at working-class guys are full of army recruitment ads, where the swankier ones would have ads for watches and bourbon, and that when I visit family in council estates what you see is basically crumbling houses overlooked by a huge throbbing poster of a dude in a green helmet urging you to come and “form unbreakable bonds with the lads”.

Nor do I have any time whatsoever for the Andy McNab thing, “I was a no good street punk and decided to do something worthwhile by joining the army”. I think that’s the worst kind of propaganda, telling these young men and women (mostly aimed at men though) that the best thing they can do with their lives is risk getting killed for a living.

Actually, the one occupation I can think of that poses a similar health and safety nightmare to people involved in it is sex work, which also results from a similarly (or even more) restrained set of options. Plenty of young girls have dreamed of being Pretty Woman when they grew up (I wanted to be a princess, personally, in terms of fucked-up career dreams I guess that’s a bit of a classic, though after that I wanted to be Jane Goodall, which is a bit better). Not that comparable aside from being something very dangerous that people get into because they have few other options, of course, but still, although I’ve very rarely seen a level-headed analysis of it on a feminist blog, neither have I experienced such surprise at seeing the ideology behind it questioned.

It’s quite scary when you think about it – quite a few feminists are generally happy to scream “ban it!” when “it” is misogynistic rap lyrics or pictures of nude glamour models, but when it’s an institution that takes the most disadvantaged people in the country and sends them to bomb the crap out of defenseless people in poor countries, someone questions whether this should exist and everyone’s chin-stroking and going “well I don’t know, we realistically need this institution, besides it’s a great career choice for certain people you know…”.

But I guess the titty pictures are right there in the news agents and upset us directly, whereas women in Iraq getting bombed and raped (not necessarily in that order), we objectively know it’s bad but can’t get upset enough about it to question whether it should happen or not, symbolically or otherwise. And you know, we shouldn’t need to get upset about something before considering it to be important, as well, that’s a very feminine-conditioned reaction to stuff.

I don’t want to sound annoyed or rude or anything (I’m not annoyed, mostly just curious), but, what’s going on in you people’s heads exactly?

aimee // Posted 15 May 2009 at 4:25 pm

Um.. I would like to add that the military is INCREDIBLY exploitative – through the media who try to blight our perception of events by telling us that all soldiers are ‘heroes’, and by the culture of desensiutisation that is bred within the military which leads to many of the atrocities committed by soldiers.

I HATE the military. I hate the culture associated with the military. I hate how soldiers are hero worshipped just for doing their job and I hate how we are told that they are fighting ‘for our country’ when we all know they are fighting to further the nefarious agendas of a few, very rich and greedy people. Saying that they would otherwise be working in Mcdonalds just goes to show how exploitative it IS to target working class people with propaganda about joining the forces. Is it better to be used and exploited bya bunch of money hungry fuckwits than to be flipping burgers? Is it then okay to target young adults and teenagers in town and in their schools because they have little hope of economic prosperity? Is it okay to use this as a justification when all it does it highlight underlying economic problems that makes the military an appealling prospect for a lot of young people? I think not.

Jan // Posted 15 May 2009 at 9:49 pm

I’m a powerful redhead too. Go Kirsty…it’s a bit on the late side for female equality but you made it anyway. Well done! Best of luck. Fly safe. Jan

Shea // Posted 16 May 2009 at 12:38 am

@ aimee- good points all through the thread.

Ever heard the quote- “there is more pornography in a general’s medals than a woman’s cunt”?

I would love to remember who said it. (Anyone?)

I also detest the military- I lasted five minutes to be exact in the air cadets. It was just a bunch of testosterone fuelled idiots, hellbent on using the tiny scrap of power and authority given to them, to bully and sexually harass new female cadets. So good on Moore for making it. I bet she has had to take a helluva lot of sh*t to get to this point.

Jo // Posted 16 May 2009 at 9:02 am

I don’t see any reason to assume that Flt Lt Moore is heterosexual; or that she’s middle class on the basis she’s an officer. If you enter the RAF on the pilot track or switch into it from other ranks you automatically get officer rank, because the RAF organizes its command structure slightly differently to other branches of the forces.

