Sunday, April 6, 2003

Women at war

When sex becomes an issue

Marty is fighting mad. He has ramped up his customary first-name-only voicemail message. I am no longer merely "stupid, stupid, stupid." Now I am stupid, etc., and un-patriotic. He has complained about four of my last columns. (Marty, I'm sorry, but this qualifies you as a regular reader.)

"Trees in Hyde Park? Who cares whether spoiled rich people have a shady place to sit and eat their expensive ice cream? There are American boys in some godforsaken desert eating sand," he said. "And some girls." Why, Marty. That's an unusual concession from you.

Taking a wrong turn

A few days later, Marty telephoned, sputtering about a column on "the vergina travelogues." That is Marty-ese for The Vagina Monologues, performed amid some controversy on the campus of Xavier University last month. Perhaps he would have been more comfortable had the title been The Boom-Boom Monologues.

And perhaps not.

Marty is - and I say this with all the respect he is due - a sexist nitwit. After U.S. soldiers rescued Pfc. Jessica Lynch from her Iraqi captors, Marty couldn't wait to inform me that the whole frightening episode can be laid at the feet of "you femi-Nazis," a phrase I suspect he borrowed from Rush Limbaugh, who is his hero.

"God only knows what happened to that poor girl," Marty said. As if what might be happening to our "poor boys" in captivity is somehow less terrifying, less lethal, less painful.

"War is no place for women," he said.

Army Col. Rhonda Cornum, who was captured during the first Gulf War, wrote in Textbook of Military Medicine, "The primary concern seems to be the possibility of sexual abuse . . . just one of the many potential physical and psychological torture techniques, whether the subject is male or female."

Shot down in a helicopter, Cornum remembers thinking, "At least I'm dying doing something honorable." Then 36, she broke both arms, shattered her knee and took a bullet in her shoulder. The Iraqi guard who molested her in the back of a truck, she told reporters, was the least of her problems.

"I've got a cut above my eye that's soaked with blood and I'm sure I don't smell very good. And I'm thinking, 'How can he possibly want to do this?' But, you know, on the hierarchy of things that were going wrong, that was pretty low on my list."

She knew when she returned she would be carefully watched, maybe as the poster girl for why women shouldn't be allowed in combat. "I didn't want anyone to think I was weaker or more emotionally vulnerable. . ."

She always teared up when she heard "God Bless the USA," a song she figured might be part of the coming home ceremony. So, she listened to a tape of it, practicing. It worked. "The only time I cried was when I saw my kid."

Brave, honorable, tough, Cornum is a patriot who chose to fight. Not everybody is cut out to be a soldier. Not every man is.

And not every woman is not.

E-mail or call 768-8393.

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