Friday, November 22, 2013

Ugly Women Encouraged For the Army

Colonel Lynette Arnhart recently commented upon an article in Army magazine concerning women in the Army, stating that the woman featured, a Corporal Kristine Tejada (1st Cavalry Division), is a "pretty woman" whose photo "undermine[s] the rest of the message" of the article which is to ensure "opening previously closed positions and occupational specialties to women while maintaining our combat effectiveness."
There is a general tendency to select nice looking women when we select a photo to go with an article where the article does not reference a specific person. It might behoove us to select more average looking women for our comms strategy. For example, the attached article shows a pretty woman wearing make-up while on deployed duty. Such photos undermine the rest of the message (and may even make people ask if breaking a nail is considered a hazardous duty).
In general, ugly women are perceived as competent while pretty women are perceived as having used their looks to get ahead.
The offending photo
Arnhart is in charge of a study on how to overcome obstacles of moving more women into front-line combat duties, thus her opinion is not just a catty snippet.
Since she is quite open on the issue of appearance affecting effectiveness, I am sure that we all want to study her appearance as well:

COL Arnhart
Note her branch insignia, the Adjutant General Corps, which places her firmly in the category of a professional staff officer.  Thus the Table of Organization and Equipment lists her assigned weapon as a letter opener.
Sergeant Theresa Vail of the Kansas ARNG, who is otherwise Miss Kansas and a top-ten contender for the title of Miss America, responded, "Unfortunately that is the sick reality and one of the many stereotypes I'm trying to break.  However, it is going to take an army of women to break that perception, not just myself."
SGT Vail


  1. The Army also doesn't select butt-ugly males for their recruiting adds either... Are there plenty of ugly men in the Army? Yep. Ugly women? You betcha. What counts is performance not looks. So long as they are physically-fit and can do their jobs soldiers' looks are immaterial---except in recruiting adds. Add agencies don't select ugly people to do Corn Flakes adds either.

    1. Thanks for posting here, Don.

      I concur, it swings both ways. Early in my career, I found myself in a knife-and-fork (classroom environment) school alongside a quite attractive Marine lieutenant who was an aide to a three-star. We quickly became platonic service-buddies, and eventually the topic surfaced of how physical attractiveness plays a role in plum assignments. She replied from the females' perspective that one rarely sees an ugly general, most of them falling into the "grey hair at the temples, blue eyes" category.

      Some time later, I was stateside at a coincidental spot where the Navy was doing a photo shoot for a recruiting poster, and there were no military people involved - all the subjects in the pictures were professional civilian models. I remember that someone pointed out how one of the male models had almost shoulder-length hair (as if that somehow escaped their attention), but he quickly tied it up in back, stuffed it under a cover, and stood at an angle where it wouldn't show.

      Does the military attract more than its share of rather plain-looking women? I expect so, considering that it's a calling in many respects - how many really good-looking nuns have you seen? But in that respect, I remember meeting an Air Force nurse who certainly wouldn't think of entering a beauty contest, but she was sharp as a tack, great sense of humor, and very professional and impressive. On the flip side, I've known enough really good-looking women who were as dumb as a rock to know that it takes a well-rounded individual to get ahead in life.

      As for Col Arnhart's comment about makeup - I've seen some women in field conditions toward the end of my career, and many used some small modicum of makeup. From a male perspective, it was un-noticeable but it probably gave them a small amount of psychological benefit.

  2. I think the colonel has it backwards, the beautiful are generally perceived as more competent than the ugly and only women worry about whether their peers slept their way to the top. Men often assume a woman has, regardless of what she looks like. Besides, the beautiful-ugly dichotomy is wrong. Few people are either one. A truly ugly person would find it very difficult to succeed at anything as others would be too turned off to deal with them. This whole to-do arose because someone who didn't like the colonel (male or female we'll never know) gave her email to a journalist with too much time on his/her hands. When they spend as much time covering up for pols as they do, they naturally turn to whacking the military. To the military's shame they can usually be counted on to punish their own for the bad publicity.

    1. Just like anywhere else. But note that the e-mail wasn't just an idle reflection - it came about as a part of the colonel's job of formulating the path for women into combat roles. Did someone drop a dime on her? Sure, but therein lies a lesson about putting stupid comments into writing and disseminating them beyond your control.

      I agree with your view about competition between women. A good example comes from the famous (within some professional circles) Eric Berne who greatly contributed to the public understanding of Games Theory with his seminal Games People Play. Within, he writes of an interactional situation called the "Silk Stocking Game" which demonstrates that women don't necessarily compete for the attention of men so much as they compete against other women.

      The whole idea of women in direct combat positions is an important question that has curiously been thrust upon us, and this is one indicator of the style of the debate.


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