“Unfortunately this is the real world, and countries need to defend themselves.”

“And what, in the real world, is the UK defending itself against in Iraq, exactly?”

That’s missing the point. The rights and wrongs of any given military campaign don’t alter the fact that there are reasons for even prosperous Western countries to maintain standing armies. It’s a nasty old world out there: you can’t predict geopolitical changes that may necessitate having a fully trained and equipped army. Plus we are tied up in treaties and peacekeeping agreements which mean the political reality is that we have to have professional armed forces. So given that they’re here to stay, surely it’s better from a feminist viewpoint that women become an integral part of what is a significant national institution: not because a whiff of oestrogen will bring about world peace, but because it will improve day-to-day conditions for serving women, will be an example to the rest of society and will ultimately give women a voice in the decisions that get made at the top.

What people really seem to be worried about here is the role of the forces in foreign policy, which is fair enough, but the way to address that is through the ballot box, not by condemning individuals for joining up or assuming that all military personnel are inherently brutalized.

Anne Onne // Posted 16 May 2009 at 1:42 pm

The military is deeply problematic. Foreign policy aside (since the soldiers don’t have anything to do with that) We’ve seen plenty of evidence of what our military can do abroad, and plenty of evidence that it’s deeply flawed within. What is going on in the name of the UK and ‘our brave heroes’ abroad is sickening. However, I don’t want to assume that every soldier goes into this for the wrong reasons, or is a ‘bad’ person, or does terrible things. They are all undoubtedly privileged in different ways. There are also some very problematic people working in the army, and this no doubt gives them the chance to do what they would like and get away with it. There are also others pressured into unacceptable actions via orders or the army system in general. This system, the way all these actions are tolerated or even expected, whilst the actual soldiers on the ground are underfunded and undersupported make for a terrible combination: the army is very limited in what it can actually do with the supplies it has, so is fairly ineffective. At the same time, terrible things done by the army are tolerated. This is unacceptable.

The military is part of what allows the UK to be imperialistic and is worthy of being criticised, but it is also part and parcel of an imperfect system in which we all play a part and share some blame. Society allows the army to stay as it is. We allow it to protect itself with unaccountability for war crimes.

Ideally, I’d like to see the army play a very different role, because perhaps naively I believe it could be used for more good than harm. And I’d certainly like to see it reformed to be more open, with accountability for actions. This isn’t because I believe it to be unproblematic, but because I I can’t see the UK giving up an army.

Her achievement is still an achievement considering the problematic culture within the military with which she has no doubt needed to contend with. I wouldn’t call it a ‘feminist’ achievement per se, because I think the use of ‘feminist role model’ (c.f. Jordan/Katie Price, who excelled in a field based on female objectification. Successful and smart? No doubt about it, but it only feeds into the narratives that harm women.) should describe someone who has actively done something to improve awareness of women’s issues or benefited other women. So, well done to her on a personal level.

I know the military is deeply problematic, and that one woman doing well won’t solve the problem for women worldwide. But I feel that part of what it would take for the military to become less problematic would be to be more balanced gender-wise. That weakening the stranglehold over power that white heterosexual males often have. Does this mean women or LGBTQI people can’t be imperialistic or do great wrongs? No, of course not.

But I feel a great deal of why the army is deeply flawed, dangerous for its own recruits and for the civilians and prisoners it encounters, is because of the impenetrable machismo that pervades it. The army is still a secretive boys’ club, and the peer pressure and unaccountability are part of what makes it problematic. There is so much that needs to be addressed with regards to the army. However, I don’t think that the UK would give up having an army, so I see reform as more likely, more achievable in the near future, than scrapping the army. I just wish something could be done sooner.

So, conflicted and confused over here. :S

Jen // Posted 16 May 2009 at 7:57 pm

Um.. I would like to add that the military is INCREDIBLY exploitative – through the media who try to blight our perception of events by telling us that all soldiers are ‘heroes’, and by the culture of desensiutisation that is bred within the military which leads to many of the atrocities committed by soldiers.

