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Home  >  Topics  >  Women Officers

February 15, 2011
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Roy Bedard Learning from the Experience
with Roy Bedard

Reviving the female warrior

A women warrior’s prowess should not be defined by how big or physically powerful she is – in fact, neither should a man’s

They say first impressions die hard, and since the first police agencies in America permitted only men, some women have struggled to acclimate to the profession.

The original police uniforms were designed for the male body; straight legged with a flat waist, wide shouldered and with buttoning on the right. Weapons like the truncheon represented the source of a male’s power being predominantly based on upper-body strength. The first multi-shot pistol used in law enforcement was manufactured by Samuel Colt in the 1850’s. The first firearms had large handgrips and significant resistance in the trigger pull that many women struggled with for over a century. Standards and policies were also developed using linear "if/then" problem solving methods typical to men.

By the time women were invited into the profession, the archetype of the ideal police officer had been firmly constructed in the likeness of a man.

The Formation of the Police Officer Archetype 
For decades, women have struggled with this archetype and many have attempted to model their behavior and demeanor towards the masculine, often at the expense of discarding their own critically important feminine attributes.

Today many woman police officers feel lost as they enter the profession, constantly being steered by their male counterparts towards a male model of policing. Some women adapt to the modality by reflecting a masculine bearing and demeanor. They essentially become more “male-like” in their presentation, showing behavioral signs and cognitive functioning more typically associated with men. Along with recruiting positive male traits like confidence, toughness and directness, these women characteristically become more aggressive, more self-serving and more cynical in their policing methods. Such is the nature of modeling behavior.

Still, others battle to formulate a new female officer archetype that could effectively compete with the existing male archetype in a postmodern culture that demands diverse problem solving techniques. Often they resent the male archetype considering it fundamentally wrong, overtly excessive and unfairly repressive.

Time has taught us that a well-rounded police officer archetype must have many personality constructs including the mentor, the nurturer, the educator, the sage and the warrior. These constructs are necessary for effectively dealing with the myriad of social problems that cops regularly face. Gender lays claim to these constructs, each considered either more masculine or feminine in nature.

This is part of our socialization, a deterministic belief that the softer skills are the domain of the woman while the harder skills are reserved for men. It is not therefore surprising that the original archetype of the police officer had evolved in a lopsided way, with men placing greater emphasis on the warrior then the other equally important constructs.

The 1960s began an era of archetype reconstruction as the warrior was challenged by the realization that nurturers, educators and mentors were equally important to community policing.

This was a tremendous shake-up for male officers who were previously selected and nurtured within the profession specifically for their overt warrior personalities. As the occupation underwent massive political change, an identity crises occurred to the police archetype. The warrior construct was threatened by a pendulum swing that suddenly preferred the softer service skills over the harder enforcement ones for community policing. All at once the warrior became demonized, cast down and scrutinized by the profession, the community, the courts and the media.

Women entering the profession are often intimidated by the warrior construct as a matter of cultural conditioning. In a modern sense, the warrior is culturally perceived as the one who goes to war – who battles in a physical contest of strength and strategy, roles typically associated with men. The characteristics of the warrior both physically and mentally are often perceived as being “male-like”.

But warriors are not fictional creatures to be imagined in one particular way or another. Warriors are and always have been the protectors of culture and community, a role shared by both men and women equally throughout antiquity. Men have no valid exclusivity claim to the warrior construct. History has shown us that battles are often won with physical prowess but wars are won with intellectual savvy necessitating a marriage of male and female constructs in order for a culture to prevail.

Women have fought on the battlefield, led armies and managed kingdoms. While doing so, they have provided for, mentored, and nurtured their families and communities. These female warrior values have not been lost in time; rather they have been inculcated by subsequent generations making women equally responsible for bringing our culture to this point by which we can now all reference ourselves within the ruminations of the warrior’s work.

