When the Sisterhood Attacks: The Cautionary Tale of Colonel Lynette Arnhart

Nov 26, 2013
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An army colonel trying to level the playing field for female soldiers gets accused of sexism and the Internet


There’s nothing the Internet feminist community loves more than some good, meaty outrage. And last week, Army Colonel Lynette Arnhart was the main course. The unlucky colonel made comments privately to a colleague about how “average looking” women should be more prominently displayed in Army communications strategy. Her emails were leaked to Politico and the online backlash was swift, overwhelming and startlingly cruel.

Arnhart, who was studying how to integrate women into more active combat roles, has stepped down—burned by the very sisterhood she was tasked with supporting. And she didn’t just lose her job, she was ripped apart. Tweeters and professional opinionators called her everything from “sexist” to “offensive” to “jealous.” It’s another example of how, in our culture of perpetual outrage, even those who are trying to walk the walk better be super careful about how they talk the talk.

Here’s what Colonel Arnhart wrote that got everyone’s panties in a bunch:

“There is a general tendency to select nice looking women when we select a photo to go with an article (where the article does not reference a specific person.) It might behoove us to select more average looking women for our comms strategy. For example, the attached article shows a pretty woman, wearing make-up while on deployed duty. Such photos undermine the rest of the message (and may even make people ask if breaking a nail is considered a hazardous duty.”
“In general, ugly women are perceived as competent while pretty women are perceived as having used their looks to get ahead.”

To be fair, the word “ugly” is probably not the nicest word to use when talking about other women, but it’s hardly a bigoted epithet. More importantly, if you stop focusing on the word “ugly,” and focus on the word “perceived,” you’d realize that Colonel Arnhart was making a completely reasonable and scientifically accurate point about perception bias. But the colonel still got slammed by the media. The Daily Beast labeled her “misguided” and “not attractive,” Jezebel titled its coverage “Army Memo Says This Woman Is Too Pretty To Take Seriously As a Soldier,” and the Twitter backlash redefined “ugly:”

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10 years ago

There’s no winning with that crowd. When advertising shows conventionally attractive women, it’s accused of perpetuating stereotypical femininity. When someone dares to suggest doing otherwise, they’re trashing women for NOT being expected to live up to those stereotypes.

Nina once said that no porn-hating religious nut ever treated her worse than her feminist “sisters.” I’ve seen that ugly behavior up close many times.

This story proves once again that when it comes woman-bashing, nobody does it more reliably than a certain stripe of radical feminist.

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