Thursday, June 09, 2005

Women In Combat

Iraq Files posted two opposing articles on the presence of women in combat.

This piece written by Phyllis Schlafly opposing it and this piece by Cathy Young, essentially supporting it, or, at least, supporting the current situation.

I noted comments from both that made me cringe, but, I must admit that Phyllis Schlafly's piece made me cringe the most.

My cringes from Cathy Young:

The notion that women deserve special protection from violence is not just a male plot to keep women down, as many feminists charge; it is also an expression of sincere concern for women's well-being. But such chivalry is ultimately infantilizing.

In response to this, I don't find "chivalry" or the idea that anyone would consider protecting another as "infantilizing", whatever that means. However, as far as we've come in today's society of accepting women as at least equally intelligent and capable of leading, we do still have areas that always seem to be off limits because of ideas about what women should be. It's a strange paradox. Maybe traditionalists are correct in their idea of male and female roles? If they are, I must surely be an abberation.

My cringes from Phyllis Schlafly:

Feminists are lining up their media allies to demand that women be forced into land combat situations, while falsely asserting that Hunter-McHugh is "changing" the rule.

"Forced"? I was watching a recent interview with Maj. Tammy Duckworth, one of a few women who have had bilateral amputations due to injuries received in the war. She indicated that her position as a combat pilot was her decision. When she was signing up, combat positions were not available for women except as pilots. When she had to select her five MOS (specialties she would like to work in the military) she did not have to enter any combat or combat related positions. Unlike her male counter parts that had to list three combat MOS within the five total they listed.

This is still true in today's recruiting. No woman must list a combat or combat related support role for her desired MOS.

Of course, I was thinking of Major Duckworth when I read the next item that made me cringe:

Much of the demand for women in combat comes from female officers who are eager to obtain medals and promotions. Enlisted women are acutely aware of the heavy lifting that must be done by combat infantry.[snip]

Major Duckworth did not mention medals or promotions in her desire to have one of the few combat positions allowed for women. Her sole comment was that she knew her male counterparts had to do it and she did not feel that she should be exempt.

I also have an issue with this statement from Ms. Schlafly as I feel that it paints a very wide swath across the female officer corps of "medal seeking gung ho nutjobs". I'm sure there may be a few, just as there are in the male officers, but I'm thinking that "earning medals" is not the primary goal of most female officers anymore than it is their male counterparts. This seemed to me to be the instant give away that, while Ms. Schlafly was busy quoting some statistics (which she gives no reference link) about what enlisted women supposedly think compared to women officers, Ms. Schlafly has really not sat down and spoke to any female officers and asked them their opinions or ideas on the subject, much less an enlisted female. I'm thinking that Ms. Schlafly really doesn't know much about the military at all.

Just simply putting myself in the place of a female officer that is currently serving in Iraq or Afghanistan, I am thinking that my primary concerns would be:

a) Stay alive and come home
b) Keep the people under me alive and bring them home
c) Do the best I can to support the mission and make sure other units' men and women stay alive and come home.

I'm thinking that "medals" and "promotions" would be far down the list of things that I was thinking about right about now. Maybe in Centcom or other secured areas or even back at home bases in the US and around the globe, far away from combat, the idea of promotions and commendations would be a concern and I would spend time comparing my performance and outcomes to my fellow male officers, but, some how, when you are in close quarters to the possibility of being blown to bits or shot or taken hostage, I'm thinking that it wouldn't be the primary concern of female officers any more or less than their male counterparts.

I think it is a shame that Ms. Schlafly took such a nasty swipe at women who are serving honorably in the officer corps of the military.

As for "enlisted women being acutley aware" of the heavy lifting done by grunts, I imagine that enlisted men understand that they are the front lines, too, in more danger than some of the officer corp stationed comfortably in the green zone or at centcom or any number of logistic positions far away from battle. This isn't a new idea or thought for female enlisted soldiers alone. This has been the grumble of enlisted men since armies have been on the field. Some how enlisted women's thoughts on the subject are unique?