Many women have risen from obscurity to take up arms in support of a cause that they were willing to die for and for this they are marked in history as pillars of our high-minded culture. Women have marched forward in battle, at times with a sword or halberd and at times with other weapons more subtle but profoundly more effective. It is the work of many female warriors that has given us our freedom, our dignity, and preserved us as a nation.

Some of our oldest cultural icons show women bearing arms. Where men view weapons as a sign of strength, women more typically view them as a sign of protection. It is interesting to note that it is the woman who is typically depicted bearing the most powerful arms known to mankind. Consider Lady Liberty who bears the light of wisdom, projecting it upward to gain the maximum luminescent effect. To her breast she clutches the book of freedom. Her face is stoic, resolved. If you look at her deeply you conclude that there is nothing temporary about this woman. Her weapons -- light and wisdom -- leave a lasting effect that cannot be struck down by bullets or blades. At her feet lie broken chains, a conclusion that punctuates her warring strategy.

Consider also the iconic figure of Lady Justice, a woman who bears scales, blindfolded to bias in order to measure truth and fairness accurately. What lasting culture is not firmly seated on these moral virtues? But note that she also holds a sword, a double-edged sword denoting not only the importance in enforcing the cultural code but the impartiality of reason that is sometimes in favor and sometimes against an individual’s private motives. Where else is the concept of law enforcement so eloquently characterized and the image of the law enforcement professional so clearly displayed but in the embodiment of this woman?

The Physical Female Warrior
One of the greatest criticisms of females as warriors is waged upon her natural physical limitations (in particular reduced body composition and inability to recruit massive amounts of muscle fiber due to genetic make-up). This is the most simplistic and yet most profound of the gender based stratifications because it is based on the faulty premise that physical strength is the most important feature in human performance. If one can be persuaded to accept this premise, then it follows that women can never be as adequate as men in the role of the warrior. For dubious reasons, physical strength has often intentionally been over emphasized as the leading virtue of the warrior; this being clearly part of a larger agenda. Unfortunately, this distorted agenda has morphed into a more lasting cultural belief that is almost universally accepted by both men and women alike.

Recall Rosie the Riveter, a character on the famous World War II recruitment poster. She boldly flexes her bicep over the words, “We can do it!” This character was designed to attract women to the workforce by projecting the warrior attributes of power, confidence and assertiveness using a typical male convention, the flexing of muscle. Here is an example of how warrior attributes have been traditionally associated with men, even when directed towards women. Though this poster was designed to get women out of the house and into industry, it heavily relied on the strongly held convictions put in place by a chauvinistic western culture. The underlying message was that men were warriors and women should learn to behave like them. This theme remains with us today. Regrettably our contemporary industrialized western culture continues to send these behavioral and attitude cues that women find difficult to ignore.

But if you think more globally, you will recall images of warrior women like Nike, Artemis, Deborah, Joan of Arc, Zenobia Cleopatra and Boudica, captured in the painter’s brush or the sculptor’s blade -- feminine symbols of power and profound strength.

Have a look at the artistic interpretations of these women. They are never depicted as physically menacing or grossly distorted in their physical attributes. Rather, they are all relatively small, well proportioned, well conditioned and armed.

A women warrior’s prowess should not be defined by how big or physically powerful she is – in fact, neither should a man’s. The warrior construct is a mental model that hovers far above the limitations of flesh and blood. It is the constitution of fulfilling objectives using all available resources, the least of which is muscle fiber. Warriors are clever, wily, and adaptable precisely because they recognize that physical strength is a limited variable. Men have to learn this. Women intuitively know it.


About the author

Roy Bedard is the President of RRB Systems International, a law enforcement product and training company in Tallahassee, Fla. Bedard travels throughout the United States and abroad training police, corrections and military professionals in close quarter and field tactics. Roy is a Consulting Producer for the A&E series Rookies and Biography Channel’s FEMALE FORCES, starring PoliceOne Columnist Betsy Brantner-Smith and the women of Naperville Police Department. Bedard’s latest project, Operation Wild, is a six episode season focusing on the officers of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Check out his websites at www.roybedard.com and www.rrbsystems.com.





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