Soldiers In Drag Are Nothing New For The Identity-Obsessed U.S. Military

Soldiers In Drag Are Nothing New For The Identity-Obsessed U.S. Military

There’s an awful lot of howling on the right about the Army’s new recruiting ad, “Emma/The Calling.” It features one Cpl. Emma Malonelord, a recent graduate of the University of California—Davis, telling us how she came to join the U.S. Army after being raised by “two moms” and a childhood marching for LGBT legal privileges.

It’s simply par for the course for so much U.S. military communications of the few last decades, as the pitch says nothing about service to the country. It’s all about self-actualization, as if describing an Outward-Bound course with some group therapy thrown in.

Malonelord tells us in this animated voiceover format that she hoped to “prove my inner strength, and maybe shatter some stereotypes [about women] along the way.” The only nod to ideology comes when the cartoon switches to shots of LGBT marchers with Emma in the throng, with Malonelord telling us, “I guess you could say I’ve been marching for freedom my whole life.”

Predictably, the ad has been cooed over on the left as evidence, as the Independent put it, of the Army’s “sustained effort to appeal to more diverse groups,” while numerous voices on the right lament this development as evidence the U.S. military has lost its way. To those Truth Warriors of the Right, I have one thing to say: “Thank you for your fine service, but what else is new?”

Honestly, how is this even a story? Folks on the right are just discovering that the Department of Defense has become the Department of Education in camo-clad drag?

The progression from what was called “the Old Military” with its celebrated “warrior culture” to the hypersensitive, touchy-feely “New Military” began decades ago and spawned some genuinely jaw-dropping genuflections to feminist and transsexual constituencies. Why this happened is a long story involving changes in world power dynamics, a belief that with forever peace at hand maybe we didn’t need a military that was so, well, military, and a Congress stuffed with social engineers like Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, and Pat Schroeder.

Suffice to say that by 1995, when I began research for a book about gender integration in the military, the Pentagon was already obsessed with pleasing its paymasters and increasing the percentage of women in the services from its paltry 15 percent to an improbable 50/50 sex ratios in all military jobs (including infantry and submarines) and up the ranks.

In its ham-fisted and condescending attempt to make their workplace more “female-friendly,” the Army had renamed the boot camp “Obstacle Course” the “Confidence Course.” Rather than admit the embarrassing fact that the vast majority of enlisted females would fail the course on a simple completion basis, a new emphasis on “team-building” was added (women are more social, don’t you know?). In other words, recruits didn’t have to actually scale that intimidating climbing wall one. They were allowed to recruit others and, say, use a human pyramid as a kind of step stool.

Drill sergeants were herded into “sensing sessions” with their trainees where they were supposed to receive “feedback” on their leadership style. Indeed, some truly vomit-worthy training films were launched, such as one using a childish female voiceover to tell recruits that the first few weeks of their new life could be challenging but “it’s okay to cry.”

In 2017, we saw just how the woke the Pentagon was willing to get with a new training module instructing commanders in the delicate art of dealing with the soldier who “approaches his commanding officer to discuss his newly confirmed pregnancy.” And what if a female, of the born-female type, is asked to share a shower room with a unit mate who, because “she did not undergo a surgical change … still has male genitalia”?

The remarkable thing is that all this pandering has not budged military sex ratios much. In the late 1990s, when the services began turning themselves inside out to attract and retain women, women were about 15 percent of the enlisted population. By 2018, the last time the General Accounting Office issued a report, that number had only risen to 16.5 percent, with women 28 percent more likely than men to leave before completing a contract.

What do you know? Maybe there are insurmountable sex differences after all. Maybe the brass should just accept that national defense and all that it entails is more appealing to males — of the born-that-way variety. Or maybe we’ll just have to see if Malonelord can affect recruiting.

Stephanie Gutmann has written for publications ranging from National Review and the New Republic to Playboy, Elle, and the New York Times' Styles section. She is the author of two books, "The Kinder, Gentler Military" (Scribner) and "The Other War: Israelis, Palestinians, and the Struggle for Media Supremacy" (Encounter). She lives in Rockland County, New York.
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