Putting women in military combat is the cutting edge of the feminist goal to force us into an androgynous society. Feminists are determined to impose what Gloria Steinem called "liberation biology" that pretends all male-female differences are culturally imposed by a discriminatory patriarchy.[snip]

What is there to say? I'm not sure that "feminist agenda" is to create an "androgynous" society though I imagine that the stringent feminists have made some robust and inflammatory comments about "discriminatory patriarchy". Just as I'm quite positive that women who join the military and consider having combat positions are not all card carrying members of NOW, joining for the purpose of promoting this hidden agenda. Again, I wonder if Ms. Schlafly has actually interviewed any women in the military and asked them whether they even knew who Gloria Steinem is or why they joined?

Women, on average, have only 60 percent of the physical strength of men, are about 6 inches shorter, and survive basic training only by the subterfuge of being graded on effort rather than on performance.

I have a few issues with the "60 percent of physical strength" though it may be true (I haven't seen any studies and she doesn't reference them). Six inches shorter may be true as well, but I do wonder again if Ms. Schlafly has ever taken the time to watch any programs or observe actual basic training? I distinctly recall that the women must now complete the "crucible" to obtain their anchors and globes, just as the men do and these are not activities for the weak of heart or those who use "subterfuge" to get by. Maybe it's true they don't have to complete as many push ups or pull ups, but I dare Ms. Schlafly to say "subterfuge" to any female marine recruit that drops down in exhaustian after a three day stint in the crucible.

I think she'd get a painful reminder of just how tough basic training is and what it takes to become a member of our armed forces.

Denial of physical differences is an illusion that kills. That's the lesson of the March 11 courtroom massacre in Atlanta's Fulton County Courthouse. That's where authorities have returned a murder indictment against 6-foot, 210-pound Brian Nichols, a former college football player. Nichols is accused of overpowering a 5-foot-1, 51-year-old female sheriff's deputy, taking her gun and going on a crime spree that left four people dead, including the deputy, a judge, a courtroom reporter and a federal agent.[snip]

For the record, female officers have served as court officers, bailiffs and transporters for years without suffering any more inordinate amount of attacks or dangers than their male counter parts. I also wonder if Ms. Schlafly thinks that if a 51 year old, 5-foot-9, 180-pound male deputy wouldn't have been over powered and had his gun taken away from him, too? Maybe she doesn't watch "Cops" or "Real TV"? I am quite certain I've seen a number of episodes where officers alone and without back up have been over powered by their detainee(s)?

This seems to be one of the worst examples I've seen from opposers of women in the military, police, fire department, etc. If your attacker is bigger than you, you are at a disadvantage. Period. It doesn't matter what your sex is.

Of all the things that Ms. Schlafly had said in her column, I have to say that the closing gambit was, quite frankly, the most idiotic:

The Army is wondering why it can't meet its recruitment goals. It could be that the current 15 percent female quota is a turn-off to men who don't want to fight alongside of women who can't carry a man off the battlefield if he is wounded. Forcing women in or near land combat will hurt recruiting, not help.

Anybody really think the military is missing it's recruitment goals because a quota for female enlistments is turning men off or that there is a substantial amount of men who are concerned about fighting alongside a woman that "can't carry a man off the battlefield"?

I imagine that the real recruitment issues are that men are concerned about having to be carried off the field of battle wounded or dead. Period.

I also imagine that this idea concerns potential female enlistees as well.

Frankly, I think back on history and am continually amazed at the amout of subterfuge and denial that people in general will committ on themselves concerning women in combat and it's potential dangers. Maybe my history is a little fuzzy, but I'm thinking I remember that female officers and other women in the navy and army were taken prisoner by the Japanese in the Philipines; were being shelled in the battle of the Bulge; Pearl Harbor the Japanese didn't seem to have much care as to whether their bombs were striking women; Korea where military medical units were over run or in danger of; Viet Nam; shall I go on?

