By Jay Kirell
If there was a formal poll of all members of the military, veterans and others who make their living in and around those who serve this nation, I’m sure that my views on most issues would be an outlier. While I don’t consider myself the most progressive or liberal person in the world, by military standards, I’d be considered two steps to the left of Mao.
So it shouldn’t be surprising that my views on women in combat would fall somewhere outside the normal range of most military personnel – views that range from “heck no, women should never be in combat” to “hell no, women should never be in combat.”
There are many reasons people oppose putting women in combat arms positions in the military. Some of those reasons may appear to be sound and logical. Other reasons might appear to be based more on emotion and fear, but happen to be buttressed by testimony from those who served, giving credibility to opinions that otherwise might be dismissed.
I’ve read and heard and debated all the arguments. Without bragging, I believe the time I spent in combat gives me as much credibility on the issue as anyone else. The only evidence I lack in presenting my case is actual experience alongside women in a combat situation – but then again, that is experience most do not have, including those who champion keeping the combat arms segregated.
The best case I can make is from my own personal experience in war. My experience in knowing and living through the day-by-day grind that is a deployment overseas. My experience witnessing the strength and weakness inherent in every soldier, and how some of the prototypical ‘warfighters’ ended up being more useless than the ‘weaklings’ when the chips were down and lives were on the line.
So what I present to you now is the nine main arguments against women in combat, and ultimately, why those arguments are complete and utter bullshit:
Argument 1: Women Aren’t As Physically Capable As Men
It is true that men and women in the military have different physical fitness requirements, with women having lower standards on pushups, sit-ups and the two-mile run. What is false, however, is assuming that pure physical strength equals competence on the battlefield.
When I served, I was pretty much at the bottom of the barrel in terms of being a physically-gifted soldier. Besides being almost 10 years older than everyone I served with, I might have actually been one of the bottom-5 slowest runners in entire 101st Airborne Division (a division that takes running very seriously).
It took me months to figure out how to climb a rope.
I had about as much hope of doing five pull-ups as I did of beating Lebron James in a game of one-on-one.
I could leap over a 10-foot wall with all the grace and agility of a couch.
Despite all that, I performed every task asked of me while I was in Afghanistan. I lifted every sandbag, marched every mile, carried every pound of ammunition they could shove into the ammo bag. I never fell behind. I never dropped my load off on others because I couldn’t bear the weight. I never became a burden.
Unlike others in my platoon. Others who were younger and faster and stronger. Guys who were built like the Spartans from 300. Men who could bench press twice their weight. Soldiers who could lap me twice on a 2-mile run around a track.
Those guys fell out of patrols. Those guys had to dump their cargo off on others. Those guys ended up being the one’s who had to be carried back to the outpost.
Because there’s more to strength than just what you can do physically in a gym. There’s a mental strength required in combat, and unlike the military’s PT test, there’s no way to grade mental strength until its put to the test. There’s a willingness to fight through discomfort and pain and hardship and see your job through to the end.
It’s that type of strength that wins wars. It’s that type of strength that wins respect. It’s also, unfortunately, the type of strength that can be masked behind six-pack abs and a 300 PT score. There’s no reason to believe that female soldiers in combat would fail to display such a strength. Just overcoming the odds and making it to the combat arms in a warzone would indicate a certain level of toughness. Any analysis of battlefield worthiness would then have to be shown in actual combat…the same as a male soldier. Some will rise to the challenge and some will fall, as all soldiers do, but gender will have nothing to do with that result.
Argument 2: Women Will Have Hygiene Issues In The Field
I didn’t take a shower for the first three months I was in Afghanistan. And my first three months there were July, August and September where the average temperature was 115-degrees. In other words, I smelled horrible. But so did everyone else I served with. It was a minor inconvenience – we did have water buckets we used to rinse off as well as cases and cases of baby wipes. We kept as clean as we possibly could, but that still put us somewhere between dog kennel and Staten-Island-in-June, in terms of level of stink.
Having said that, I’d imagine if I were a woman it would have probably been a little worse. I’m not an expert on all feminine hygiene issues, but I’d imagine rolling around in the dirt and mud and grime of a war zone is probably not conducive to the proper upkeep of a female soldier’s nether regions.
And, of course, there’s the argument that the whole monthly cycle thing will make women unable to perform their duties during this time because they’ll want to…
…stay in their cots all day, eat chocolate and watch Bravo?
The whole period argument might be a little humorous if it weren’t a legitimate concern of military brass.
