By Paula J. Caplan
Sunday, November 7, 2010
Psychologist Paula J. Caplan has written a play about a character who might say something about all female vets. She has complicated emotions and thinks she's going crazy. But she's not. She just needs attention to her painful secrets.
Many women talk about the crazy-making expectations placed on them to show that they can be John Wayne to the nth power, out-tough the guys.
Those who do that are likely to be called lesbian (certainly still dangerous, especially in the American military) or at least mocked for failing to be feminine enough.
So there is a double bind. Women who fail to suppress their love and longing for the children, partners, parents, siblings or friends they have left behind may avoid being called unwomanly. But by letting such feelings show, they are likely to be called too weak to deserve to be servicemembers. Also, letting normal, healthy feelings show can have deeply disturbing consequences. For instance, some military therapists have put female soldiers on psychiatric drugs because they were devastated to be separated by deployment from their children.
"WarandTherapy" has had 13 performances in the U.S. and Canada this year, giving audiences a chance to hear a female veteran describe the shame she feels and the chasm between her and the loved ones who do not know what happened to her when she was at war. It provides an opportunity to recognize what it is like to be a woman who has been in combat and to feel more connected to her.
But this play cannot reach everyone. So as Veterans Day approaches, consider finding a woman who has come back from war or is currently serving and tell her that if she wants to talk, you want to hear her story.
This is an important part of rejoining a community that owes her the chance to unburden secrets she may consider shameful, too "feminine," too unfeminine or in other ways unworthy.
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Paula J. Caplan is a psychologist, playwright and Fellow in the Women and Public Policy Program, Kennedy School of Government, and Associate of the DuBois Institute, both at Harvard University. Her book, "When Johnny and Jane Come Marching Home: How All of Us Can Help Vets," will be published by MIT Press in the spring of 2011.
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