When the documentary Lioness (2008) was released, Department of Defense policy barred female service-members from direct ground combat. This documentary followed five female soldiers who operated in the “gray zone” when it came to combat. These women were pulled from support commands and attached to all-male combat units; they were then used to search Muslim women as needed and to defuse the cultural tensions caused by strange men interacting with Iraqi women. When (not if) fighting occurred, these women were there and had to respond effectively. This documentary took a look at one team of women who were engaged in the fuzzy front lines and guerrilla tactics of the current (recent?) war efforts in the Middle East. However, I think most women veterans would be willing to bet that it is not just this “special” set of women who have been placed on the front lines. For instance, a woman whose job is military police may be standing watch at the gate, and an ambush could occur. My spouse, combat veteran of 2 tours in Iraq, tells a story of the second time he went to Iraq where the plane taking them into country was getting shot at. There were female soldiers on that plane. Long story long: women, who represent ~14-19% of our military, are likely to be involved in work that puts them on the front lines.
The entire documentary was enthralling, but there were a few scenes that really caught my eye.
- During a ‘Lioness reunion’ the women were gathered in a living room watching a History Channel special on the fighting in Ramadi. One of them observed that they were present during the footage on screen, but none of them were depicted on screen. As a woman service-member, I feel particularly angry about that!
- One of the Lioness’, Major Kate Guttormsen, explained that women and men dealt with the emotional consequences of war differently. Major Guttormsen was seen giving a female soldier a hug after a particularly tough day, and another male officer thought it was appropriate to remind her that she is in charge. As if validation makes someone a poor leader?
- Lastly, at the very end, SPC Shannon Morgan aptly states “You don’t get over it, you get on with it.” Whether she is talking about PTSD or coming back to civilian life after serving in a warzone, I think she is on to something…
Bringing us back to current times, in December 2015, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced that beginning in January all military occupations would be open to women, without exception. I’d be interested in knowing how relevant this documentary will be in 10-20 years after we have all acclimated to women being in ‘harm’s way.’ Regardless, women service members have unique experiences which are all the more reason why providers should know how to help them heal. For more information on that, attend our workshop on 12/1, on Caring for Women Veterans.
McGagan, M. (Director), & Sommers, D. (Director). (2008). Lioness [Motion picture]. United States: PBS.
Kimberly Hardy, LMHC