Book Review – Undaunted: The Real Story of America’s Servicewomen in Today’s Military

 

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This book really rubbed me the wrong way.  A lot.  And I’m having trouble putting my finger on why.

A couple things I can identify right off the bat are that while it’s generally well-researched, a few things show that the author just… doesn’t get it.  She talks about someone exercising with cattle bells – it’s kettle bells.  Little things like that, that show someone who talked to people in the military but hasn’t done anything beyond talk.  She hasn’t lived it, and so the terminology and details are just that little bit off.  All military books/drama have little things wrong – or even very big things (I’m looking at you, Full Metal Jacket and JAG and NCIS), but those don’t bug me as much for some reason.

The phenomenon is probably comparable to the irritation my medical-type friends have watching shows like ER and Grey’s Anatomy – sure, they had highly paid consultants, but some of it still ends up just plain wrong or unbelievable or unrealistic for the sake of entertaining TV.

But mostly it’s the overall attitude of this book that gets me.  The books screams, “Look at this woman in the military!  She’s such a novelty!  Still!”  And we’re not new or novelties.  We may still be outnumbered approximately 5-to-1, but we’re not new or novel or even exotic.

There’s also an implication over and over was that we’re still struggling really hard to find a niche and prove ourselves.  It says we’re fighting to find our place in a man’s world, instead of simply doing our jobs the best we can, and we’re really the second and third generations doing so.

Maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about here because the stories focus on Soldiers and Marines rather than sailors, and I haven’t been one of those services in particular.  I have been an Army spouse and done a joint deployment though.  But I do know a lot of women in the other services, so I will have to see if any of them have read this book and have the same reaction or not.

I was surprised to find this on some of the services’ “professional reading” lists.  I might recommend a friend read it, just to see if he or she had the same gut reaction as me, but I would certainly never recommend this as professional reading.  It reinforces stereotypes – those of military women being outsiders and really not being able to ‘have it all’.   It shows only women who either don’t have families or who ended up divorced.

The book follows four women through their respective careers – sort of.  It’s fairly hard to follow, as it jumps around unpredictably between the four stories.  It ends abruptly, followed by an awkward epilogue.  Essentially the stories are of an Army Major who graduated from West Point, an Army Lieutenant who went to Norwich University, a Marine Sergeant who serves in combat and becomes a Drill Instructor, and a Marine General who deals with being both a woman and a minority.

Author Tanya Biank hits one of my sorest points, too, harping on how much harder it must be for women to leave their children to deploy, and how it’s so much less socially acceptable than for a man.  It reinforces the false message that you can’t be a good mom if you leave your kids for a deployment, but you can still be a good dad if you do so.

The book represents these stories as typical lives in the service for all women, and I don’t think they are.  The stories also imply that women in the military must be married to their jobs, or else have dysfunctional relationships.  Yes, the stats for married women in the services are depressing, but I think she overdramatizes the stories and ignores the fact that the stats are just as depressing for married men in the service.  I also have to wonder just how much of the book is exaggerated or embellished for drama’s sake, and how much of the very deeply personal anecdotes she was really given permission to use.

I haven’t read her other, more notorious work, Army Wives (yes, the one that gave us the TV show).  I don’t particularly care to, either, so someone else will have to fill me in on that one.  Anyone have feedback on that?

I’ll write some more here if I ever figure out what, besides the tone and focus on the negatives, irritated me so much about this book.  Army and Marine ladies out there, have any of you read this?

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