Yeah, soldiers aren’t heroes, they’re victims mostly.

I don’t see any reason to assume that Flt Lt Moore is heterosexual; or that she’s middle class on the basis she’s an officer.

For the last time! I don’t assume that, the Daily Mail obviously would and does – otherwise they’d get busy demonizing her.

It’s a nasty old world out there: you can’t predict geopolitical changes that may necessitate having a fully trained and equipped army.

Oh please, the only countries that could possibly theaten us would do it via nukes, which, I think we agree, would eliminate the need for an army. The only reason to still have it is so we can perpetrate nastiness in vulnerable countries for various ulterior motives, mostly gain-motivated (which is what the ideology supports after all).

What people really seem to be worried about here is the role of the forces in foreign policy, which is fair enough, but the way to address that is through the ballot box, not by condemning individuals for joining up or assuming that all military personnel are inherently brutalized.

For the last time, I don’t condemn individuals who join up, as I’ve spent thousands of words explaining.

And of course soldiers are inherently brutalized. They’re trained to kill and be killed, it’s the damn army! And considering what’s happened in the last decade, how can you say we should influence things via the ballot box?

The military is deeply problematic.

Yes, also killing people is not okay, and as for bombing women and children? Majorly uncool.

Man, I can’t believe I’m on a site where you all regularly sneer at normal people for not understanding about equality, but we’re actually having a debate as to whether it’s possible to live without bombing the crap out of small countries.

Yeesh! And this is the deep force of conviction driving the Feminist Revolution?

Legible Susan // Posted 16 May 2009 at 10:16 pm

I agree with Jen and Anne Onne. (We should get rid of the army and spend the money on something useful instead, but that’s not going to happen any time soon.)

Anne Onne // Posted 16 May 2009 at 11:31 pm

Man, I can’t believe I’m on a site where you all regularly sneer at normal people for not understanding about equality, but we’re actually having a debate as to whether it’s possible to live without bombing the crap out of small countries.

Yes, because feminists do nothing but ‘sneer’ and ‘scream’ (way to work in gendered silencing language, btw) and suggesting that because anyone here disagrees with you on any count, no matter how nuanced, nobody cares about murder. And because having an army in any way shape or form is exactly like genocide. Didn’t you yourself say it might be possible to see the army as a peacekeeping force?

I can’t see anyone here saying that bombing small countries is acceptable, or that it’s desirable. Maybe I’m missing it. Certainly there seem to be disagreements about a LOT of aspects of the army.

What I do see is several intersecting but separate discussions being equated and people talking at cross purposes. A woman getting a non-combat position is a separate issue from political policies that wage war on small countries. The terrible behaviour of army recruits is separate but related to the exploitative targeting of poorer people to provide fodder for the wars. There are ways in which these intersect, which makes this more complex, but it’s important to not conflate one point directly with another.

Also, assuming that because some people disagree with you on some counts, everyone here believes that bombing the crap out of small countries is our birthright or something is rather dismissive. It frames anyone who disagrees with you on any count as tacitly or explicitly supporting torture or murder. Probably not what you intended, but seeing as this IS a feminist space, perhaps we can discuss things without this? Labelling broadly puts other people on the defensive and makes it harder to have a discussion. The F word is a diverse community, which by definition means whatever the topic there will be people with differing opinions, different levels of ‘progressiveness’ or knowledge about a topic. Sometimes it may be necessary to point out why one issue feeds into another, and sometimes people just won’t get it. That doesn’t mean all feminists or a whole community deserve to get lumped together.

Some people have defended the army here on some counts, and some disagree on how to go about addressing it, or acknowledging what is well done whilst bringing up that which is wrong. Your points are certainly food for thought and point out eloquently a lot of what is wrong with the army, and why things need to be addressed. But the ‘feminists should think of X not Y’ references and some problematic framing is divisive.

