J. D. Pendry
There is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress. - Mark Twain
Ok, I did it. I swore that I would not watch a movie out to prove that a woman could make it through Navy SEAL training - another equal opportunity to die for your country struggle on the big screen with surround sound. Nevertheless, I did, and it turns out that the real story line is more frightening and, I fear, closer to the truth than the possibility of women in combat.
The story line:
A female congressperson pushes for the acceptance of women in combat. Jane, our heroine, is your average world-class athlete who just happens to be a lieutenant in Naval Intelligence. Her woe is that she cannot get an operational assignment because there "is no place for women to pee on submarines" and therefore will not progress in her career equally with her male counterparts. Jane, however, does not run about demanding to be a SEAL or the opportunity to prove herself other than wishing for a chance at operational assignments.
Our domineering, cigarette smoking, whiskey tossing female politician selects Jane from a pile of candidates, then uses her political clout to force the Navy into giving Jane a shot at becoming a SEAL. Just a test argued the politician, to see if it's possible for a woman to succeed in such training.
Off goes Jane to SEAL training. Jane, unlike other trainees, reports to the commander's office. There she's instructed to inform the commander immediately if she has any problems or if anyone gets out of line with her - which is not the same orientation speech the rest of the trainees get. Jane, being true to the character, told the commander that she expects the same treatment as the boys get. During physical training (hell week torture), an instructor tells Jane if regular push-ups are too hard she can do them from her knees - no kidding. Jane didn't. She endured the tortures of hell week with the men. When negotiating the graded obstacle course, she was told to use a stepladder to get over the wall. Jane refused. Instead, she allowed her male teammates to use her as a stepping stool. (I believe the director sent us a message here - a struggling woman used as a stepping stool by progressing males.) When her last teammate was atop the wall, he reached an arm for her, as he should have. This particular teammate however, was very disgruntled with and vocal about Jane's invasion into his quest for machismo. So, instead of helping her over the wall he purposely lets her drop causing her to have to rely on the stepladder to make it over. In the end, she finishes 30 seconds behind the slowest male. He failed, Jane passed. She passed, she's told; because women get additional time to complete the course.
Jane's SEAL training adventure is supposed to be secret. At least that's the agreement between our politician and the Navy. However, pictures of her in training turn up on the news and in the papers - all of this orchestrated by our publicity-seeking politician friend.
So, let's examine the paradox. Political pressure places a woman into a training program previously restricted to males. The leadership establishes different standards for her. She finds herself with resentful male teammates who won't give her the same help they would give another male. The publicity-seeking politician, who agreed to keep Jane secret until the test was over, has a photographer take long-range photos and leaks them and the story to the news. Kind of a screwy picture, isn't it? Nevertheless, a believable one in our politically driven world.
Back to the story. Jane's boyfriend, also a Navy officer, gets the task from some beltway admirals and a male service secretary I believe, to keep them briefed on Jane's performance and status. Meantime, Jane works hard at being accepted as one of the boys, she moves into the barracks with them, works extra hard on her physical conditioning, shaves off her hair - the standard things you'd expect from a wannabe SEAL. To the dismay of the beltway admirals, who themselves are politicians; Jane appears to be making it. She moves beyond hell week, progresses in training, goes to survival evasion resistance and escape training, tells a SEAL Command Master Chief to suck a piece of male anatomy she professes to have, whips him with her hands tied behind her back (another message from the director) and bonds with her male teammates. It looks like Jane might succeed.
Enter the Department of Defense. DOD announces a round of base closures. Strangely enough, our female politician's district stands to lose its military bases creating major political problems for her - unless she cuts the right political deal. In the bat of an eye, her focus shifts from the betterment of womankind to saving her own political butt - the deal she cuts sells out our heroine. Pending the outcome of an investigation on trumped up charges of sexual impropriety arranged by our friendly female politician and her photographer, Jane is booted from training. Miraculously the Department of Defense changes its decision and her district gets its bases back.
The rest of the story is that our heroine calls madam politician's bluff by threatening to expose her shenanigans, returns to training, has the operational phase of training unexpectedly replaced by a real world mission, saves the life of the master chief she previously whipped, becomes a hero, graduates, the chief gives her a book of poetry etc., etc.
There are some lessons in this story.
© 2000 J. D. Pendry