One Step Forward…

By Domenica Di Piazza, Editorial Director of Twenty-First Century Books

Women in the Military – Some Background

Ideas for TFCB books come to me from such a wide range of venues. A few years ago, my father told me about a PBS special he’d seen about the resurgence of plant and animal life at Chernobyl, and from that came the TFCB star-reviewed book Chernobyl’s Wild Kingdom by Rebecca L. Johnson. One of my colleagues suggested a book idea on reproductive rights, and from that conversation came the Junior Library Guild Selection Reproductive Rights: Who Decides? by Vicki Oransky Wittenstein.

I pay attention to headlines and the issues that trend on social media. And I follow a handful of favorite news programs, podcasts, and radio talk shows. One of the programs I return to regularly is Fresh Air with Terry Gross, whose guests have led to TFCB books such as Pandemic: How Climate, the Environment, and Superbugs Increase the Risk by Connie Goldsmith.

A breaking story last week focused on freshman Republican senator Martha McSally of Arizona who revealed that she was raped while serving in the US Air Force. This last Sunday, the New York Times Magazine published a collection of stories from forty women about their experiences in the military. Not too long ago, I heard a fantastic interview with Maj. Mary Jennings Hegar, an Air National Guard pilot and veteran of three tours of duty in Afghanistan. She received the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Flying Cross with a Valor Device for her service in Afghanistan. Terry Gross interviewed Hegar to talk about her 2017 memoir Shoot Like a Girl: One Woman’s Dramatic Fight in Afghanistan and on the Home Front. The book recounts Hegar’s military experience and her role as a plaintiff in an ACLU lawsuit against the US Department of Defense, arguing that excluding women from combat was unconstitutional. And in 2016, the Department of Defense finally opened all roles, including combat, to any woman who qualifies.

The TFCB book that came from that interview and that is so eerily timely? Women in the Military: From Drill Sergeants to Fighter Pilots, also by Connie Goldsmith, new from TFCB for Spring 2019. Goldsmith interviewed a number of women to tell the story of women’s participation in US military forces. They attest to the diversity of roles that are now open to women, the satisfaction they feel in their jobs, as well as to the many challenges they face. For example, women in all branches of the military are frequently subjected to sexism, sexual harassment, and sexual violence. They also face additional layers of racial, sexual orientation, and gender-identity discrimination. Female veterans grapple with PTSD, difficulties accessing health care from the Veterans Administration, homelessness, and suicide—often at disproportionately higher rates than their male colleagues.

No More Excuses

With references to the #MeToo movement, Women in the Military is an excellent pairing with Amber J. Keyser’s latest book from TFCB, No More Excuses: Dismantling Rape Culture, also new for Spring 2019. School Library Journal’s star review points to the book’s timely content, its in-depth exploration of gender norms and intersectionality, interviews with teens, up-to-date information about consent, and the dissection of myths surrounding rape. It’s a must read and in SLJ’s words, “a highly recommended [book] for every library that serves teens.”

The idea for this book? Friends on social media going public in 2017 with their #MeToo stories of sexual violence. Friends who had kept their experiences secret for decades. And it came from Amber Keyser’s wholehearted commitment to the project, especially when it took us both to some very dark places.

These stories, and these two books, attest to incredible courage on the part of so many women and their allies. During Women’s History Month, I know I am reflecting deeply on the reality that change and growth are not always linear.  We so often take steps forward, and then back. Yet my hope is that, in its totality, TFCB’s publishing program for YA readers supports the famous quote from Martin Luther King Jr. that “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

More posts by Domenica

A Kirkus review of Women in the Military

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