Perhaps it’s a case of tempers flaring on all sides because it’s such a complex topic, and a level of defensiveness on all counts. The issues are frustrating, and the unaccountability of how wrong the army system is, how vast and harmful in many directions, yet how accepted it is makes it sometimes very

hard to know how to frame this. I really think there’s more agreeing than disagreeing here.

Jen // Posted 17 May 2009 at 11:59 am

I should clarify, I don’t disagree with Anne Onne, I just thought it was a hilariously understated way of putting it.

Elle // Posted 17 May 2009 at 12:42 pm

Yes, the Red Arrows are a display team but to even apply you must have a minimum of 1,500 flying hours, completed a frontline tour, be assessed as above average in their flying role. Then a short list is drawn up of nine candidates. After that there are interviews, flight assessments and a peer assessment. Personally I’m very impressed by her achievement. The Red Arrows are considered to be some of the finest pilots in the world.

“I just find it alarming that you would see in her a symbol of equality and an inspiration. If she is, it’s really only to white middle-class women, so in fact she’s not a symbol of equality at all.”

Middle-class? Based on what? That the Daily Fail had an article on her? Or are you in possession of information I’m not? Anyway, who says you get to decide what gets approval as an achievement for women? I thought this feminism lark was about women’s freedom to choose for themselves, not to be told what is and isn’t appropriate behaviour. I hadn’t realised we were supposed to submit our life plans and potential achievements to a committee to be approved. Guess that’s me out since I want to join the RAF. Did you get that? I want to. No one is making me, since no one could. To me, she is an inspiration. To me she symbolises the fact that I too can reach the top in my chosen, and usually male dominated, field. Yes I’m white, no I’m not middle class. But what the f*ck does that have to do with it? Since when did being white, female and middle class mean your achievements didn’t count? And are you suggesting that women can only feel inspired by the achievements of women who are the same colour, class, age and sexuality as them? Well we’re f*cked then.

In an ideal world there would be no need for armed forces but this is not an ideal world. Sure this country is not perfect, rights, equality and attitudes still need to be addressed and changed but hey at least I can say that. I might have to listen to some drivel about women and their place but I can tell the troll to go f*ck itself. And I am willing to put my life on the line to defend that, while trying to change what needs to be changed.

Comparing the RAF to the KKK? Wow. You can’t see a difference? That I find worrying. The RAF, and the Army and the Royal Navy, are very different from the KKK. The armed forces may be flawed, some people within them may be total f*ckheads and behave in unacceptable ways but the aims of these organisations are very different.

“Although I’m not sure it’s possible to become an officer that young if you’re working class, after all there is class prejudice in the armed forces.”

Yes it is. I know some, and I’m applying for officer training.

“. . .it’s not a bit of oestrogen that will prevent people from committing all manner of other acts of torture.”

No it’s not, it’s the fact that I think it’s f*cking appalling, beneath contempt and not a manner in which any human being should behave. That’s what will prevent me from committing rape or torture. Come to think of it that’s what stops me in general. And they are positions I fully believe that I can take in to my career. Watch me.

“I wasn’t actually expecting to have to explain my socialist feminist anti-military sentiments on The F-Word, but never mind.”

Why not? Was no one supposed to disagree with you? Is your world view somehow more valid or to be expected? Having to explain yourself and defend your ideas is half the fun. Trying to get people think about something other than their own ideas, and thinking about theirs in return, is one of the best bits of most of the blogs I read.

“I HATE the military. I hate how soldiers are hero worshipped just for doing their job and I hate how we are told that they are fighting ‘for our country’ when we all know they are fighting to further the nefarious agendas of a few, very rich and greedy people.”

