Until recently, women in the United States were only able to enlist in military support positions and couldn’t physically serve in combat. In 2015, the U.S. Pentagon opened all combat jobs to women, and as of 2016, the ban on women serving in close combat roles in the British military was lifted. (In other countries, like Israel, women have been allowed to serve in 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. Having female troops in every combat role is crucial for intelligence gathering, because they’re naturally able to navigate cultural differences when interacting with local populations.
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. Exceptional women should be part of the equation. The army mirrors society, and having 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 U.K. 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 invites potential sexual catastrophe into the military. It’s 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. In 2010, an estimated 19,000 women were sexually assaulted in the military, and military sexual trauma is the leading cause of post-traumatic stress disorder in female veterans. At year-end 2017, reported sexual assaults in the military were at an all-time high. In fiscal 2018, the US Defense Department found that there were 20,500 instances of unwanted sexual contact across the Army, Marines, Navy and Airforce, a 38% increase compared to 2016. Adding women to combat units will only bump up these numbers and add an unnecessary element of distraction.
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. Female soldiers also have higher potential to be targeted for 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 coed 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 potential to compromise soldiers’ safety. Do you think women belong in combat units?