There is no safe job in the military. Since the first time women followed men across continents whether as family or camp followers or members of the military even in support units, women were in danger, suffered injury, death and imprisonment.

One of my favorite stories of the Revolutionary War is the story of Molly Pitcher commanding the cannon after her husband fell. Something we've celebrated for two centuries.

From my perspective, it seems that we continue to play word games with ourselves on the matter.

As for support roles being safer in any concept, I beg to differ. Women driving in convoys from one support base to another have been wounded and killed. They have fought and killed the enemy. It may take someone 6 foot tall and 210 pounds to lug a BAR .50 around the battlefield, but it doesn't take near as much to lug an M16 nor pull the trigger.

I believe that women are capable of doing the same jobs as men at the same level in the military. I don't believe all men nor all women are capable of doing all the jobs. Some are better fit for support, logistics and communications.

If they're capable and they want to, why don't we let them?


Donal said...

My concern over women in combat comes from the fact that they face a danger from capture that men dont- rape. That being said if they can do the job, are aware of the risks and still want to fight in combat they should be allowed to do so- they deserve the right to do so just like men do. As for the "not being able to carry a man from the battlefield" comment, someone has to provide covering fire for the men who can do that.

DaKruser said...

Howdy Kat,
I am a fellow Mid-westerner, and have become a consistant reader. Until now I haven't had much cause to post, but I have a personal story to relate. I was an MP (Military Police) and served in Somalia. Women have been MP's now for a long time, but the rule was never near combat. My gunner was female, and there was a LOT of talk about putting her in the "orderly room" (make her a clerk). I fought for her, and kept her in my team.
We were doing Convoy Security (guarding food shipments) when we came under attack from several individuals working for a War-lord who wanted to steal the food. A pretty good fire=fight developed and we were beginning to wonder how we could just take the food trucks and get "outta dodge". That was when my gunner picked up her M-60 and tore off towards the ambushers. I don't really think she hit much, *its really hard to fire one of those while running* but it turned the tide, and we ran them off.
She was decorated, for valor, but all she kept saying was that she didn't realize what she had done, just that she got totally pissed and needed to do SOMETHING.
Now that I've pained that picture, I do believe that women CAN do the job. However, they should pass the same physical tests as any man. THAT should be the determinant. This girl was a stud-muffin for sure, 60 some-odd pushups, a bejillion sit=ups and could easily run as fast as her age-group males. Those women are, truthfully, rare. If a woman can "pull her weight" with the rest of the males, fine. Let them do what they wish, but, most women I've seen in the military really couldn't do that.
Just a thought. Love your blog.

Cigarette Smoking Man from the X-Files said...

DaKruser's got it right, I think. Let there be no gender restrictions in any training or qualification, but also at the same time be prepared for the "PC shock" of there NOT BEING MANY females who make it through those same rigorous combat-oriented tests. That is to say, if some nutjob starts whining that women are "underrepresented" in the combat specialties, tell them to have a nice hot cup of STFU and we're not gonna make two different sets of standards.

Currently, it's people who suffer from the "rape scenario phobia" (men of traditional background who don't understand that anyone of EITHER gender will be tortured when captured, and rape would only be one angle of that) who specifically set up "double standards" in the mainstream, non-combat portion of the military, to make a sort of self-fulfilling prophesy that they would have to do that same double standard in the combat roles. It's fallacious, and should be swept out of the way.

Kat said...

DaKruser...thanks for being a reader and telling this story.

This is basically what I'm saying: if they can and they want to, why hinder it in anyway?

I'm sure there are physical issues that can effect someone's ability to perform in both sexes and I would never demand or expect that the military make exceptions for anyone, particularly in regards to sex, just to give them the opportunity to take a job they may not be suited for.