Seriously? Why don’t you go ask some veterans how the hero worship is working out for them? I think you’ll find that the media bullsh*t about “our boys” doesn’t really extend into real life for most service folk. Decisions made by politicians about why we go to war should not be used to tarnish the choices made by people who join the armed forces. Iraq is totally f*cked up, we should not be there, should never have gone in. Afghanistan I’m not so sure about. The Second World War, glad we got into that, if somewhat late. There were of course smaller interventions, some alongside the UN like Sierra Leone. Use of British troops there, good plan. Then of course there are the ones we don’t get involved in but that I think we should to uphold all the human rights stuff we like to shout about. Not that invasion is always a good way to go but military presence might help. Perhaps even just the idea that military assistance might be forthcoming could help. Again with the fact that to defend things I believe in I am willing to put my life on the line.

“Oh please, the only countries that could possibly theaten us would do it via nukes, which, I think we agree, would eliminate the need for an army. The only reason to still have it is so we can perpetrate nastiness in vulnerable countries for various ulterior motives, mostly gain-motivated (which is what the ideology supports after all).”

Actually if we didn’t have armed forces you wouldn’t need a nuke to threaten us. A navy would do. Or an air force. If we hadn’t had armed forces the world would probably be a very different place. Of course the obvious ones to pick on there are the First and Second World Wars. But if we went further back to removed armed forces they might never have happened. So maybe it would have been a good thing, maybe a bad thing but I’m going to go with bad as I like my life and the being alive in this world however flawed and in need of work it is. I say lets get on with the fixing part. And yes that does include the forces.

“Man, I can’t believe I’m on a site where you all regularly sneer at normal people for not understanding about equality, but we’re actually having a debate as to whether it’s possible to live without bombing the crap out of small countries.”

And I find it difficult to believe that you appear think that’s all the armed forces of this country have ever done or do. Or that deployment decisions are actually made the armed forces rather than politicians and governments. People should be held accountable for their actions are decisions, those who get us embroiled in war, and those who cannot conduct themselves as human beings while engaged in said wars.

Elle // Posted 17 May 2009 at 12:59 pm

Ooops.

“Yes, the Red Arrows are a display team but to even apply you must have a minimum of 1,500 flying hours, completed a frontline tour, be assessed as above average in their flying role.”

Sorry that should be “your flying role.” Was copying from Red Arrows site and forgot to change,

Jen // Posted 17 May 2009 at 2:55 pm

Yes, because feminists do nothing but ‘sneer’ and ‘scream’ (way to work in gendered silencing language, btw) and suggesting that because anyone here disagrees with you on any count, no matter how nuanced, nobody cares about murder.

I didn’t say “scream”, and I didn’t realise “sneer” was meant to be gendered. And people here do sneer a lot, every comment thread has “oh of course most people are totally unaware of stuff we’re aware of” in it somewhere, or “isn’t society terrible”. I saw one the other day where someone was saying that marriage was “drenched in culture”. What does that even mean? I’m sorry, but I’ll believe I’m faced with hard-hitting commentary when I have evidence of such a thing, which isn’t the case so far.

Besides, I never said people don’t care about murder, I just think that mass-murder is an easier thing to swallow when it’s presented to us in certain ways, and cloaked in certain kinds of ideology.

When someone gets back from patrolling Iraq and everyone’s like “what a great role model for women!”, I think that does only address itself to white women (certainly not Iraqi women), preferably middle-class (the Daily Mail doesn’t recognise anyone else as fully human – interestingly as its target audience is mostly older working-class women, what does that say about all this?). I think the concept of role-models is inherently fucked-up and very anti-feminist anyway. And I think idolizing someone on the basis that she’s probably had to kill people in the line of duty and now gets to symbolise this rather than actually having to do it is very fucked-up indeed. Several people have mentioned how exploitative all the “our heroes” stuff around soldiers is, and I completely agree. This is exploitative of her, more than anything else.

You want to talk about “silencing”? How about repeatedly, wilfully misunderstanding someone who’s trying to argue a point, and rephrasing what she says to make it look like she’s being difficult or unreasonable or doesn’t know what the hell she’s talking about? Because that’s what I get every time I make the mistake of commenting on the F-Word.

And stuff like this:

A woman getting a non-combat position is a separate issue from political policies that wage war on small countries. The terrible behaviour of army recruits is separate but related to the exploitative targeting of poorer people to provide fodder for the wars.

