In case you forgot: The military is not for us, ladies

Oh hey look, it’s Robert H. Scales, a retired Army major general, saying women aren’t fit for close combat!

I am not a military or combat expert, but I have reasons for thinking that nobody is truly fit for close combat. I understand that killing is necessary in war. But to be fit for killing? To be the best killer you can be?

Close combat units, says Scales, are “made up of soldiers whose purpose is to kill the enemy directly.” What can truly prepare for someone for becoming non-anonymously, face-to-face deadly? Except practicing death, which soldiers do. In combat. As far as I know (again, no expert here) the close-combat arms of the Army, Marines and special forces aren’t actually killing people in training.

So why do men so obviously belong in close combat, while women do not?

Well. First, to be fair, Scales generously thinks female soldiers can serve in the artillery, because we disruptive, distracting vagina-ed creatures won’t be in REAL combat in the artillery.

I have no problem with integrating women into the artillery. … Artillery is okay for women because the purpose of the guns in battle is to deliver firepower against a distant enemy, not to engage in close combat.

His argument devolves from there. While Scales concedes that diversity is good for the military, the line has to be drawn at including women in combat.

Contemporary history suggests that U.S. infantry units fight equally well when made up of soldiers of different ethnicities, cultures, intelligence and social background. The evidence is also solid that gays make just as good infantrymen as do straight men.

So you can be black or gay or “differently” intelligent, and that is good for the infantry, because that will better prepare you for killing someone and helping others kill people than having a vagina.

He continues:

I’ve been studying the band of brothers effect for almost 40 years and have written extensively on the subject. We know that time together allows effective pairings — or “battle buddies,” to use the common Army term. But the human formula that ensures successful buddy pairings is still a mystery, and that’s the key stumbling block in the debate. Veteran SEALs, special forces, Rangers, tankers and line infantrymen will swear that the deliberate, premeditated and brutal act of intimate killing is a male-only occupation. But no one can prove it with data from empirical tests because no such data exist from the United States. They just know intuitively from battlefield experience that it’s true

To be sure, women soldiers may be fit, they may be skilled and they may be able to “hang.” Many have proved with their lives that they are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice. But our senior ground-force leaders, as well as generations of former close combat veterans from all of our previous wars, are virtually united on one point: The precious and indefinable band of brothers effect so essential to winning in close combat would be irreparably compromised within mixed-gender infantry squads.

So. Women shouldn’t be in combat despite the fact that we are fit, skilled, trained, are willing to die for our country AND can “hang” (that’s so important, guys) because men just know that women will ruin everything.

No one can prove it. Not the most highly trained specialists in the military, and not Robert H. Scales, retired Army major general, can prove that including women in close combat will destroy military unity. But they know! Generations of experienced (male) leaders, they know! Just like they knew that letting women vote would ruin politics! Just like they knew letting women get jobs would destroy the social fabric of this country! Just like they knew letting women get an education would kill the birth rate and knock America from its place in world domination! (Er, Ross Douthat is still working that one out.)

Ultimately, Scales’ argument boils down to not letting women into the elite forces of the military because it’s not a woman’s place to be in the elite forces of the military. His argument is so traditionally sexist and old-fashioned as to be almost boring. I’m no supporter for anyone becoming a killer. But Scales has produced zero evidence to argue that women, if they want to fight for their country, shouldn’t.

Join the Conversation

  • Molly Rothschild

    What also bothers me about this issue is the way in which a Fox News analyst said that women should expect to be raped in the military, stemming from the unnaturalness of their presence there. The media needs to stop portraying women this way.
    Check out this petition to take a stand:

  • Ivan

    First of all, this headline — “The military is not for us, ladies” — is wrong, misleading, loaded, inaccurate, and brazenly unfair. Amy Choi is losing her poorly researched argument before we even reach word one of her post here.

    “Direct action combat arms military occupational specialties (although we regularly train for and serve in military positions that pay equally and lead to us being attached to and fighting with those male-centric direct action combat arms units and thus participating in the same asymmetrical battlefield fighting as our male grunt colleagues) is not for us, ladies” would be a more accurate headline. Maybe not as catchy, though.

    True, many of the arguments in favor of the status quo on this issue reek of mansplaining. I get that; I really do. I agree with and “fuck yeah” probably 90% of what I read on this website. And I support the spirit of the efforts to get women full equality in all military jobs. Obviously, they all deserve equal legal, awards-based, & fiscal consideration for what they do alongside males in our military.

