How ‘combat barbies’ get played by the press

The media loves a woman with a gun, especially if she has pinup potential. When female soldiers are in the media spotlight, stories might peg them as an exotic novelty—or just make a blatant play for clicks through photos of bombshells in uniform. Here are some recent examples from around the world.

Syria & Iraq

The narrative of Kurdish women battling the repressive, misogynistic isis has proven irresistible. A Foreign Policy headline called female fighters in Iraq “badass“; while pictures of “Rehana”—a grinning soldier whom the New York Daily News called “the poster girl of Kurdish resistance” went viral.

UK

“Who says you can’t shoot a gun and wear heels?” read the CBS lede introducing Katrina Hodge, who was crowned Miss England in 2009 and has also served in the British Army. The UK’s Daily Telegraph dubbed her an “all-action beauty queen.”

Israel

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In Israel, where military service is mandatory for most women, a viral 2012 photo of a bikini-clad woman strapped with an assault rifle was posted on Gizmodo with the headline, “Badass Chicks In Israel Don’t Go To The Beach Without Their Gats.” Hardly the most progressive of publications, The Sun‘s front page after Israeli soldiers’ semi-nude Facebook photos were leaked in 2013 simply read, “Gaza Strip.”

Libya

Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s elite, all-female bodyguards were once viewed as another marker of eccentric flamboyance by the Libyan dictator. Labeled his “Amazonian Guard” and “revolutionary nuns,” according to GlobalPost they reportedly took vows of virginity and were “decked in 1990s-style camouflage, nail polish, thick mascara, and Nancy Sinatra war boots.” After Gaddafi’s fall, some claimed rape and abuse by the dictator and his sons.

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Chris Ip is a CJR Delacorte Fellow. Follow him on Twitter at @chrisiptw. This story was published in the March/April 2015 issue of CJR with the headline, "Combat Barbies."