Gender on the Front Lines

As many of you may have read, Leon Panetta (Defense Secretary) and General Martin Dempsey (Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) announced on Thursday that the military will be officially lifting its ban on women in combat roles.  The roles that will be opened are largely infantry in the Army and Marine Corps.  While women have unofficially been serving roles on the front lines for years in Afghanistan and Iraq, this move will make those roles in combat formally recognized.

There are several concerns about women serving in combat roles that I cannot say I disagree with. I am going to leave aside every concern (team chemistry, sexual harassment, female “hygiene”, etc.) except for those pertaining to fitness in this blog post.  While women will be held to the same rigorous physical standards as men serving these positions, the reality is that the challenges they face will be quite difficult.  Whether we like it or not, men and women are, in fact, different.  Why else would we divide up the Olympics into gender-specific events?  Why are men’s sports always faster/stronger?

I am a female who is currently applying to Officer Candidate School with the military, and I am a big supporter of female strength. Women are already serving some pretty elite and intense roles in the military, such as pilots, Explosive Ordinance Disposal Techs in the Navy, Rescue Swimmers in the Navy/Coast Guard, and Coast Guard Deployable Operations Group quite successfully.   While I am certain that there are many women who are capable of meeting the physical challenges that come with being a combat soldier (like loading 55lb artillery shells overhead in moving tanks or carrying a wounded 200+ lb comrade off out of the line of fire), the bottom line is I simply don’t know how I feel about this.  It would take a very special and gifted female under my command for me to feel equally comfortable sending her into combat as a male counterpart simply because if the s**t hits the fan, I would want the physically strongest and most mentally tough individuals to put the pieces back together – equal opportunity is not something I’d be worrying about at that moment.  If one or two of those individuals happens to be a female, so be it, but this will be something I will need to see to believe, and on the whole, I expect the front lines to maintain the “boys clubs” mentality they’ve always had even if a few exceptional ladies make their way up the battle lines.

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2 Responses to Gender on the Front Lines

  1. Sibs Sibs says:

    I completely agree with this. The slide show NPR had of photographs of women in combat over the years was an incredible testament to the paradox existing in America’s “post-feminist” era. We claim to have made advances in gender equality/women’s rights, but sexism was only swept under-the-rug with a discretion that prevents any sort of accountability.

  2. striva says:

    Wow, this is really interesting. I totally understand both sides of the debate of gender equality in terms of combat, but I too am conflicted with my thoughts on it. Good luck with your applications to Officer Candidate School!

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