Lifting ban on women in combat

crossposted at

I had an abundance of strangers and friends ask me in complete shock and disbelief over WHY I would ever want to join the military, when I had told them that that’s what I was doing with my life. I had a million reasons to respond with really (I myself had a great childhood because I was an Army brat), but the only one that stood out was that I had always wanted to show the world that no matter what the circumstances and obstacles, women could do the same damn job as a man could…and they already did, but much more invisibly than their male counterparts. I wanted this to change; I wanted women to finally get credit for their sacrifices, risking their lives too, their ability to save another human being in situations, or the fight to help liberate women and their rights in countries where they were repressed and abused, their god damn hard work, period. I thought that if I was one more woman in the military doing a bad ass job, and being really good at it, that that would in some way make a progression toward woman’s equality. There are significant psychological implications like toppling the highly built prejudice against women by our patriarchal culture about what a woman is capable of: physically, emotionally and psychologically. People asked me: “Well, do you know what you would be fighting for? DO you believe in the war?” Yes and No. I would have been fighting for women’s equality in the world and here in the U.S. and that was reason enough for me. As a woman I would have done my job as  25V Combat Documentation/Photographer damn well. I still think about  re-joining in a few years as an Officer, but now I have a daughter and inevitably certain things changed, like putting myself in harm’s way instead of considering my daughter.

In March 2011 a recommendation will go to Congress about lifting the ban on the military putting women into combat. Newsflash! Women are already fighting in combat and on the front lines in combat zones in the Middle East, they just don’t get credit for it because of this military code that supposedly “keeps them out of harms way and from effectually distracting and hindering the male soldiers from doing their jobs.” WHAT?! Yes those are a couple of their reasons. Crazy. Women have been in dangerous combat zones fighting along with the men since WWI, as nurses and medics right on the front lines. In 1917 the Russian Provisional Gov. actually deployed female combat troops in large numbers! How often do we hear about that? In WWII in America, several hundred thousand women served in combat units and especially as pilots and anti-aircraft units as gunners! All over the World starting during WWII, women were being mobilized in war efforts, in combat units, volunteering and every other position that a man was performing…so why do women barely get accredited with any recognition?

In a sense, this recommendation to lift the ban on women in combat is sort of infuriating. It’s almost as if to infer that women aren’t already in combat and deployed there specifically, not by accident. Another technique to disrepute or disassociate women’s work and abilities perhaps? Wouldn’t be surprising really!

Join the Conversation

  • aLynn

    Perhaps the recommendation should be worded to “lift the ban” and “dispel the myth” that women haven’t been serving in combat roles?

  • nazza

    On one hand, I support the rights of women to serve in active combat, should they choose. And the right to be given full credit. However, I still don’t think that war, in any form, for any reason, is morally right.

  • Marie

    This is slightly off topic, but not much: I was wondering how we would feel about women being conscripted if there ever were a draft?

    • Jill Gaulding

      I, for one, would feel great. If women were drafted on the same terms as men, it would be a sign that we have made some significant progress on the gender-stereotype/gender-hierarchy front. And that’s a front I want to fight on.

      p.s. If you want to hear some of those old-school-but-still-prevalent stereotypes expressed bluntly, listen to the recent NPR series on women in combat. Lots of questions posed — in 2011! — about whether women are emotionally capable of handling combat, or whether it is appropriate for society to put us in harm’s way instead of protecting us…

  • Nick Cohea

    I have my worries about military culture (namely it’s being ultra sexist and heterosexist and belligerently macho) and foreign policy (namely the fact that the US considers bombing people into the stone age “liberation”), I think that women in the armed forces is good in principle.

    As has been pointed out, women have been serving and dying in combat positions. I also read a paper about women in the armed forces (can’t remember the author or the wording to cite it). Ironically, the fact that women have been relegated to support roles has actually served to put them more into harm’s way than putting them in infantry. This is because combatants aren’t crazy about attacking into infantry and armor because they are heavily out-gunned there. So they attack support instead, and that’s where women are getting killed mostly. (At least, that’s what the paper said, and it may now be outdated.)

    Kiki, go you for thinking everyone should be a badass! There’s always nobility in strength and being a protector.

  • Kiki

    You’re all bringing up very relevant questions. The issue is complex to say the least, because it means completely overturning socially constructed norms/gender roles that have been implemented and steadfast in the past several hundred years. This is no easy feat.
    @Marie, great question, and a loaded one at that! Personally, if women want to be treated equally in all respects, then that means just that; all the same rules must apply to them. This is difficult though because there is a vast gray area, it isn’t so black and white. It is difficult when a woman becomes a mother, and typically the primary caregiver to her children (even if they have a present father).
    @Nick-thanks for your input! : ) That is really interesting and something to think about.

  • onlynow

    The existing physical fitness standards in the military are much lower for females than for males. Do you support equalizing those standards to be the same for both sexes? And if so, how would you do it? Lower the male standards, raise the female standards, or perhaps have different standards based on job classification (MOS)?

    • Jill Gaulding

      I think the most defensible solution would be to try determine what the job actually requires — asking, “What does a person need to be able to do, in order to do this job successfully?” — and then set that as the standard for any applicant, whatever their gender identity.

      That is, admittedly, a subjective task. It can be hard to decide how demanding standards should be — for example, while it might be helpful if every soldier in the infantry could run a 4 minute mile and bench press 200 pounds, setting the standard that high might mean we can’t find enough qualified applicants, of any gender. But at least the approach is fair and easy to understand. The important thing is not “Are you fit for a woman, or for a man?” but rather “Are you fit enough to do this job?”

    • Matt

      Regardless of whether it means increases women or decreases for men (or possibly even decreases for men or increases for men in extreme cases), having job-specific requirements may also be effective, as it can help soldiers find positions suitable for their particular talents. However, it’s the sort of idea the more creative minds in the military should be able to explore, to determine what expectations are really all that essential and to squeeze out greater efficiency. There will probably still need to be some universal requirements (or at least some requirements that are universal across a broad array of positions), but it is something worth exploring.

  • mika

    Thakns so much for this post! I’m in the same boat with regards to the whole “WHY would you do that with your life!” thing, but I’m about to graduate college and get back in officer-style. I’ve found that there’s a huge rift between the side of me that proudly proclaims feminist, and the side that also proudly claims Marine. Mostly though, its a problem to other people who see them as completely separate spheres, and I can definitely understand that, but to me, in my life, personally, they click. They both mean more to me than just what’s on the surface, but I am critical of the military still.
    I just always, always appreciate when someone posts something like this. Oftentimes women in the military get disowned by feminists, and it shouldn’t have to be that way.

    • mika

      Oops and also, recently the Marine Corps Times reported that a study found there is no reason for the ban at all. It was a tiny little column on a page nobody looks at in the newspaper, which was unfortunate, but I’m pleasantly surprised it was printed. Naturally women who can meet the requirements can do the same jobs as any man.