For the 2009 holidays, the USO decided to send care packages specifically to female troops for the first time. Along with practical items like soap, tampons and deodorant, the packages included lipstick, mascara, mineral make-up and “a copy of Cosmopolitan magazine with headlines like ’8 Things Guys Notice Instantly,’ ‘Hot New Party Dresses’ and ‘Mind Tricks That Melt Pounds,’” according to the St. Petersburg Times. Oh, “and a camouflage makeup bag. A pink one.” It’s about time somebody thought of servicewomen’s needs like that! I mean, really, can you imagine living in a war zone without mascara?
To be fair, the article points out that women do get time off, during which they might like to get a little fancy (although there are restrictions on the shades of lipstick and nail polish they’re allowed to wear), and a USO spokeswoman says the organization was receiving specific requests from female troops for nail care products and things “that will make us smell good.” I’m a believer in the mood-lifting powers of a little lipstick myself, and if the packages improve morale, fantastic. But still… Cosmo? Pink camo make-up bags? Vicky Fales, who served in the Air Force, says she appreciates that they’re making a special effort for the women — “this outward gesture that the USO is doing almost symbolizes an acceptance and a recognition” that wasn’t there before — but as someone who worked in an especially male-dominated field, she wouldn’t have wanted that stuff. “I wanted more to blend in and not so much stand out.” And the article includes numerous suggestions from former servicewomen for more useful and potentially welcome items: Sports bras, clean underwear, toothpaste, socks, books, DVDs.
Jessica Valenti at Feministing has an even better suggestion: “I want us to pay more attention to the needs of female soldiers. How about we start with the horrific rates of sexual assault or the discrimination women face in the military? Then we can get to the pink makeup bags.” Obviously, that’s a little beyond the scope of what the USO can stuff in a care package, but there’s probably a more thoughtful way to honor women’s service than sending beauty products and tips for flatter abs.