What does “separate but related” even mean??? Of course they’re not separate, they’re directly related. People behave in fucked-up ways during wars – is anyone seriously suggesting that it’s because some people are inherently bad and should be locked up? All that behaviour, those rapes and that abuse, are direct consequences of the fact that people are in an extremely fucked-up situation. Or perhaps just in a situation where it becomes acceptable to behave that way, and so they’re comfortable with it, where they’d be less so at home. Just like people here are quite comfortable with the idea of nationalism and mass-murder, in the context of a war, but probably no other context. And they are – they’re all saying so themselves.

As for why I was snippy with you personally – every time I see you comment, it’s not like you’re talking nonsense, in fact you have a gift for seeing all sides of an argument at once – that’s good. But then again, you’re not nuanced, you’re vague, and in that comment, I counted six uses of the word “problematic”. Your next comment, you said “they are related but separate yet intersect in different ways”. That doesn’t even mean anything! It’s like you took several hundred words and didn’t say anything at all because you want everyone to be right at once. You’re obviously bothered by the fact that a woman is being celebrated here for the fact that she has most likely been forced to kill people in the line of duty, or else gets to symbolize and celebrate the fact that this happens. So, out with it! It’s not something you can afford to be vague about.

And Elle – look, I’m not going to read all of that, and best of luck in your career and everything, but, look, I never even said I thought I should be the arbiter of who gets recognition or not, I just think it’s, as Anne would say, a bit problematic in this case, seeing as the recognition in this case involves an exploitative situation for Lt Moore herself, and something a great deal worse for the women on the receiving end of that particular ideological clusterfuck.

If we start tearing each other’s throats out every time we complain about a woman being in a situation that is exploitative to her (which is what I’m doing here), then we won’t get anywhere.

aimee // Posted 17 May 2009 at 7:21 pm

Um, i’m sure war veterans love being touted as heroes! I sure as hell would! BUt that doesn’t mean they should be. They may well be putting themselves in danger in their line of work. But healthcare workers are at risk from becoming contaminated with some infectious disease. Fishing is an incredibly dangerous job, as is construction work. Truck drivers, farm workers, police officers, social workers. All dangerous jobs, but they’re not touted as heroes.

In fact, I would consider soldiers to be heroes if they DIDN’T go out and fight, if instead they reviewed the tenous legality of the war and refused to fight. *sigh* I don’t think it’s really to do with ‘defending your country’ (from what, exactly?), but, for a lot of people, it’s an alternative option for more disadvantaged people who can’t follow the traditional routes to prosperity because of economic and social inequalities. The issue of the real possibility of death is very much, i’ve noticed, downplayed in the adverts for the military.

There’s also the influence of the macho male culture. A lot of men I know join the forces because they think it’s ‘hard’, and because they feel that they’re supposed to enjoy violence and combat. Which, in my opinion is definitely not conductive to allowing the army to be able to negotiate foreign relations, but that’s a different issue. It certainly doesn’t fit my definition of ‘hero’, anyway.

Um, my main point, however, was that just because I don’t support the military, doesn’t mean I cannot appreicate the achievements of a woman (or really want to fly planes!) in a male dominated field.

Jen // Posted 18 May 2009 at 9:39 am

Aimee, pretty much exactly.

Although I think veterans might just settle for getting enough benefits to live on and some recognition that they’ve been through something pretty traumatic if they’ve seen combat.

But healthcare workers are at risk from becoming contaminated with some infectious disease. Fishing is an incredibly dangerous job, as is construction work. Truck drivers, farm workers, police officers, social workers. All dangerous jobs, but they’re not touted as heroes.

Absolutely – and if they’re in the headlines, it’s because they have the audacity to go on strike, usually.

In fact, I would consider soldiers to be heroes if they DIDN’T go out and fight, if instead they reviewed the tenous legality of the war and refused to fight.