That is the basis of "equality". Same rules, same opportunities, if you can't make the grade then you don't get the opportunity.

I'm equally sure that the other two main issues that I fail to address can be of concern: monthly cycles in the field (can you imagine a woman in Spec Ops on a six week mission or longer trying to stay hidden in the field while simultaneously having to deal with that issue and cover up an refuse that might give her away? Of course, there may be ways of handling this, like shots that prevent cycles...that's something that would have to be figured out);
the other issue is fraternization and inevitable pregnancies. That happens whether in the field or at base, the only concern would be someone turning up pregnant in the field during ops and having to send them back, messing with the operational ability of the unit.

Though, I think again that women who are wanting to be "on the field" probably wouldn't be adverse to shots that keep this from happening and are less concerned about enjoying fraternization with male counterparts.

As for the rape issue, I think this has been a concern even for women who are in the "support" units with the possibility of being over run or kidnapped. Not new either.

I have to think that it must play on women's minds at some point, one way or the other.

Maybe they should look at incorporating this into SERE lessons? At least some sort of mental preparation (what little one can do to prepare for the possibility). Of course, SERE might need to teach all of our men and women how to keep the interest of their kidnappers in order to avoid being shot or beheaded as long as possible for possible rescue.

Again, I really appreciate the story DaKruser because, as I keep track of Iraq and Afghanistan, I note that it is actually female MPs that have suffered the most injuries and deaths with some women on support bases dying or being injured by mortars or suiciders.

I feel that women cannot be kept completely safe unless they are either a) not in the military at all or b) never in a theater like Iraq.

AT which point, I do believe that this would severely impact current capabilities concerning the number of women in logistics and support.

That's my two or four cents on the matter.

Kat said...

Ciggy, I am all for that. Same and equal. I don't expect anyone to get a job they aren't qualified for.

The rape/torture thing is excellent analogy, too.

Indigo Red said...

I have a female family member who was in the Army. She was wanting nursing, but the Army was training her as a combat medic. She had to pass all the same combat training as the men of her platoon. She earned her marksman badge on the M-16 just like the men (platoon high score.)

She was to ship out to Iraq this coming September. She was aware of possible capture and rape. She prepared as best she could for that possibility. She was raped on base by a man in her own platoon. She hadn't prepared for that. The Army has let her leave.

The possibility of rape is a fact of life for every woman whether in combat or in a 'safe' area. Lest we forget, men are not immune from captor rape which may be even more effective against men as rape is not a fact of life for men.

If a woman can handle the requirements of combat and the possibility of captor rape, I welcome their contributions.

alix said...

i feel like a complete ass for putting this comment after this post, but i PROMISE to come back and read it tomorrow.

but, for now, since it's 2am: flutterby made me do it.

John of Argghhh! said...

I've had my say on this subject elsewhere, so I'll comment on something different - but in the post.

"Just simply putting myself in the place of a female officer that is currently serving in Iraq or Afghanistan, I am thinking that my primary concerns would be:

a) Stay alive and come home
b) Keep the people under me alive and bring them home
c) Do the best I can to support the mission and make sure other units' men and women stay alive and come home."

I disagree with your priorities, and strongly.

If I keep you priorities unchanged in terms of description, as an officer *my* priorities are *exactly* opposite.

Put succinctly, "Mission First, People Always, myself, last."

If you do the first two properly, absent bad luck in terms of statistics, "a" will take care of itself.

Nice post, Kat. You can keep your job as Castle Philosopher.

Kat said...


I actually agree with you. I was simply trying to list the three top priorities, not in any particular order (also why I didn't put a number to them but used alpha digits).

But, you have it right.

Do the mission, keep your people safe, try to bring everyone home.

I just wonder sometimes why people think that women in the military would have different priorities than men?

Barb said...

As long as the requirements for a job are met, without grading on a 'curve', I agree that women should be able to do whatever roles they qualify for. I don't think it is reasonable, for instance, to allow women to Q with less weight in a rucksack than a man - there are small men and large men, and they all have the same rules, I'm betting.

