Army Official Slams Use of “Pretty” Women In PR Materials

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Yesterday we told you about the first four women to graduate from marine infantry training following the decision earlier this year that female members of the U.S. military should be able to serve in combat. Yay! Gender equality! Progress!

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Col. Lynette Arnhart is the leader of a team studying how to best integrate women into these combat positions. And she has a beef with the way women are portrayed in the army’s PR materials. Namely: The soldiers used aren’t “average-looking” enough.

Wrote Col. Arnhart in an internal Army e-mail (via Politico):

“In general, ugly women are perceived as competent while pretty women are perceived as having used their looks to get ahead… There is a general tendency to select nice looking women when we select a photo to go with an article (where the article does not reference a specific person). It might behoove us to select more average looking women for our comms strategy. For example, the attached article shows a pretty woman, wearing make-up while on deployed duty. Such photos undermine the rest of the message (and may even make people ask if breaking a nail is considered hazardous duty).”

The message was sent to Col. Christian Kubik, chief of public affairs for the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command, who added the following when he forwarded Col. Arnhart’s e-mail to other public affairs officers:

“A valuable reminder from the TRADOC experts who are studying gender integration — when [public affairs officers] choose photos that glamorize women (such as in the attached article), we undermine our own efforts. Please use ‘real’ photos that are typical, not exceptional.”

The article in question, featured at the top of this post, is illustrated with a picture of Cpl. Kristine Tejeda (full image here), deployed in Iraq as part of the 1st Calvary division.

I would say that Col. Arnhart has a point as far as general print media is concerned: Society does place too much of an emphasis on traditional attractiveness, to the point that conventionally attractive actresses and models are often Photoshopped and airbrushed so much that they don’t even look like the magazine printing their picture says you should look.

But we’re not talking Photoshopping and airbrushing here. The army didn’t put a woman in a US flag-printed bikini. Cpl. Tejeda is a soldier, and in the ad she looks like a soldier. In the uniform. Carrying a gun. Looking serious and dignified and badass. (Regardless of whether you think the Army is those things, you can’t deny that its goal is to present itself that way.) So what if she’s pretty? Does that make her not a “real” woman, to use Col. Kubik’s word? Is she a robot? Are there robot soldiers? I don’t care what a female soldier looks like, it’s not OK to make a crack about her breaking a nail unless you’re OK with her breaking one when she punches you in the face.

But sure, U.S. Army. Keep it going with the stereotypes about strong, “ugly” women vs weak, feminine ones. I’m sure sexist nonsense like that hasn’t contributed to your epidemic of rape and sexual harassment at all.

I wasn’t the only one rubbed the wrong way by Col. Arnhart’s  statement. House Armed Services Committee member Rep Jackie Speier, who spoke out last spring against a Facebook page condoning the harassment of female marines, called the e-mail “backward” and “offensive,” and added:

“Integrating women into combat roles shouldn’t be treated as a cosmetic decision or a public relations exercise. It’s time for the Army to join the 21st century and recognize the untapped assets they have in women eager to fight for their country.”

She also tweeted that Col. Arnhart’s letter is “another example that @USArmy just doesn’t get it as it debates if pretty girls should be used in pamphlets.” Army spokesman George Wright has responded to the criticism, noting that the comments “were an internal email conversation,” “not an Army position.” As of yet there’s been no response that clarifies what the Army’s position actually is.

And look. The Army has a PR department. And it has to do its job, which is to figure out what face to present to the public and to present that face effectively. But when it comes to promoting women in the military, quibbling over whether a soldier is too “pretty” is woefully misguided. Hey, I know! Maybe you could bug your buds in the appropriate department about preventing rape in the military and punishing those who commit it. Because the way things are now doesn’t really make you look like a great option for women no matter how “pretty” they are.

(via: New York Daily News)

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