It seems like if you’re going to talk about the intersection of feminine identity and service, a more complex working definition of “girlie” might be needed than is provided here. Not to mention, if you’re juxtaposing two cultural concepts of womanhood, describing the maintenance of one as “slumber parties and pink iPod cases” and the other from a lens of oppression where women are allowed to “make food and babies only,” your critical gender terms might need to be more expansive.
Especially when you’re considering images of these two divergent expressions of femininity, muted against the backdrop of the traditionally masculine construct of war. It’s a compelling project, but there’s a lot about the communication of the ideas behind this photojournalism that could be expressed more completely.
I don’t wonder if it’s because the journalist doesn’t make a distinction between the soldier, and the woman off-duty — that femininity isn’t an identity that need be expressed and maintained when filling the role of the former. Perhaps part of that seeming inaccuracy is that she seems to understand why an Afghan woman would sign up for the military, much more than a Western woman.
They either have family in the army, or they like the idea of running around and being outside. The pay isn’t bad, either. And you know in the case of the British, the army recruitment campaign is pretty good. It basically says, “If you like to travel, join the army and you’ll see the world.”
Nowhere in there is the concept of service. Of giving selflessly. And gender, is a part of that self.
I don’t know about you ladies, but to me the army has never seemed like the ideal place to spend your early twenties. In my mind, there would be no shopping, Gossip Girl or spending hours in one position under the sun trying to achieve the perfect tan. Or basically anything else that’s silly and unimportant, but is an important part of me feeling unashamedly like a girl.
Turns out I was wrong. Lalage Snow is a photographer who has spent a good part of the last five years in Iraq and Afghanistan photographing female soldiers. According to her work, girls in the army remain very intent on “being girls.”
VICE: Hey Lalage. What’s up?
Lalage Snow: Hey! Just got back from holiday with some friends. We stayed in a house in Assenois, which is in the south of Belgium. We ate lots of paté and drunk biére blonde.
And how did that differ from your time in Iraq and Afghanistan?
Haha! It was different, but you know, it was much girlier than you’d think. The British girls in Iraq, for example, would sunbathe any chance they got, while when it came to the way they decorated their bunks everything was over-the-top girly. Pink washbags and sponges, pink iPod cases. The American girls would have a slumber party almost every night. They’d watch scary films and eat popcorn in their little bunker on a computer. When you are in such a masculine environment you sort of need to cling on to your femininity really tightly.