Of course, having never had the pleasure of going through a menstrual cycle, I can only speculate on how horrible the experience is. So horrible that for one week a month it takes female police officers off the streets; female astronauts out of space; female athletes off the court; female doctors out of the emergency room; female teachers out of the classroom; female lawyers out of the courtroom….
…Oh wait, menstrual cycles don’t do that.
But apparently they would with female soldiers. Which is perfect military logic: someone is tough enough to join the military, strong enough to make it through training, disciplined enough to deal with the constant harassment and completely willing to go fight and die for their country half a world away..but they might be too delicate to deal with a natural body cycle they’ve been dealing with since puberty.
It’s almost like the people deciding these things were all men.
Argument 3: Women would be brutalized if taken prisoner
I’m not sure about you, but I remember a lot of stories coming out since the Global War on Terror began about people being abducted and tortured. Journalists, specifically, are often targeted. Military personnel, however, not as much. Getting taken prisoner in Iraq or Afghanistan has been, thankfully, a pretty rare occurrence.
The notion of a female service-member being subjected to torture while a POW is a horrifying thought, but not because of the gender of the individual.
It’s a horrifying thought because torture itself is horrifying. Torture of anyone will elicit a visceral reaction, and this leads some who oppose women in combat to get into their heads the image of women being abused and instinctually want to protect all female service-members from such an imagined-fate.
Even if the likelihood of capture is next to zero.
Argument 4: America is ‘not ready’ to see a female POW brutalized
I would worry about the day when America was cool with seeing anyone brutalized, female or otherwise.
We accept the possibility that when our “boys” go off to war, bad things may happen to them. There is no fundamental difference between a male and female soldier, either in terms of what they are paid, the awards they’re eligible to receive, or the rank they have the opportunity to attain. If the rewards can be spread equally along gender lines, then there really is no reason not to spread the risks equally as well. If America is ‘ready’ to possibly elect its first female president in two years – along with all the rights and powers to send others off to war that come with the office – then America should be ‘ready’ to allow its first generation of women into combat.
Saying that women shouldn’t be allowed into combat arms because America can’t handle seeing them suffer is the slap in the face to every woman who put on a uniform and suffered in silence for years to be taken as seriously as their male counterparts. If there is any group in the military who knows about harassment and suffering and how to deal with it – it would be the female officers and enlisted personnel who joined the world’s largest boys club.
Argument 5: Women cannot take the pain of torture
Note – Before you start to think I’m using a lot of arguments dealing with the imagined fantasy of women being abused and tortured, you should know I didn’t make these arguments up myself. I merely searched the web looking for the most frequently used arguments against putting women in combat roles and arguments regarding ‘what would happen if taken prisoner’ made up a large chunk of them.
The argument that a female wouldn’t be able to take the pain of torture is laughable. Last time I checked, plenty of men can’t take the pain of torture either. That’s why it’s called torture…because it hurts and it’s effective at making you break.
Whether you’re a man or woman, if someone starts peeling away your fingernails, you’re going to scream. Whether you’re a man or woman, if someone simulates the feeling of drowning on you, you’re going to be terrified.
Whether you’re a man or woman, if you’re trapped with someone who wants to make you suffer, you’ll suffer.
I probably wouldn’t last 10 minutes if I were tortured. I have no shame in that. The argument that men are somehow more impervious to pain than women who were biologically designed to push a watermelon-sized object through a lemon-sized opening is absurd. Again, you can almost smell the Old Spice cologne coming off the man who first made these arguments.
Argument 6. Men would be distracted by the presence of women
You know what distracted me the most of all the times I went out on patrols in Afghanistan?
It wasn’t the female reporter who accompanied us once.
It wasn’t the female Naval officer who tagged along on a site survey of the area around our outpost.
No, what was most distracting for me when I went out on patrol were the times very high ranking officials made the rounds of the AO and went out with us. It’s kind of like working in a retail store and finding out the regional manager is going to pop in to observe your store for a day.
Basically, everyone loses their shit trying so hard to look perfect. I couldn’t concentrate on what I was supposed to do because I kept looking back trying to figure out where the Brigade commander or Command Sergeant Major was. The last thing I wanted to do was take my glove off to wipe my eyes and have Major Eagle-Eyes spot me and have a word with my platoon sergeant about it. Those patrols ended up being some of the worst I ever went on because everyone was on edge and felt like they were patrolling on eggshells. Everyone tried to make sure their uniform was perfect, that their weapons looked nice and clean, that they had made sure to shave that morning and clean their personal space.
