Gender Equality in Combat

A senior defense official announced this week: “We will eliminate the policy of no women units that are tasked with direct combat.” Although this integration will not happen immediately, this announcement represents a monumental step towards gender equality in the military.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta set the goal of January 2016 for women to be integrated “as much as possible.” Every 90 days, service chiefs will examine the physical standards and accommodations within combat units. This evaluation will be especially important in the Army and Marine Corps.

Although a victory for women’s rights, there are some limitations regarding how the policy is implemented. If it is determined that a certain job should not be open to women, a branch can go back to the Secretary and ask to designate that job as closed. Furthermore, the Pentagon has to alert Congress when the jobs are sent to the Secretary to be opened to women. The Defense Department then has to wait while Congress is in session before the change can be solidified.

Many had positive comments regarding this change in policy. Senator John McCain supports lifting the ban because in his view women are already in harm’s way. However, he cautioned that there would not be any fundamental change to military policy: “As this new rule is implemented, it is critical that we maintain the same high standards that have made the American military the most feared and admired fighting force in the world—particularly the rigorous physical standards for our elite special forces units.”

Ariela Migdal, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project said: “But we welcome this statement with cautious optimism, as we hope that it will be implemented fairly and quickly so that servicewomen can receive the same recognition for their service as their male counterparts.” The ACLU sued the Department of Defense recently, alleging that combat exclusion prevents women from receiving recognition of their work.

What is your opinion on this new policy? Do you think that the limitations discussed above will prevent true integration?

Sources: CNN, Picture: KCENTV

6 comments

  1. This is indeed a major victory for women’s rights and I am glad that women can finally serve in combat positions, but I am not sure I understand what the limitations are supposed to accomplish. If a woman passed basic training, would that not mean that she is physically capable to serve in the same position that a comparable man would? Which kinds of jobs should not be open to women? Why?
    McCain seems to hint that the physical standards for special ops teams should not be lowered to accommodate women, and that makes sense. Men and women alike need to meet the proper standard for that kind of work, but these women chose to enlist and should be given all of the same opportunities. The CNN article states that women have already been finding themselves in combat situations overseas, which makes their exclusion from “combat” units seem even more ludicrous. I hope this transition is quick, seamless, and fair.

  2. Mr. Silvagni raises some interesting questions. With regard to the basic training issues, the training standards are not the same for women as they are for men. For example, the physical fitness test for male Marines requires them to do a certain number of pullups. (http://usmilitary.about.com/od/marines/l/blfitmale.htm). Female Marines are not required to do pullups as of yet and do an alternative strength test. (http://usmilitary.about.com/od/marines/l/blfitfemale.htm). This is not to say that the ability to do pullups is what defines whether one is able to perform in combat but rather it is simply to point out that there are differences. One of the main issues is the weight load that a Marine in the infantry may be required to carry. This can be upwards of 135 pounds that must be carried while hiking for miles at a pace that is relatively fast and all infantry Marines eventually suffer injuries from carrying that much weight. (http://marinecorpstimes.com/news/2010/05/marine_combat_load_060610w/).

    I agree that women should be given the opportunity to pursue combat military occupational specialties (MOS) but as Mr. Salvigni noted, the standard for graduation should not be lowered. This is an important issue because the Marine Corps has allowed female lieutenants to attend the Infantry Officer Course (IOC) in order to be an infantry platoon commander. Thus far though every single female Marine that has attempted to graduate from the school has been dropped due to injury or inability to meet the physical standard of performance. (http://www.forbes.com/sites/katiedrummond/2012/10/16/marine-corps-women/).

    The issue that I foresee arising is if there continues to be a 0% graduation rate for females that go to IOC, should the standard be changed, not necessarily lowered, but changed in order to increase the rate of graduation for female Marines? Is simply offering the opportunity to attend the school enough?

  3. While I am 100% for the integration of women into military positions that have been traditionally available to only men, I am apprehensive to endorse a change that would be based on an affirmative action approach.

    I will qualify my remarks in the first instance by saying that I am neither skeptical of a woman’s ability to serve her country, or of a woman’s right to do so on equal terms as a man. However, with that said, I share the same general concerns as Pierre and Senator John McCain. I am weary of the average woman’s ability to execute the physical requirements of infantry service. This is not to diminish the woman’s ability in general, but, in particular, there is an undeniable reality that physical strength is not a trait that the average woman has in abundance, relatively speaking.

    Infantry service is some of the most physically rigorous work. Carrying heavy weight for an extended period of time, saving a fallen soldier (often a man) from the line-of-fire, and engaging in hand-to-hand combat with counterparts are some of the things that I have doubts about. All-in-all, I believe that the average woman is more well-suited for positions in the military that do not rely so heavily on physical aptitude.

  4. I wholeheartedly agree with the ACLU and applaud them for fighting so vigorously so that servicewomen can “receive the same recognition for their service as their male counterparts.” I think this is an important step for women’s equality; I can only imagine the thousands of women who have dedicated their lives to serve our country in the military and now feel as though justice has been served because they can fight on the front lines with their male and female comrades.

    As for the weak argument that women cannot serve as comparable physical counterparts to men, I would have to respond by saying its that narrow-minded thinking that has kept women off the front lines this long. Lets all remember women have to complete basic training just as men do.

    Suits such as these are one of the things that make this country great because it allows for civil society to challenge government agencies in order to make changes that we the people see as progress.

  5. I am glad that the military is finally eliminating this policy, but I agree with my peers, that training standards for direct combat situations should not be lowered or changed to accommodate females. These combat training programs and tests are in place to prepare soldiers and assess whether they can handle these very physical, and mentally exhausting, situations. It is crucial that these programs are not changed because it could jeopardize the safety of the entire combat team.
    The “no women in combat” policy was based on the fact that the average male is stronger than the average female, which is true, but only as a generalization. I am sure that there are females out there that can pass these combat tests, maybe even outperform the men. I am just glad that women finally get the opportunity to prove themselves in combat situations and not automatically be excluded because of a gender stereotype.

  6. Similar to many of the points brought up above, I believe that this is a tremendous victory for not only women, but the United States as a whole, in the pursuit of gender equality. I am all for this new policy, provided that this does not eventually turn into an affirmative action type requirement or that it leads to the standards being lowered in any way. I could not agree more with Senator McCain’s statement that “it is critical that we maintain the same high standards that have made the American Military the most feared and admired fighting force in the world.” It is essential to keep these standards in place so that we have those best equipped and qualified fighting in combat. To address one of the points put forth by Mr. Rivera, I do not believe that the United States should lower its standards if the graduation rate stays at 0% so that women have a better chance of graduating. I feel the opportunity alone is enough for equality to be reached. Regardless of gender, race, or otherwise, the opportunity of a person to prove themselves is enough. If they are physically capable and qualified enough to complete the requisite training, requirements, etc then he/she can participate in combat. The mere opening up of this possibility for women to take part in combat, creates a level playing field and puts them on the same level or standard as any other person hoping to fight in combat.

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