Feminism and Women in the Military

Women are capable of anything that we put our minds too. Women have the right to equal access to education, equivalent pay, non-discriminatory hiring practices, and performance-only based raises and promotions. Equal hiring practices should be enforced for people of all genders, faiths, orientations, and familial statuses. It should only be their skills and qualifications that matter.

In general, I consider myself a bit of a feminist. I love supporting women owned companies and feel strongly about organizations that strive for female empowerment. With that said, I do have to turn in my feminist card on one issue: women in combat.

But not for the reasons you may expect….

This issue has been hotly debated ever since Leon Panetta, in conjunction with the White House, announced that combat positions previously only open to men, would be open to women starting in 2016. This includes elite units like the Army Green Berets and Navy Seals.

This topic made its way to the front page of the Wall Street journal again last month with an article entitled: “Marine Corp Puts Women to the Test.” While the article covers a study intended to answer the question of whether or not women can perform the tasks necessary for these jobs, my concern with the issue has much less to do with the female tank operators and artillerymen (artillery-women?) that this article focuses on. If a woman can hoist a 100 lb. artillery shell repeatedly at the same rate as her male counterparts, then I will happily congratulate her and wish her the best of luck in her new role!

I may not be entitled to an opinion here, since I have never served in a combat or even in the military. With that said, I have been the worried loved one home while my husband deployed. My husband served for almost a decade with the US army. After graduating from Ranger School, he served as a Field Artillery Officer. While on deployment with this unit, he was exposed to some of the more elite groups, and decided to try out for the Army Special Forces – more commonly known as the Green Berets. He made the cut and became a Team Leader of a highly specialized 12-man team, with whom he served on several deployments. The comradery of these 12 men is something that I will never fully understand. His brothers in arms are my husband’s brothers and family, as much if not more than his blood relatives. I will never fully grasp the extent of their bond, but what I have come to learn is how vitally important this comradery is to the functionality of their team. They all have complete trust in one another’s ability to perform their job and perform it well. They would do anything for one another during a mission and in life.

I will not get into the debate of whether or not a team like this is a suitable environment for a woman, nor will I put in my two cents on whether or not women would have a detrimental impact on this comradary (although, the barely-there-bikini clad women on the calendars in Tim’s old team room may be able to offer some insight). Having never been in these men’s shoes, I don’t feel qualified to make that type of judgment call.

Through our friends still in the armed forced, we have heard that certain military branches are pre-emptively changing the performance standards and amenities of combat unit training exercises and courses. They are changing these standards now so as not to say they changed or lowered any standards once women are allowed in the units.

Several nations including Canada already have women in elite combat units. These nations claim that changing the standards to avoid discriminatory activities like pull-ups, which a woman’s body isn’t optimally built for, has not resulted in decreased performance.

The entirety of my concerns are surrounding the number of men I know who have been injured in combat. Most of them have been attended to and often carried to safety by one of their brothers in arms.

At our good friend Tony’s wedding, we had the honor of meeting the man who simultaneously collected Tony’s teeth from the ground (yes, his actual teeth) and carried Tony to safety. Tony is about 6’0 tall and weighs over 200lbs. What if a woman my size had accompanied Tony on a mission that day? Would Tony still be with us? I know with all certainty that I could not have put a man Tony’s size on my shoulders and carried him to safety – although I may have been able to pick up his teeth.

Biology is a funny thing. While I think we got the short end of the stick with the whole child bearing thing, there are some legitimate differences between our structural aptitudes. Women’s bodies simply aren’t made for the weight bearing activities required by some of these jobs. My husband’s backpack in the Army weighed over 80lbs. I am pretty strong for my size, but lets face it, that is almost 80% of my total weight. I can’t fathom carrying it for more than a couple of blocks, let alone day after day

I know I can’t possibly be alone in this fear. My aunt whose husband is a firefighter worries about this same issue if her husband were injured on the job. There are a number of female firefighters at his station. Would one of them be able to carry him or others to safety?

If we were chatting over coffee, I would rattle off a dozen more examples… but allow me to leave you with just one more. When my husband was in ROTC in college, there is an annual marathon-length ruck-sack march. Typically, this is a team event. You choose a team and stick with your teammates for the duration of the race – female teams vs. other female teams and male teams vs. other male teams. One brave girl decided to go it alone because she didn’t want to go as slow as the other women participating. The cool part is that she beat all of the other girl teams! First place! The other important caveat to this story: She finished over one hour after the winning men’s team. Over an hour…

Alright, I will spit it out already, even if it’s unpopular. In a combat environment with some of these elite units, would women be a liability?

The truth is, I appreciate the sacrifices that the men and women who defend our country make too much to insist upon potentially endangering or hindering the performance of a unit by trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. I want to see all of these men and women return safely. I don’t think pride is worth risking mission success or others’ lives over.

Go ahead. Take away my feminist card.

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