Love My Rifle More Than You: Young Female and in the US Army
by Kayla Williams
2006 Weidenfeld & Nicholson
I read Kayla Williams' autobiographical account of her experience in the US military as material for my master's thesis, therefore this was the first biography that I read in conjunction to my university studies. My approach to this text was therefore an academic one, which inevitably affects my brief treatment of it here. Never having read a soldier's autobiography before, I cannot judge what standard this in comparison to others. But, I am currently reading Colby Buzzell's My War, which differs greatly in both style and content, and enables me to better describe Williams' text.
As we can see from the title, William's book is specifically an woman's account of life in the US Army. Williams describes her experiences as a woman, not as a gender-neutral soldier. She opens her book by describing the two ways that women are seen and treated in the military:
Slut. The only other choice is bitch. If you're a woman and a soldier, those are the choices you get... If she's nice or friendly, outgoing or chatty--she's a slut. If she's distant or reserved or professional--she's a bitch.
Williams describes her wild childhood, eventually ending up in the Army to train as an Arabic translator. She was deployed in Iraq for a year, and this is the core of her text. Discussions with locals and impressions of them, her relationship with her peers and superiors, and descriptions of gendered aspects there fill the pages. Many stories are interesting, and she only expresses her feelings at times of joy, disgust, or apathy. As I understand it, there are not many autobiographies by women in the military, and the one's by men inevitably recieve the most attention. That is certainly one of the applaudable features of this book.
Yet, there are many points that Williams leaves open and does not tackle properly or thoroughlly, which left me feeling uneasy when I turned the last page. For example, Williams never explains why she joined the Army at all. Secondly, while she criticises sexism in the military and laments that the military is a boy's club that women can never fully be members of, she nonetheless partakes in disturbing "jokes" about battered women and prostitutes and to bond with her male comrades. Dozens of more examples are available. The point is, that ultimately, Williams does not realise that militaries are inherently misogynistic, and therefore militaries are innately antagonistic to women because of their reliance of the feminine as an oppositional identity against which to construct the militaristic masculinities that create warriors.
Because of this, I was ultimately saddened by Williams' account. She opens her eyes only halfway. But, Williams' own uneasy tension with the dilemmas of women in the military is clearly present, and therefore there is space for flexibility yet.
On a personal note, while I believe that the military is no place for a woman because of the abuse she must suffer from her male collegues and the masculinity of the institution, I also believe that the miltiary is no place for a man either, where they are instructed in the unabashed glorification of murder. In fact, the military is no place for anyone, and should not exist at all.