Talk about a distraction. Nothing distracts a platoon like someone coming in with the power to make their lives hell. Females in combat wouldn’t have that power, and I doubt any of their comrades would see them as a distraction as long as they had the proper time to train together and get to know each other. Once you’re in a platoon, it’s a bonding experience like no other.
Argument 7. Female soldiers may deliberately get pregnant to avoid hazardous duty
Of all the arguments against women in combat, this is my personal favorite.
There is no scientific basis for this argument, just the wild imaginations of those who see a woman, any woman, and see a baby-making factory. If the job gets too tough for them they’ll just spread their legs and get time off. I’d imagine to some people this makes sense. If you were in a war zone, obligated to stay for a certain period of time and you really didn’t want to be there, you might get creative in how you try to extricate yourself.
I had a sergeant in my platoon whose grandmother died and he used her death, in conjunction with his own mid-tour leave, to spend an extra month back in the states. We had a specialist whose wife ran over his foot with her car, breaking it, two days before he was supposed to return from leave.
In other words, shady soldiers will do shady things in order to avoid being in the hell that is war one moment longer than they have to.
A female soldier may indeed try to get pregnant to get away from war, which would be no different than thousands of others who found creative means to escape their situation. The only difference is those other soldiers aren’t used as examples as to why their more honorable comrades can’t even be given the opportunity to show their valor.
Argument 8: Men’s instinct of protection towards women is ill-suited to war
This theory goes, if you put women and men on the front lines and the woman goes down, all hell will break loose because they’ll be so concerned with their instinct to protect women from harm they’ll forget about fighting the enemy.
Which sounds fairly logical, but only if you’ve never been in combat.
Because once you’ve been in combat you realize that when someone gets shot – whether its a man or a woman – all hell is going to break loose anyway. Human beings, even trained combat soldiers, aren’t used to witnessing their own being shot. People will get distracted. People will freak out and start screaming, start crying. People will run away from whatever they were doing to aid to the fallen. Some won’t be able to get back into the fight once they’ve seen their friend coughing up his own blood.
It really depends upon the individual and how they handle stress. Some are very good at focusing and getting right into what needs to be done at the exact moment it needs to happen. Some will lose all bearing and wander aimlessly without instruction.
Regardless of the difference in reactions, the main point remains – namely, you’re protective of all your battle buddies. Seeing any of them get injured in battle will spring forth an urge within you to help as much as you can. That protective feeling has been carried by every combat soldier for as long as there’s been combat. Adding women to the equation won’t change any of that. When the bullets start flying, everyone in that foxhole with you is your brother…or if need be, sister. You protect your own.
Argument 9: Female soldiers will be raped by the men they serve with
This is kind of a tricky argument. On one hand you have those who oppose women in combat making the argument that male soldiers will be too protective of their female counterparts to properly engage the enemy in combat, and on the other hand you have those same folks making the argument that if you put female and male soldiers together the females are going to be raped and/or sexually assaulted by the same soldiers who just one argument earlier were overprotective of them.
It’s an unusual way of defending the institution of the military – essentially saying that male service-members are so aggressive and sexually devious they have to be separated from their female coworkers or else they won’t be able to control themselves.
Now, that’s not to say rape and sexual assault in the military isn’t a legitimate issue, it most definitely is. But when using the threat of rape and assault as an excuse to keep women from serving in combat, you’re rewarding the disease instead of treating the symptoms.
The disease in this case being the attitude many male soldiers have that women in the military exist for two reasons – either to be a dependent or to be a piece of ass on the side. Any value they have at their job is inconsequential, since to many, the only job in the military worth anything are the combat arms.
So keeping women away from roles in combat would, at least in my opinion, make them more likely to be victims of sexual assault and predation since it’s feeding the stereotype so many male service-members share about female troops not being on the same level as men.
Instead of allowing women the opportunity to show how strong and capable they are on the front lines, those who advocate against women in combat under the guise of protection, in fact, do exactly the opposite.
They’re making it more likely females in the military will continue to be harassed, to be assaulted, to be violated. To be misunderstood and underestimated. To be made to feel like they couldn’t serve this country as fully as they wanted to.
Not because they weren’t strong enough. Not because they weren’t dedicated enough. But because people continue to adhere to the nine arguments against them.
Perhaps it’ll take electing the first female president to allow female service-members full integration into the combat arms.
Perhaps it’ll take a radical adjustment in thinking on the part of the nation’s top military brass.
Perhaps it’ll take a miracle.
For those who advocate allowing women in combat, I’d imagine those can sometimes feel like one in the same.