As anyone who’s been hanging out here in the Margins knows, I’m working on a global history of women warriors. I’m looking at examples from across the globe, from the ancient world through the twentieth century. Looking at their stories in the context of women in the modern American military–or maybe looking at women in the modern American military in the context of their stories–is an important part of what I’m doing.*
In 2012, former Air National Guard pilot and Purple Heart recipient Mary Jennings Hegar joined forces with the ACLU to successfully challenge the ban that kept American women out of ground combat units. In Shoot Like A Girl, Hegar tells the story of the career that led her to that point.
Hegar’s love for flying, her commitment to her job, and her bonds with teammates are vivid on every page. The incident for which she received the Purple Heart–when her helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan with wounded men aboard—is a gripping story, told with skill. But the heart of the book is the institutional and individual sexism that Hegar had to overcome at every stage of her career.
Writing in a matter-of-fact, conversational style, Hegar recounts acts of casual prejudice that will feel familiar to any woman who has worked in a male-dominated field, hazing by hostile teammates and one horrifying instance of sexual assault by an army doctor during an exam, made worse by fact that his superiors took immediate action to protect him from punishment. Hegar shares feelings of betrayal, isolation, and anger. She admits to tears on more than one occasion. But her strongest response is a desire to prove that everyone who told her women shouldn’t be military pilots was wrong. She succeeds.
Shoot Like a Girl made me cry, swear, laugh, cheer, and occasionally slam the book shut and walk away.
*”Why now?” is one of the questions you need to answer when you try to sell a non-fiction book to a publisher.
Most of this review previously appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers.