I don’t know about you ladies, but to me the army has never seemed like the ideal place to spend your early twenties. In my mind, there would be no shopping, Gossip Girl or spending hours in one position under the sun trying to achieve the perfect tan. Or basically anything else that’s silly and unimportant, but is an important part of me feeling unashamedly like a girl.
Turns out I was wrong. Lalage Snow is a photographer who has spent a good part of the last five years in Iraq and Afghanistan photographing female soldiers. According to her work, girls in the army remain very intent on “being girls.”
Not that this makes the army any more appealing to me personally, but I think it’s cute to know that, while you’re sweeping the roadsides for Taliban IEDs, you can also sorta smile to yourself whilst imagining Spencer from Made In Chelsea getting blown up by one. So I called up Lalage for a chat.
VICE: Hey Lalage. What’s up?
Lalage Snow: Hey! Just got back from holiday with some friends. We stayed in a house in Assenois, which is in the south of Belgium. We ate lots of paté and drunk biére blonde.
And how did that differ from your time in Iraq and Afghanistan?
Haha! It was different, but you know, it was much girlier than you’d think. The British girls in Iraq, for example, would sunbathe any chance they got, while when it came to the way they decorated their bunks everything was over-the-top girly. Pink washbags and sponges, pink iPod cases. The American girls would have a slumber party almost every night. They’d watch scary films and eat popcorn in their little bunker on a computer. When you are in such a masculine environment you sort of need to cling on to your femininity really tightly.
How old were most of the girls?
Young. The American female engagement team were like, 19 to 22 years old.
You know how they say women are more tolerant to pain, because of our periods and baby birthing and all that? Did you find that to be the case with the female soldiers?
Well, for the time I hung out with the girls they never came under fire. Their main job is to go out and find Afghan women on the streets and search them. Because men are not allowed to speak or touch Afghan women, they were finding that often they were hiding rifles or thousands of dollars under their burqas, and so the female team was brought in.
Right. Were they being treated differently by the male soldiers?
Yes and no. They would get some hassle and some slack at the same time from the other guy soldiers, but I think at the end of the day, they look at it and say we are just soldiers together—a job is a job. They have the confidence to do so.
But the funniest thing was the Afghan response to these girls. They can see that it is a soldier in uniform, but they also see the blonde hair underneath the cap in a ponytail and they are like, “Oh my God, it’s a girl looking like a man!” They all think that Western girls are really weird.