Demi Moore never perspired in the movie G.I. Jane, she sweated. And she had to do so in order to convey how much work was involved in becoming the first female member of a combat-oriented Special Operations team. No woman currently serves in such a unit. But what Moore’s performance suggests is that if only the right female were given the opportunity to prove her ability to meet the same physical standards as the military’s most elite combat soldiers, then even these men would have to grant her their grudging respect. She would belong, and presumably pave the way for other gritty women.
Hollywood, of course, gets this completely wrong. Respect does not guarantee belonging. No matter how much respect a particular woman may garner, no matter how courageous or physically adept she might prove to be, not even the military’s most unconventional combat units are unconventional enough to accept a female as a male. This observation, transparent though it may seem, remains opaque to those whose crusade it is to see the armed services tear down what they regard as misogynous gender walls. Nevertheless, in today’s military, Moore’s character (like Meg Ryan’s in Courage Under Fire) would have to be shown respect not only because she is an officer, but because a chilly climate of fear pervades the services. It has been fed by the combined aftereffects of the Tailhook scandal, the sexual harassment charges at Aberdeen Proving Ground, and the long reach of retroactive and sometimes vengeful political correctness.