    But on this issue of women becoming infantry (Army 11B), Rangers (Army V identifier), special forces (Army 18 series), or forward observer (Army 13F), it just isn’t an argument. There are a very few males who can hack it, much less excel, as a Green Beret. And fewer still who rise to the challenges in combat zones, when excuses are inexcusable, when sleep is a dream, when shit gets real, when the ability to maintain positive control of your M4 while simultaneously performing a pull-up with an injured battle buddy clinging to your neck becomes a vital life skill.

    The training for those positions involves feet blisters, trapezius blisters, live fire with machine guns while the trainees are on minimal sleep, scaling fences while weighed down with 70+ pounds of equipment, and carrying giant logs through Florida swampland (with an OC ready to DQ or recycle you if your elbow or weapon touches water while you wade waist high with your dead tree).

    Bottom line: there are very very few females able to do these things.

    I welcome those who can, and I am glad to make them my teammates, but I, along with Major General Scales, would hate to see our judiciary bend over backwards to force us to accommodate the overwhelming majority of females who can not.

    More thoughts here:

  • Ivan

    Again on the ridiculous Feministing headline here:

    Scales makes it a point to note many females he knows or is related to who have done great things in the US military. I can verify his point about female artillery officers. I’ve been a subordinate to a few female Army officers and a few female NCOs, indeed in an artillery unit like what Scales mentions. It’s a non-issue; I was deferential to the officers and scared shitless of the NCOs, which is 100% normal for any junior enlisted or E-5, gender dynamics be damned.

    • Ivan

      This is a complicated issue, and Amy Choi’s perspective is valid, but this is literally a matter of of life and death (a cliched phrase, but apt in this case). Female armed servicemembers can not be streamlined into infantry sevice at this time. More people will die if this DoD policy changes.

  • Brüno

    Its about politics. Nobody wants to see a female prisoner of war getting pregnant by a taliban and made his wife, with those babies born to an American and eventually ending up killed in a drone strike. That would get in the way of a good war.

    Of course male soldiers on the other hand can have illegitimate children all around.

  • Jemma Howitzer

    “So you can be black or gay or “differently” intelligent, and that is good for the infantry, because that will better prepare you for killing someone and helping others kill people than having a vagina.”

    Your writing style there is bombastic, immature, and useless. That sentence doesn’t do anything except add emotion and drama to your essay for…emotion and drama’s sake.

    Don’t equate women with having a vagina. That’s cissupremacist, and I doubt you’ve done a “vagina inventory” on very many women, plus trans women are actively being kicked out everyday. So its not “boo hoo think of the CIS women”

  • Robert

    I’m all for letting women in combat positions like the infantry but just don’t lower the standards for them like what has already been done with all branches except the Marines. To date, the Marines are the only branch that separate men and women in recruit training because the guys get trained a little harder.

  • J

    You know, you are not an expert and it shows in your writing. All you ar doing is complaining on everything. You clearly have something against men. So I will ask you a question about women in the miliary. Can any woman carry 80lb ruck, go for three days without sleep. hiking up mountains in freezing tempratures? Cause the time I’ve been in the military, I never seen or heard of a women doing that. When talking about it to other female soldiers, they say “Screw that.”

  • Janani

    This article has me all kinds of frustrated. First of all, not all people with vaginas are women; not all women have vaginas. Have some more complex conceptions of what gender is PLEASE. (ps out trans folks aren’t allowed into the military at all.)

    What’s more, this ‘So you can be black or gay or “differently” intelligent, and that is good for the infantry, because that will better prepare you for killing someone and helping others kill people than having a vagina.’ I think feministing should somehow know better than to play comparative oppression politics. The histories of black folks (ie the descendents of enslaved peoples in this country), gay folks, and folks with mental disabilities are complex ones, different struggles, not making your case stronger.

    And you for sure point towards something important at the end then brush it away: ‘I’m no supporter for anyone becoming a killer. But Scales has produced zero evidence to argue that women, if they want to fight for their country, shouldn’t.’ Ok, so the military isn’t just about producing ‘killers’. That’s a gross reduction. It’s about branding and exporting a multinational corporate controlled US imperialist project, with particular exploitation of low-income black and brown communities as soldiers.

    My input is to just think about the larger implications of the statements and cultural texts you’re engaging with. It’s not as simple as ‘this asshole is sexist’. This asshole is part of a violent neo-colonial machine with heteropatriarchal and transphobic gender prescriptions built into its governance.