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SCOTT TAYLOR: Canadian Forces still struggle to recruit women

Canadian soldiers train on the McNaughton parade square at Canadian Forces Base Kingston in Kingston, Ont. on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2018. – Elliot Ferguson
Canadian soldiers train on the McNaughton parade square at Canadian Forces Base Kingston in Kingston, Ont. on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2018. – Elliot Ferguson - Postmedia

Those readers old enough to remember may recall an advertising campaign from the late sixties promoting Virginia Slims cigarettes. The theme behind this series of television commercials and magazine ads was to illustrate just how far feminism had advanced throughout North American society.

The plotline was consistent wherein we were reminded of how, not so long ago women had to covertly enjoy a cigarette, and if discovered would be punished by an irate husband. This was then offset by images of very stylish women in the latest fashion, smoking an elegant looking Virginia Slim cigarette. The catch phrase was “You’ve come a long way baby.” Because now women not only had the right to vote, they also had cigarettes designed specifically for females that were slimmer and therefore easier to “slip into a purse.”

While this sort of message may seem ludicrous by today’s standards, it only helps to illustrate how much further feminism has indeed advanced over the past half century.

I point this out because at present the Canadian Armed Forces are struggling to achieve a self-imposed goal of having 25 per cent female representation by the year 2026. The current composition of the military stands at just 14.8 per cent women.

Much scratching of heads and commissioning of studies has yet to produce a clear strategy as to how to find the magic formula to suddenly encourage the necessary waves of women to enlist.

There have been many media reports – often based on internal analysis – of widespread sexual misconduct within the ranks, something which would make it harder to convince young women to make the military a career choice.

Personally, I am opposed to any quota-based recruiting policy based on gender. First, this would lead female recruits to question their own capabilities – were they selected based on their competence or were they simply let into the club to meet the 25 per cent quota? Similarly such a quota could lead to resentment among their male colleagues who could believe the same thing.

This brings us back to the Virginia Slims marketing angle and how it might be a more successful tactic than an imposed quota. No, I’m not suggesting that the military promote smoking or refer to women collectively as ‘baby’.

However, women in the Canadian Armed Forces have indeed come a long way in a remarkably short period of time. It was not until the late 1980s that women were allowed to serve in combat arms units, serve on warships or pilot fighter planes.

Since those first pioneers broke down the barricades and proved themselves in a formerly male-only domain, women have steadily risen in rank and responsibility. To date we have had women hold the rank of lieutenant-general, we currently have a female brigadier commanding a NATO mission in Iraq, we had a female commodore command the NATO squadron in the Mediterranean, female pilots have flown in combat, female soldiers were killed and wounded in Afghanistan, women command infantry battalions and currently serve as regimental sergeant majors.

There may still be a lot of advancement to be made, but in spirit of our ‘brothers and sisters in arms’, it is true now to say, “we’ve come a long way, sister.”

Here’s hoping that one day that statement too will be as outdated as the old Virginia Slims adverts.


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