Probably the only time I ever gave a glimmer of a thought to the idea of joining the military was a momentary blip around 25 years ago when I first watched Private Benjamin.
I don't think I'm alone. Private Benjamin is ranked as one of the top female empowerment films of all time. And, for me, briefly, the idea of enduring the tough rigours of training had some appeal: short-lived not just because I'm fundamentally a pacifist but because Benjamin was just a private, and the mostly boys club of the military seemed in no sense a possible career route for a woman.
Why waste years in assault-course character-improvement when you were never going to get anywhere – not even, at that time, close to the field of combat? The image this week of blonde-haired, glamorous 40-year-old Sarah West, the first female Commander of a British warship, changes all that. Women may still only represent 10% of the military, but for girls growing up today, there's a possibility of being not just Private Benjamin or GI Jane, but Commander, or Brigadier, as the highest-ranking officer in the British army is, or even, in America, the top army rank of four-star general, achieved by Ann Dunwoody.
What's interesting is the ways in which reality is far behind the movie version of life in this field. In the world of the movies and television, where there have already been female US presidents, women are still more likely to be a General's daughter or a glamorous low rank.
Though part of me shrinks at the idea of almost anyone going to war, I can't help feeling Cdr West is to be celebrated.
She's a symbol of female leadership capabilities in all areas – and if a woman can command a warship, why shouldn't she be able to command almost anything else?
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