Female Soldiers in the NY Times

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This blog entry is intended to convince you to read this essay in the Times, about female soldiers and veterans with PTSD. But it has a very long intro before I segue to that topic, so I'm including the link upfront.

An essay I wrote is running today in the print version of the NY Times (at least, it's supposed to--I confess I haven't yet ventured out of the house to buy it) but the online version appeared Friday. I'm not going to link to it here, because my blog is semi-anonymous, meaning I keep my last name out of it, though I know most of the people who read it know who I am, or can figure it out pretty damn easily.

Wednesday evening I had an interesting conversation with a Times copy editor, who very graciously walked me through questions and changes necessary to make the essay conform to NY Times style. The two things I will remember forever from that conversation are A) how THRILLED I was when he paid me a HUGE compliment by saying that he was so intrigued by what I'd written that he wanted to read the book it was excerpted from, and B) his explaining that the official style rules of the NY Times discourage (if not prohibit) the use of the terms "male" and "female" as "awkward."

This was a problem, because the essay we were editing discusses "male missionaries" and "female missionaries." Pretty standard for my work, right? So we talked about alternatives. In one case, we substituted "women" for "female missionaries." But there was another point where the editor wanted to submit "men" for "male missionaries." I said, "But it wasn't men in general that were the subject in this case. It was male missionaries--or elders," which is even weirder than "male missionaries" to most people, because "elders" implies old men, not 19-year-old guys.

So the copy editor said, "How about 'missionaries who were men' instead of 'male missionaries'?"

I said, "Are you really suggesting that 'missionaries who were men' is less awkward than 'male missionaries'?"

He said, "OK, I'll tell you what. I'll write a note to the next person who's going to edit this, explaining that we discussed this in detail and that I approve the use of 'male' and 'female' here."

And I'm happy to say that the final version of the essay includes the terms "female missionaries" and "male missionaries."

Anyway, all of this is a very long introduction to this essay in the Times about female soldiers and combat veterans with PTSD. That's right: FEMALE VETERANS. the phrase "female veterans" appears several times in the article--and not just in quotations where someone being interviewed for the article has said it, but in the prose the reporter has written.

Which is a stylistic issue I wouldn't have even noticed if I hadn't been alerted to it earlier this week.

When I first began teaching courses on war literature, I had a hell of a time finding material about women's experience of war. I used Pale Horse, Pale Rider by Katherine Anne Porter, and the Face of War by Martha Gellhorn (which is a GREAT book), and Home Before Morning, by Lynda Van Devanter, all several times, and I once used a really boring memoir by one of the first women taught to fly a plane in WWII, but it was too boring to use twice.

But even talking about women in war has been difficult in the past because of the way their efforts and suffering in war are ignored and minimized. My students judged Van Devanter (an army nurse in Vietnam), for instance, for having an affair with a married doctor she served with in ways they didn't judge the doctor who cheated on his wife with her. And when Van Devanter got home, she discovered to her shock that no one saw her as a veteran. Even the VA told her she wasn't a veteran--'cause veterans are men, as everyone knows, and she was a woman.

This article in the Times is disheartening in that the same stuff is still happening 35 years later, but at least it's being discussed in a major forum.

And perhaps someday, the problem will be solved, both because female veterans get the respect they deserve, and because we'll be in fewer wars. That would be nice.

4 Comments

Wow, I had no idea that you were the one who wrote that beautiful essay. I'm really looking forward to reading your book.

Holly, I hadn't seen your essay, but now I have, and I'm really glad you mentioned it. That last scene evokes such a deep loneliness, I'm going to get a hug from someone at first opportunity.

thanks for the share

Hey everyone--thanks for the comments. Sorry I've been awol for so long.

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This page contains a single entry by Holly published on November 1, 2009 8:38 AM.

Just a Normal Family was the previous entry in this blog.

Trying to Make Themselves Relevant by Using Women's Bodies is the next entry in this blog.

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