Sunday, September 24, 2017

The Modern Day Joan of Arc

July 12, 2013 by  
Filed under Bras & Boots, Most Recent Posts

I walked into the Microsoft office in suburban Washington, DC, with the attitude that I—the soldier named Susie—wasn’t really there. Instead, I was Joan of Arc—a young woman who found herself called to fight for a noble cause and who’d have to be an equal to men to do so.

Playing this little mind game while attending the Women Leading the Future Conference in DC, I called on my military experience for the right mindset.

As I filled out my name badge, I wondered if the other women at the conference thought I was awkward because I deliberately presented myself as a soldier out of uniform.

I wore minimal makeup, only the mascara for which I’d gotten in trouble during basic training; a sports bra to hold down my 38 DDD breasts underneath my floral print dress; and my hair swept back and off my shoulders to military regulation. I didn’t want swamp ass from the Mid-Atlantic heat in the middle of June, so I didn’t wear any underwear.

On the way to the conference, I’d walked past a glass storefront and noticed that my legs no longer crossed over; they moved straight forward like I was marching. My soft shoulders were no longer a match for my Army-toughened biceps. And my face, which had once sported a cute smile, was protected by a steely glare.

Sam Horn, an “Intrigue Expert” and the conference’s opening speaker, is a wonderful woman. During her talk, she had us focus our thinking on what makes us uncommon as women and as professionals. What makes us special, and why aren’t we embracing it?

As a female veteran, I know the answer: One doesn’t want to incite war.

The conference’s first session was a panel composed of women veterans: Denyse S. Gordon, Miss Veteran America; Deborah L. Parker, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and now speaker and author at DPJ Training Group; and Lynda C. Davis, Ph.D., who served as a signal officer in the National Guard and Army Reserve and is now founder and CEO of the SeeCareDo Institute.

I stood up and, as politely as I could, explained to these amazing women that I was starving to hear their personal stories. Two of the three panel members were single; Parker is married with children (and was already married with one child prior to enlisting at age 38).

Folded into their tales were the issues that continually plague our female veteran community. There was talk of homelessness, plus the inevitable mention of how hard it is to find a mate when your dating pool consists mainly of people struggling with PTSD or who feel threatened by your accomplishments and knowledge of “real life.”

Why is it that these formerly fearless women warriors are now so hesitant to “lean in?”

Well, we all know what happened to Joan of Arc when she embraced—rather than denied—her strength and uniqueness. She was destroyed by the very men who valued power in themselves, but resented it (or were frightened by it) in a woman.

When Miss Veteran America said, “You wouldn’t believe the men I have to deal with in the corporate world,” I found myself nodding strongly because I feel it every day.

Our nation asked us to be warriors, to deal with bullets and sexual assault within a military culture largely dismissive of women. But once we returned home? Our strength was no longer valued by the men in our lives. It was ignored.

During the conference, Miss Veteran America caused one woman to burst into tears and leave the room when recounting how female Vietnam vets had come up to her and said, “We didn’t know we were veterans.”

It seems society never misses a chance to invalidate the experiences of women who manage to be both warriors and nurturers.

The discussion moved forward, and we all agreed that, while women serving in combat is nothing new, it is news. (The blond TV newscaster moderating the event looked slightly intimidated as this point was made.)

Often, when women come back from war, our brothers in arms work to forget us, and our commanders fail to reiterate how important it is for every soldier to feel bonded with his or her fellow combat vets.

The media has picked up on documenting the injustice endured by women warriors, but the female veteran community is wary of being lumped together into one story, as if every one of us is merely a hapless teenager who joined up looking for a better life, but who ended up raped, marginalized, and voiceless.

We all sat in awe of the three-woman panel and absorbed their experiences of genuine adventure and leadership. The audience quietly noted how they have marched on fearlessly, by themselves, to run marathons, lead companies, and impress the living bejeezus out of everyone they meet.

Later, the discussion turned to the more technical topic of career advancement, as a woman at the helm of an IT startup took to the stage and began a presentation on the art of negotiation.

Keep your emotions in check and “negotiate like a woman,” she advised (somewhat surprisingly, given society’s typical “negotiate like a man” stance).

What does that mean?

I couldn’t help but feel the speaker, clearly gifted, wasn’t describing the entire reality of women in negotiation. Perhaps, in an effort to encourage us, she didn’t want to go into gory examples of a misogynistic business culture that routinely shuts women down and uses their willingness to collaborate against them.

I raised my hand.

“What would you advise for women who work for men who aren’t even worth negotiating with?”

It was a provocative question, I know. But do you think Joan of Arc was going to wait until the appropriate magistrates approved her competency to fight in a war? Do you think women veterans ever stopped to consider the regulations banning women in combat when the enemy was shooting at them?

Was our biggest worry that, while falling asleep to gunfire on the roof of a makeshift Forward Operating Base in the middle of the Sunni Triangle, we’d be perceived as overly aggressive bitches?

“I think it’s important that the women in this conference hear this,” I said, despite being warned that time was up and the session was over. “The glass ceiling is not your fault. You can’t just positive-think your way out of a toxic negotiation. There are some environments you just need to get out of.”

Then I shut up.

I felt I’d spent all the emotional energy I could in telling my soldier sisters that our duty now is to get men on board; that we cannot—and will not—make progress while male leaders are threatened by us; and that, if we continue to sit quietly and maintain the status quo, we’ll end up like Joan of Arc, destroyed as a heretic while still a virgin in men’s clothing.

Feeling like I’d blown an emotional fuse, I packed up my laptop and left the conference.

Midway to the elevator, the sweet-natured event organizer caught up with me and apologized for trying to cut off my comments for time.

I explained I wasn’t offended, that I understood she was doing her job. What she’s doing for professional women in the DC area and nationally is phenomenal, and I wanted to tell her to value herself and her contribution to society a bit more, that a polite request to keep things to time wasn’t going to cast her as a villain.

I took her contact information as a sign of peace and friendship.

As I walked away from the Microsoft office, my legs started to cross over again. I believed I was beautiful again. So much so that I’m not going to wait until I find someone willing to marry—or to hire—a combat veteran to tell me so.

The answer is to show men—to show them that female veterans are valuable. Don’t wait for society to discover your worth; prove your worth to society every single day.

If you think Joan of Arc, determined and fearless while taking on the establishment in full combat attire, was beautiful, then what does that make you? What does that make us?

It makes us gorgeous.

Burn me at the stake, but I’m telling all of you, it makes us gorgeous.

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by Susanne Rossignol

Comments

2 Responses to “The Modern Day Joan of Arc”
  1. Jayne Pynes says:

    I would very much like to be in contact with Susanne Rossignol. My 8th grade students are doing a project on Joan of Arc that explores her as leader and her legacy. I would like to know if Ms. Rossignol would be willing to be interviewed about Joan’s modern day legacy by my 8th graders. Thank you so much for an article that has made me think about woman’s place again today. I can be reached at the email I was required to give for this post.

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