If the Q requirements are set up properly, then qualifying is qualifying. We need the best Military people in the jobs, regardless of their gender.

Scott from Oregon said...

I don't have a problem with women serving, but I think they should not try to 'be men'. Men smell bad and have hairy knuckles and knees....

I won't go into specifics, because that would spawn a whale of discussion, but I think women should use their uniqueness as women with all of the attributes that that entails, to serve the army for the greater good. The army really doesn't need more grunts.

...But a multi-tasker....

Desultory Girl said...

Kat, first, I want to applaud you on an excellent post and an excellent argument. As for Ms. Schlafly's article, I think another statement not yet mentioned made by her was, "Putting women in military combat is the cutting edge of the feminist goal to force us into an androgynous society." My question, what the hell is so wrong with androgyny? I'm not going to even address it as a feminist goal and I guess it's not worth going into on here, sorry. Anyway, point being, if I had a weak stomach I think I would have gagged and retched while reading the article.

Dakruser and Ciggy, I completely agree with you both; All requirements equal for both sex's. If you can qualify, you've got the opportunity.

Scott from Oregon, What exactly do mean by our uniqueness? Uniqueness of our physical biology? Because that's about it. Like several mentioned above, female soldiers and male soldiers are going to have the same priorities. C'mon, tell me what's different as I want to celebrate my diversity and uniqueness as part of the female group.

I strength train in a gym, I play ice hockey, I am a personal trainer, I built a retaining wall with 10,000 pounds of dirt added with the helping hand of my twin sis. Last time I checked I was a female and it hasn't changed in 25 years. So, tell me, does all that qualify me or my twin as trying to "be men?"

But I knit too, so I guess that would make me androgynous, thus rendering me a feminist with an agenda to promote "liberation biology," (for whatever the hell that means) according to Ms. Schlafly's logic.

I apologize for ranting, Kat. But, honestly, I've got little patience or tolerance from asanine writers that lack a gene for common sense.

On a lighter note, Alix, thanks for making me a scapegoat ;)

W. said...

Good blog. Will be back soon.
I suggest you look at the recent issue of American Spectator. There was an interesting article on this issue.


Scott from Oregon said...

Ahhh, desultory one..... I see I have struck a nerve in your verve.... Personally, I happen to think women are superior to men, but that's for another day.

You sound like my type of women.

Except for the fact that you feel compelled to over-defend yourself-- and women-- giving you an unfeminine jaggedness to your mein....

Does being physical make you man-like? Absolutely not. Does having a biological history of child rearing give you certain 'attributes' that most men don't possess? I say yes, but I am open for debate....

Once again, if a women wants to crawl in the trenches and be a grunt, I say, whatever fills your balloon.... but I personally think women have more gifts to offer than that, and should utilize what they got....

Jehane said...

Kat, this was a very good and balanced post.

I think I may quibble on some minor points. After some thought, I think I'd like to take you on. That said, excellent, excellent job :)

Desultory Girl said...

Scott from Oregon, it's heartfelt your belief that women to be the superior sex. But in my mind I'll always treat a man as I'd want myself to be treated, which will be no less.

I'll go beyond, and I'll do so because I want to, not because your inherent biology makes you so. That's not deserving. What you are is.

I sincerely apologize for coming off rugged, although I don't believe it makes me any less feminine, it just makes me sound more aggressive. So I apologize for the fact, because it's not in my personal everyday nature to be so. Forgive me, I had an abusive ex, who made similar statements all the time about women trying to "be men." That, struck a chord with me. I apologize for my sounding course. I just read that and I felt like I was defending myself to him all over again. My apologies, truly.

The attributes you speak of, yes, we have the ability to hold another life inside of us, but only together do we have the power to create that. So really it's uniqueness doesn't mean much when it stands alone, IMHO.