To be fair, I don’t think they’re in a position to do that, and as you said yourself,

A lot of men I know join the forces because they think it’s ‘hard’, and because they feel that they’re supposed to enjoy violence and combat.

which means it’s the ideology they’re upholding that makes them join up in the first place. So, they’re not necessarily going to question that, even if they were in a position to, once they’ve joined up. I mean, there were draft-dodgers conscientious objectors in previous wars, but that can only happen if people are drafted to start with. There’s also a strong individualist component to the kind of tough-guy culture you speak of, and I’m willing to bet most guys would argue that they chose it, so they’re going to stick it out.

And there’d be a whole interesting debate there to have around the effect of these gender politics on young men – and you could wonder, in that context, if it really is a good situation for Lt Moore to have achieved a degree of equality in these circumstances. I certainly don’t buy that the fact that women gain more equality is going to change things. It’s the fucking army! You can’t get away from the fact that its basic function is to kill people.

Um, my main point, however, was that just because I don’t support the military, doesn’t mean I cannot appreicate the achievements of a woman (or really want to fly planes!) in a male dominated field

As I said before, I think she probably had to work twice as hard as most men to get that position (either that or she’s from a good family and got some help up that way, but I certainly don’t know that for sure). So, of course, that’s an achievement – in its context, which is a fucked-up and exploitative one.

I still find it quite sinister that we’re lauding someone who’s just been patrolling over Iraq – well, especially now that we’ve got confirmation that the conditions for getting the position include 1500 hours of flying and frontline duty. Chances are, she’s had to drop bombs on a whole bunch of women of colour in the line of duty. This thread has totally told them where they stand with regards to how white feminists feel about who “equality” really applies to, right?

This is also out of proportion with the reactions of you people to other stuff. I’ve seen calls to throw Snoop Dogg out of the country because his lyrics are sexist, when Tarantino came to the UK two years ago he was met with feminist pickets, because he made a movie generally deploring that women are preyed on by men – both were taken to condone violence against women, so it was felt they should be thrown out of the country – women have spoken, etc. Yeah, I think those two are politically dubious. However, someone comes along, who’s quite possibly had to actually kill women in the line of duty, and belongs to an institution that most certainly does, and what we get here is a breezy, “oh well, in context we can recognise her achievement”. It almost doesn’t matter that she has a role in perpetrating a situation where women are tortured and killed, we can appreciate “in context”. No way! On its own, you could possibly defend that position, but compared to you guys’ reaction to sexist advertising, this is beyond despicable.

And then, I’m seeing a number of people saying that the military is something we need and it’s okay, not great, but can do good – but there are fucked-up nasty individuals within it. I call bullshit, there’s no such thing as an inherently fucked-up nasty individual. People in certain situations behave in certain ways. It’s too easy to say “Oh, if I was there, I would torture or rape”… well, I don’t know if I would for sure. Most of us, we’re not required to kill people for a living. Personally, I find killing a spider to be pretty harrowing, we’ve all seen interviews with veterans where they say you can’t think about what you’re doing while you’re fighting or you wouldn’t be able to do it. Imagine the psychological effect that has on anyone – if individuals carry out those actions, it’s an inherent part of war. Remember, they’re there to do something even worse than rape and torture, in theory.

As for this whole thread, well, all I can say is, I understand having to defend my position, but I was a little surprised at having to explain it this much, and that people were surprised that anyone could hold it in a feminist debate. We’ve come a long way from Greenham Common, haven’t we?

Aimee // Posted 18 May 2009 at 9:47 pm

Jen… I totally can see what you’re saying, and actually, after reading what you’ve said, i’m feeling a little bit conflicted about what I said in the first place. You’re totally right of course. Her achievement is in a field of work where she is obliged and willing to commit atrocities. I can definitely see your point, and I can definitely see how it’s akin to say, supporting a woman who has risen to the top of some other kind of patriarchal system I don’t agree with who are instrumental in supressing people worldwide. I still think her achievement is admirable… but contextually I can see how it’s not really admirable at all.

I think i’ve talked myself into agreeing with you, Jen.

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