Women have as much right as men to fight on the frontline. Evidently, it's no secret that I feel strongly about gender equality, in fact, I am extremely passionate about it. As you can imagine, I am thrilled about the prospect of a new exhibition presenting women on the frontline: The White Picture - The Hidden World of Women in Combat.
The images that will go on show tomorrow at the Oxo Tower Gallery were captured by former RAF officer Alison Baskerville. Now a photojournalist, earlier this year she spent six weeks in Helmand Province embedded with a battle group after being commissioned by the Royal British Legion. Alison told me she felt it was important to present a gender balance in her images. She said: "I have served on the front line myself and I know that it is no different for a man or a women in the heat of the moment."
I agree entirely with Alison's argument. If there is equality between men and women within offices during the working day, then why not on the frontline - it's a career for many, discrimination should be non-existent. The same working rules should apply and both men and women should feel equally comfortable.
Not everyone can fight on the frontline, a number of physical tests have to be carried out beforehand. If a woman 'proves herself' by successfully completing the required series of tests, then why shouldn't she be representing our country - the biological make-up between a man and a woman then becomes irrelevant.
I personally feel Alison captured the essence of my argument within her photographs, particularly one which presents a female soldier carrying out washing duties alongside her male colleagues. They are all in shorts and the woman is wearing a bikini top while the men are topless. Are the men perversely staring at the woman's chest, making the most out of the rare treat to their eyes? No. In fact they're not even looking at her, they're too involved in their own duties. What has to be remembered is that in these circumstances whereby you're more likely to be killed than in any other career path, you begin to see those you work with as just another live and well human being. Boobs and bums - rather irrelevant when you've just saved a colleague from a near death experience.
This is why I find it so frustrating when I hear poorly judged and ignorant arguments including 'stress can lead to sexual frustration and therefore can act as a distraction from the job.' This goes beyond undermining women and equally undermines men. It also evokes the argument: can men and women be friends? This is an irrelevant and completely insignificant discussion within society today. Men and women's ability to work alongside one another should not be questioned and if it is, it doesn't say much about the human race.
I admire how the similarities between men and women have been captured to present both genders as equivalent to one another. However, I also appreciate how simply Alison Baskerville manages to portray the life of a woman on the frontline. As Alison told me, "There needs to be a balance and also the work needs to be put into context. Not having pictures of the women on patrol will not allow the viewer to see what the women are expected to wear. To take that element away and show the woman underneath we must first see what they look like before we lift the mask of the uniform." Just because you are on the frontline, doesn't mean you have to suddenly morph yourself into a banter-full ladette or an emotionless macho-man. You can have your aromatic oils, your favourite moisturiser, your feel-good scents and all the other little treats that contribute to looking and feeling like a lady. Alison captures this perfectly in one image which presents a number of cosmetic products stacked up on a table - yet they don't escape the dog tags laid next to them or the military uniform evident in the background of the shot. The message: as a woman on the frontline, you can't have one or the other - yet this is a choice, a choice that a woman can make for herself.
Women have always been banned from serving in units whose job is 'too close to the kill'. As a young woman, I feel frustrated and offended by this fact. I hate that women are viewed by some as a hormonal bubble of emotion who, if placed on the frontline, would begin to edge away and perhaps even hide behind their male colleagues. This is wrong. Women are equally as emotionally stable as men and in some cases, even more so. Statements suggesting otherwise are demeaning. I personally feel Alison Baskerville's new exhibition presents this perfectly, an array of images which will offer you a meaningful insight into what it is to be a woman on the frontline. On this, Alison told me "I really want the public to come and see a very human and feminine side to female soldiers on the front line." In fact, her selected images tell us that, just like many of us women, female soldiers are lovers of Downton Abbey, they have comfort teddies lurking in their bed and they value the importance of a perfect pedicure. More importantly, the exhibition allows us to appreciate the success of British women: whether it be in a bank, in a hospital or, for the women featured in Alison's photographs, on the frontline.
Alison Baskerville's 'The White Picture - The Hidden World of Women in Combat' will be exhibited in the Oxo Tower Gallery from tomorrow, October 25, to November 11.
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