How does the voice of today’s “pretty young soldiers” resonate with these traditions, in the current more permissive gender environment in the armed forces?  To explore this question, bringing the academic debate to a questioning public, we have produced a music video for a specially commissioned folk song, entitled ‘She’ll Hold Her Own’, written to capture my own gendered reflections of recent military service and reimagining the gender-defying female soldier of traditional folk music. The visuals explore the transition from military to civilian life through the relationship between identity and uniform.

Creating this video has offered unrivalled opportunities to explore my own reflections on my gendered experiences of military masculinity and femininity, framings of female combatants and how my view about gender in war have changed since leaving the military.  Triggered by face to face conversations with other ex-military researchers, I have identified a need to bring to public notice the assumptions underpinning our understanding of gender and war, and, in particular, how, as I have transitioned from military to civilian life, my awareness of the incidents that highlight military masculinities and femininities has sharpened.  This music video harnesses my lived experience to challenge ideas around military femininity and seek feedback from a wide public audience about deeply-nurtured assumptions surrounding the gendered nature of war.

She’ll Hold Her Own (by Tim West)

There’s many a ballad that’s centuries old,
That tells of young maidens whose love makes them bold,
They travel the world dressed in soldiers’ attire,
And then seek their menfolk through sea, storm and fire.
Their cries still have echoes – for I have been shown
We can tell a new tale set in times of our own,

I knew such a woman – no man she desired
She sought travel and freedom – for she had aspired
To be bold and be different – on the wide salt-green sea
She would seek her adventure, she said unto me.
She told me she’d never be sailing alone:
In the wake of strong women who’d once held their own.

They were dressed in their kit from their very first days
They had signed for the Service, and all its strange ways.
“My duty,” she thought, “Is to follow the rules,
To be strong, to survive, and to learn my trade’s tools”
She told of her training in letters sent home,
In a smart sailor’s trappings,  could she hold her own?

She tried her new clothes and grew into their size,
She was young, among men trying hard to seem wise,
As they swaggered and bragged, sporting lace on their sleeves,
A light headed girl would by none be believed.
She told me abruptly that she’d changed her tune
And an officer’s voice meant that she’d hold her own.

Soon the world’s wars turned sour and she was put to the test,
To the sand and the mountains she went with the rest,
She set to her work there with scrupulous care,
Unlike some men around her, doing more than her share,
She told me with pri-ide her work was well known,
Next to women or men she said she’d hold her own.

She marched through the ranks but before long she knew,
That a woman’s true self couldn’t ever shine through
In the rough and the tumble,  she asked herself why –
She was far from herself,  She could not live a lie
She told me she’d dreamed of a family home,
She thought now of children – would she hold her own?

The balance of life, with two burdens so great,
The tiniest babe, against the great deeds of state,
Was a promise now broken; the rules had worn thin
The adventures had so-ured, why should she fit in?
She told how her dutiful spirit had flown:
If she wanted a fair world, then she’d build her own.