As a part of Veterans Week, the University of Michigan screened the documentary “Lioness” on Nov. 14. “Lioness” reveals the untold story of the first team of women soldiers to be sent into combat during the Iraq War. The documentary details the events of their journey from when they were first sent to calm tensions with local civilians to their violent struggles in battle.
According to a case study by the Center for Media & Social Impact at American University, “Lioness” successfully helped bring the realities of the roles of women in the military to light through its media coverage and advocacy networks, and was “directly referenced in the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act concerning training and documentation of women’s combat service.”
Its directors, Meg McLagan and Daria Sommers, released a statement detailing their journey in filming, including life-long lessons about the “grey zone” women operate in within the military. McLagan and Sommers mention the dangers of unequal training due to the combat exclusion policy, as well as the lack of documentation for women soldiers.
“The practice of attaching women on a temporary basis to all male units is a convenient loophole that enables commanders on the ground to reduce violence without violating policy. But because it does not create a paper trail, it can limit a female soldier’s chances of being officially recognized as a combatant,” the statement said. “This in turn inhibits her ability to ascend to the highest ranks in the Army and Marines where she can assume a meaningful leadership role and help shape national policy.”
After the film screening, a small group discussion was held to debrief on the documentary.
Tracy Wright, nurse consultant and critical incident coordinator at the Dean of Students office, expressed her surprise after watching the documentary.
“I was surprised, at the beginning of the film, women were excluded from the videos and the shared media about what was going on in Iraq,” Wright said. “They were very involved, and it was the politics that kept their faces from being shown.”
Philip Larson, program coordinator for University of Michigan Veteran and Military Services, led the discussion. In an interview with The Daily, Larson noted a key value of his work with Veteran and Military Services at the University.
“Most people, when you mention ‘soldier,’ usually picture a male,” Larson said. “Since we started this program in 2008, we have worked on highlighting the role of women in the military.”
Regarding the documentary, Larson highlighted the fact that the movie shows the capability of women.
“I think the main takeaway is that there is, and may still be, systemic barriers to women fully serving in the military, which is discriminatory on job bases and discriminatory to say what women are capable of doing,” Larson said. “(Lioness demonstrates) women can do these things and have been doing these things. … It makes for a better and more equal fighting force.”