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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Author Megan Mackenzie Discusses Women’s Combat Exlusion

On Feb. 28, author and researcher Megan Mackenzie visited the University of Massachusetts Boston campus to give a talk about “U.S. Military Band of Brothers Culture and the Combat Exclusion for Women in a Trump Era.” Mackenzie currently holds the position of senior lecturer at the University of Sydney in the Department of Government and International Relations, but has also written several books that center around conflict, combat, security, and gender. In her previously published works, Mckenzie addressed issues surrounding female soldiers in Sierra Leone and combat exclusion for women.

The event was hosted by the Consortium on Gender, Security, and Human Rights and co-sponsored by the William Joiner Institute for the Study of War and Social Consequences at UMass Boston.

In an introductory statement, Carol Cohn, the Director of the Consortium, said that Mackenzie’s work is unique because she employs a “feminist curiosity across multiple levels.”

During her discussion, Mackenzie talked about her past research and specifically about her latest book “Beyond the Band of Brothers: the US Military and the Myth that Women Can’t Fight.” In it, she talks about the ongoing and prevailing fascination for all-male units and the obsession of society with the Band of Brothers myth. The authors explained that this myth is used to return to an all-male military force and restore the warrior ethos. Mackenzie pointed out that such an exclusive approach to combat affects former and current female and transgender soldiers negatively.

While the US has become one of the thirteen countries in the world that allow women in combat positions, there are still many obstacles to overcome in order to open up military position equally for men and women.

Over her many years of research, Canadian-born Mackenzie says it has become more and more evident that the combat exclusion policy has never been about keeping women safe. Rather, the whole debate has always been based on patriarchal ideas that men are simply better suited for combat roles compared to women. Thus, the latter should only be employed for supporting roles while male soldier do the “real work,” as only they can fully comprehend the rules of military engagement.

Therefore, Mackenzie argues that the Band of Brothers ideal has always served to exclude women, even though it is only based on myth and emotions rather than actual facts. However, she also added, “Facts don’t matter to people who feel that women shouldn’t be in combat.” As a result, it often becomes difficult to engage in rational discussions and advocate for women’s role in combat.

Mackenzie also explained that even before the policy was officially changed in 2013 allowing women to hold combat roles, there is evidence that the latter were already taking on responsibilities connected to combat. However, since their role was not recognized by law, women would often receive less training compared to their male colleagues when entering a combat zone, as well as have limited career opportunities. Furthermore, women also are often times not seen as combat veterans later on and have to face difficulties when trying to access health care and other services.

Furthermore, Mackenzie also explained that the Band of Brothers myth, which represents the ideals of patriotism, male courage, and the special type of trust only found between men, has not only been embraced by the military, but also by society in general. Therefore, it has become very powerful and deeply ingrained in our modern national culture that men perform elite and exceptional work, while women’s roles and contributions often remain omitted.