STARRED REVIEW
March 26, 2019

Unbecoming

By Rebecca Scherm
Review by
Anuradha Bhagwati has defined herself through acts of resistance. As the only child of prominent India-born academics, she was a dutiful daughter during her preteen years in Boston and New York, but in high school, her “good girl” stature began to erode
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Anuradha Bhagwati has defined herself through acts of resistance. As the only child of prominent India-born academics, she was a dutiful daughter during her preteen years in Boston and New York, deferential to authority and always—as demanded—earning top grades. But in high school, her “good girl” stature began to erode—at least in her parents’ eyes. She developed a crush on a female classmate and, much to her father’s distaste, became “obsessed” with playing basketball. Then, while she was attending Yale, she became deeply involved with an older, black and marijuana-smoking boyfriend.

Her greatest cultural aberration, however, came in 1999 when she dropped out of graduate school at Columbia, where both her parents taught, and joined the Marines. She was 24. “I wanted trials. I wanted to be tested. I wanted something extreme,” she writes. That experience and its politically related aftermath are the main themes of this book. Even as she relished in and thrived on the physical agonies of Marine training, she came to abhor the Corps’ contradictory attitudes toward women—on the one hand, paternalistically forbidding them from combat and, on the other, viewing them as sexual playthings. She admits to being quite sexually active herself while in service—from hiring a female prostitute in Thailand to sleeping with “a small assortment of Marine men.”

Ultimately, Bhagwati fought the command structure over its indifference to sexual harassment—but with little success. She resigned from the Corps after five years with the rank of Captain. After that, Bhagwati became active in seeking better treatment of female veterans and demanding that women be allowed to serve in battle.

A thicket of conflicting impulses, Bhagwati still has contempt for the Marines while also excoriating herself for not having been a better one. Oddly enough, for someone so politically outspoken about gender and race, she says nothing about America’s military invasions of other countries.

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Unbecoming

Unbecoming

By Rebecca Scherm
Viking
ISBN 9780525427506

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