Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Advice for the US Army in Afghanistan and Babies!

This reminded me of this strange strange article about woman marines in Afghanistan. The article kind of weirded me out, although I couldn't figure out why - certainly once American armed forces are in Afghanistan (which they are, my own college day protests notwithstanding), it is much better to have troops who can talk to the 50% of the population who happen not to be guys. Even the fact that the women's commander describes the female soldiers' interaction with Afghan women as “a normal, girls-just-hanging-out type of conversation, giggling and everything,” wasn't what made me go 'hmm,' although it certainly is a suspect statement, and doesn't really say much for his respect for his comrades' abilities and professionalism.
Really, it is the idea that the women could make children comfortable in a way that men couldn't that got me thinking. We learn that
Afghans have been more receptive when his patrols included the female Marines, who hand out stuffed animals to village children. When male Marines try that, he said, “It’s just a bunch of guys with rockets and machine guns trying to hand out a bear to a kid, and he starts to cry.”

I don't doubt their word that this is true, that the female soldiers can connect with Afghan kids easier than male soldiers can. But why??? Even if I believe that women are, for either biological or social reasons, more nurturing than men are, I don't know how female soldiers, presumably the toughest and even most emotionally manlike of the XX chromosomed set, fit into this. And if the argument is that kids feel more comfortable with women no matter how nurturing or not they may be, well, I am guessing these kids are pretty equally freaked out by men and women in uniforms with guns. This kids also are not used to seeing uncovered women in public places at all, or in pants - probably many of the youngest kinds can't tell whether the people in green giving them candy are men or women at all.

My unconfirmable guess for now is that the male and female soldiers felt the same genuine desire to make a personal connection with Afghan kids, and maybe even have the same level of 'nurturingness' and 'scariness' to the kids, but that the women were more willing to and have more practice in faking it for kids, making themself seem accessible - you know, to get down to eye level with the kids, to speak in a 'kiddy' voice, make faces, coo at babies. Male soldiers may have just had a discomfort, or lack of practice in doing that, whereas maybe that is something most women learn to do in their childhood and teenage years. This is assuming Afghan children respond to the same cues as American children, which I imagine for the most part they do.

So why does the Babies! movie remind me of that? You know, nurturingness, the universality of child development and communications, cooing at babies - that's what I was getting at.
Anyways, not that I am in the business of giving the military advice, but maybe it is exactly this kind of knowledge of foreign cultures (and languages) which would have been beneficial 9 years ago. Just saying.