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Should Women Serve in Combat Units?

By Kira Goldring
 Getty Images: Scott Olson
*Updated 2023
Until recently, women in the United States were only able to enlist in military support or intelligence positions and couldn’t physically serve in combat. In 2015, the U.S. Pentagon opened all combat jobs to women, and in 2016, the ban on women serving in close combat roles in the British military was lifted. (In other countries, women have been allowed to serve in infantry combat units for much longer). While many people believe that allowing women to serve in combat units is a positive step towards gender equality, there are concerns that it is inappropriate, if not dangerous.
Here are three reasons why women should be able to serve in combat units, and three reasons why they should stick to other military units.


Women Deserve a Chance in Combat


The bar is high – for everyone

Just like men, women should be allowed to choose how they fight for their country based on their strengths. Joining a combat unit requires meeting high demands regardless of gender; if there are women who are able to meet the same training standards as men, they can only be an asset to their team. If the military is looking for the creme de la creme to serve in their units, then why give up on 51% of the candidates upfront? In Israel, women not only serve in combat units but lead them, too. India has also jumped on the equality bandwagon; its Supreme Court recently passed a ruling allowing women to serve as army commanders. The army mirrors society, and having exceptional women in the army is crucial to the way we want to see society. Any concern about having women in combat units stems from broader attitudes toward gender norms; these can’t begin to be addressed unless change starts at the core: The military.


The monopoly on emotions

The stereotype that women are the more emotional gender is debunked in the military, where women hold their own. A study on UK soldiers who fought in Iraq in 2006 showed a lack of gender differences in veterans who had post-traumatic stress disorder. This suggests that combat doesn’t pose a higher risk to women’s mental health than it does to men’s. In fact, psychological research has shown that female soldiers in combat may be more resilient to its effects than male soldiers. Women don’t need to be “protected” from the difficulties of combat units – they can take the heat.


Same job, different title

Many women in the military serve in support units like engineering, artillery, and medical support, and they make it to the battlefield just as much as those in combat units. For example, women fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan were often on the front lines, even though they weren’t formally in combat roles. For example, female medics in Nad Ali came under fire just as much as the male medics with them. One of the medics, Sgt. Chanelle Taylor, was the first soldier to kill an enemy up close in Afghanistan, and she provided invaluable insight to her command team. If women are already unofficially serving on the battlefield – and excelling at it – they should get the credit they deserve and be allowed to serve in combat units.


Combat units should be restricted to men


Potential to misbehave

Adding women to combat units may invite potential sexual assault into the military. To many, it seems unrealistic to put men and women together in combat training environments, which can include confined spaces (like bunkers) with no privacy and expect no tension to arise between the sexes. This can lead to anything from distracting consensual relationships to sexual assault. Nearly one in four servicewomen have reported being sexually assaulted in the military, and military sexual trauma is the leading cause of post-traumatic stress disorder in female veterans. Adding women to combat units will only increase these instances.


Political correctness has no place in the military

The Western world has made great strides when it comes to feminism, but gender equality shouldn’t be a factor when people’s lives are at risk. A yearlong Marine Corps study found that all-male units were faster, more lethal, and able to evacuate quicker than integrated units of men and women. Sources claim that the military is easing fitness standards because the female soldiers can’t meet them; lowering such standards hurts the institution as a whole. Female soldiers also have higher potential to be targeted for enemy attacks. Enemies don’t care about political correctness, and if letting women serve in combat units poses a threat to the safety of all soldiers, then providing equal opportunity to men and women must come second.


Don’t fix what isn’t broken

Until now, many militaries have been successful without having women in combat units. That’s not to say that women can’t contribute to their country; over 90% of U.S. military jobs are open to women, and they are just as instrumental to military success. However, commanders of co-ed combat units have added liabilities to worry about when women are added to the mix. Not to mention that complexities begin even with something as seemingly simple as uniforms and gear, which have different requirements to fit women than men and which are in short supply for women. So, why mess with the military status quo when it’s been working thus far?


The Bottom Line: While some women deserve to join military combat units and could have a lot to contribute, the mixing of the sexes has the potential to compromise all soldiers’ safety. Do you think women belong in combat units?

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