The military heroine is far less common than her country-serving counterpart. Perhaps this is due to writers' worries that a military man's heroism might somehow be undercut by the presence of an equally strong woman warrior. Or fears about a military woman's "masculinization." Or perhaps it simply reflects the U.S. military's 1994 Combat Exclusion Policy, which prevents women from being assigned to ground combat units.
But as former Army officer Steve Griffin points out, an administrative loophole that allows women to be "attached" if not "assigned" to combat units means that more than 230,000 American women have engaged in "combat situations" since 2001. This population of female soldiers, and the women who admire or wish to emulate them, seems a demographic ripe for romance authors to capture.
But as the opening scenes of each of Buchman's novels makes clear, bullets shot and rockets launched don't care what label the army has slapped on a soldier; soldiers are wounded and die, whether members of official combat units or support. Whether male or female.
Featuring women in military roles primarily occupied by men in romance novels would be a feminist move in itself. But Buchman's books move far beyond token feminism, not only by featuring different constructions of military masculinity, but also by depicting heroines admirable for, and loved because of, their intelligence, their strength, and their desire to prove themselves the best of the best at what they do.
Archibald Jeffrey Stevenson III, a helicopter co-pilot, and Staff Sergeant John Wallace, a mechanic, are "all business" when they're in the air on a mission. But unlike their commanding officer, Mark Henderson, neither of them embody the alpha hero character common in much military romance. Archie's a typical beta: co-pilot, happy to be second-in-command to Commander Emily Beale; tall and lean, more of a runner than a bruiser; and not at all easy around women, despite his economically-privileged upbringing. "Big John" has the body of a warrior (or an offensive lineman), but on the ground, he's the fun-loving, cheer-you-up type, "always the first with a story, a smile, a laugh." Neither is aggressive, controlling, or needs to dominate the world or his fellow unit members. Rather than drawing upon the same vision of alpha military masculinity for the heroes of his books, changing only each hero's name and job description, Buchman suggests instead that there are multiple types of men who can embody heroic masculinity: shy men and happy men; burly men and lanky ones; men content to allow a woman, or a man, to lead.
|MH-60 Black Hawk SOAR helicopter|
Neither Connie nor tough-as-the-streets sharpshooter Kee Smith is a perfect, flat military Mary Sue. Each has her problems, and her weaknesses, weaknesses that striving to be the best of the best in the army had allowed each to mask. Both Archie and John learn to care for these women because of the vulnerabilities they reveal. But ultimately it is Kee and Connie's professionalism, their skills, and above all their strength that makes these women mean more to them than any other person has before. "You share [Emily Beale's] strength," John tells Connie. "A quiet power. It's mesmerizing." Connie's response—"I like being called powerful. I like the way it makes me feel"—suggests how being recognized for ones' strengths, rather than simply being protected from ones' weaknesses, can be a particularly compelling spur to love.
Buchman's novels spend little time depicting the difficulties women still experience in the army and other armed services. Perhaps because his novels are romances, rather than works of realism, and thus are not obliged to present a fully rounded depiction of the military? Or perhaps because he wishes to portray women as heroes, rather than in any way as victims? The one incident in Dark in which a subordinate acts in a sexist manner leads immediately to punishment—the male soldier is not allowed to advance to the next step in the SOAR training. It's an ideal, perhaps, Buchman's assertion that there is no room at the highest levels of the military for anything likely to weaken the team or its mission, as discrimination and sexism do, but an ideal worth dreaming of.
filed a lawsuit against the Combat Exclusion Policy, arguing that since women have been serving de factor in combat since 1994, they should be granted the rights, privileges, and opportunities offered to the men who serve in fact; and the military women in romance novels such as M. L. Buchman's, women who are valued not for the way they fill out a uniform, but for the way their skills contribute to the work of the nation's defense.
M. L. Buchman, I Own the Dawn. Sourcebooks, 2012.
Wait Until Dark. Sourcebooks, 2012.
"Be a Marine": Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation, Inc.
SOAR Unit Insignia: Wikipedia
MH-60 Black Hawk Helicopter: American Special Ops.com
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