When I go to war, I borrow a flak jacket, a big blue thing designed for men. It squashes my shoulders, metal plates pinning flat my chest, breasts yielding to the weight of them. Androgenised.
But I wear the body armour because I’m told it will keep me safe, if someone shoots from a distance. I wear it because I’m told these are cheaper than the ones for women. I wear it because I’m told there are more male journalists on the frontline than women, because men are better at the warry stuff, and women more lightweight.
I wear it because the man in the equipment stores tells me all of this, and because he’s not the only one.
I wear it because I don’t want to rock the boat and give the newsdesk another reason not to send me to do this job. I wear it because I’ve told them I am the best ‘man’ for the job. I wear it because I want to be part of the solution and not part of the problem, as if my gender might be classed as anything else.
Deep in the belly of the building, where they keep the cameras, tripods and satellite phones, the team first aid kits, generators and batteries, the man looks me up and down, hands me the canvas bag with the body armour and a helmet, and whistles through yellow teeth.
‘We don’t get many girls going to war.’ He stinks of fags and coffee, holds out a cracked biro in his fat, stained fingers.
‘I’ve checked the plates. They need to come back exactly as they are. Sign here.’
I press the pen hard and leave an imprint on the desk.
Later, I sit by the wall in the bowels of another building, where the stores have been looted, where nothing remains but rubble and the smell of shit and fear and sweat and how long will this last and I wonder if the scar of my name will still be there when I get back. I hear the crack of gun fire, and remember what he told me – that if I could still hear it, I would be fine.
The whistles and whines get closer and the ground starts to shake, but I wonder if it is just me shaking, in my too big turtle shell which creeps up my body and covers my mouth, muddling my senses, exposing my womb to the world.
I am silence.
I hear the sound of boots and deep voices, checking the doors. Opening, closing, opening, closing. I cross my legs, pull my helmet down to hide my face, hope the jacket shields my gender. I know none of this body armour will protect me if these men target me point blank.
Image via Pixabay