Camp All-American, Hanoi Jane, and the High-and-Tight: Gender, Folklore, and Changing Military Culture

By Burns, Richard Allen | Western Folklore, Fall 2008 | Go to article overview

Camp All-American, Hanoi Jane, and the High-and-Tight: Gender, Folklore, and Changing Military Culture


Burns, Richard Allen, Western Folklore


Camp All-American, Hanoi Jane, and the High-and-Tight: Gender, Folklore, and Changing Military Culture. By Carol Burke. (Boston: Beacon Press, 2004. Pp. xix + 264, preface, photograph, illustrations, bibliography, acknowledgments, notes, index. $26.00 cloth, $19.00 paper)

In Camp Ail-American, Hanoi Jane, and the High-and-Tight: Gender, Folklore, and Changing Military Culture, author Carol Burke, who taught as a civilian at the United States Naval Academy for seven years and has written elsewhere about institutional folklore (Burke 1992), offers a folklorist's perspective on attitudes that military men have toward women, showing in various ways why it has been so difficult to integrate women into the United States Armed Forces. In addition to recounting old arguments about genetic differences between males and females, she notes that many military men place civilians and women in the same folk category, explaining in part the strong esoteric belief among military personnel that women inhibit the efforts of men during wartime (53-57). But, as Burke points out, beliefs like these are cultural and therefore learned, and they can be unlearned. Cultural practices are either adaptive to the environment or maladaptive, and it is maladaptive - given today's blurred geopolitical wartime boundaries, loss of clear markers by which to identify an enemy, steep declines in recruits, and advances in military technology (some of which obviate all need for reliance on a soldier's upper-body strength) - to exclude women from combat roles in the military today. Burke also calls for systemic institutional change in the military, reminding us that it is the United States government and its elected civilians and their constituents that control the military, not the other way around (23-24) .

Burke weaves into her study a sampling of military oral traditions and customs both contemporary and historical-stories of the marvelous and the uncanny in battle, of angelic soldiers saving others on the batdefront, of spat-upon returning Vietnam vets, of sufferers from posttraumatic stress syndrome (the military virtually ignoring the debriefing of soldiers about to resume civilian life), of Jane Fonda's betrayal of American prisoners in Vietnam, of the determination of nurses imprisoned by the Japanese during World War II to survive their captivity by creating folk objects from scarce materials; oral traditions associated with Jody calls and other marching chants; folk songs deriding military leaders and making light of the horrors of war; and jokes. Burke's overview of military folklore leaves no doubt about male preoccupation with dominance and subordination in the military and about what constitutes masculine response in the face of danger.

Anything that challenges the masculine military worldview (especially if such intrusion is seen as feminine) invites ridicule, debasement, and outright rejection. In military folklore women are sex objects, as in Jody calls, or are scorned and ridiculed, as in the Suzy Rotten-Crotch joke cycle; they are distractions that can render a soldier and his weapon impotent, as seen in marching chants in which the soldier prefers an M-16 to a beauty queen. …

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