Thursday, May 29, 1997
Bomber pilot simply treated
like a pioneer

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Ever since the first news stories appeared about the female bomber pilot facing a court-martial, people have been telling me I should write about it. And I'm pretty sure they already know what I should say.

After all, I am a woman. This, we know for a fact. It says so on my driver's license, and my mother dressed me in pink booties. So, it is assumed that I am on the lookout for ways to be offended by the manner in which women are treated by men in positions of power.

To tell you the truth, I often am.

Chance for moral outrage

So, naturally I was planning to be morally outraged that another woman, 1st Lt. Kelly Flinn, the Air Force's first female B-52 pilot, was singled out by the military for punishment. What about the Tailhook scandal? The military sure took its time looking into that one, didn't it?

When officials did, they found out that Navy aviators at a convention in Las Vegas assaulted dozens of women. The women were grabbed, fondled and subjected to humiliating behavior by their male colleagues. How about the drill instructors at the Army's Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland accused of using their power over recruits to sleep with some of them?

Lt. Flinn was having consensual sex with a civilian soccer coach. Marc Zigo described their sexual liaison in some detail and admitted lying both to his then-wife and Lt. Flinn. A reliable rat, he said his former lover got off easy.

Who can disagree? After all, she might have married this lout. Was Lt. Flinn singled out for prosecution because of her status as the first woman to become a B-52 bomber pilot? Was the media attention out of proportion? Well, of course.

That's what happens to pioneers. And celebrities. She was both. Somebody is always watching for the chink in the armor. If the chink has something to do with the reason they are celebrated in the first place, so much the better. Does anybody imagine that the Globe would have paid $75,000 to blow a hole in Frank Gifford's marriage if his wife had not been so publicly delighted with her happiness? From the time Kelly Flinn stepped into the limelight as the Air Force's self-described "show girl," she took on a huge responsibility. She had to be the best. Pioneers are held to a higher standard. They always have been. Just ask any black civil rights leader. Or Geraldine Ferraro.

Their weaknesses are less likely to be forgiven. Just ask former Citadel student Shannon Faulkner.

Dangerous business

Being a pioneer can be dangerous. Does anybody think it was easy to be Daniel Boone or Clara Barton? The bullets they dodged were not figurative. That's why we so admire people who dare something for the first time.

There are those who would use the example of the bullying drill instructors and Tailhook to prove that women have no place in the military, that this is one frontier that should be abandoned. Nonsense. If we decide that women cannot be trained by male drill instructors, then what do we think of male college professors? If men and women cannot live together aboard a ship, then how can we expect them to live in an apartment complex?

I am obliged to notice that none of the men I know is a rapist or thug.

You could put them in a uniform and they could be in charge of young recruits and they still would not be rapists or thugs. And you could put them in a dormitory with women and they still would not molest them against their will. And they would not set their clothes on fire.

The military is right - late, but right - in trying to rid itself of these vermin. And the pioneer women who are in the military right now may as well get used to the idea that, like Lt. Flinn, they may be held to a tough standard. Even a new standard.

And I am obliged to notice that Lt. Flinn volunteered for the role of pioneer. And that she broke the rules. Women who aspire to military duty want the full package - even combat. So the first ones will never have the luxury of mistakes or weakness, certainly not disobedience.

I'm not saying that's right. I'm just saying that's the way it is.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in The Enquirer on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. Call 768-8393 or fax 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio, and as a regular commentator on NPR's Morning Edition.