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Opinion

Gender does not matter in combat

Column by Olivia O’Hea

O’Hea is a first-year law, politics and society and journalism
major and can be reached at
olivia.ohea@drake.edu

o'heaBW-w2000-h2000The era of women waiting restlessly at home for their sweetheart to return from war has come to a close. Gone are the days spent planting victory gardens and rationing food supplies. As we say goodbye to Rosie the Riveter, we welcome in a new icon: G.I. Jane.

In January, former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, granted women the chance to fight in combat for the first time in United States history. However, this decision has created a long list of new military standards
and criteria.

Despite legal restrictions, women have been on the front lines for years. During the Civil War, some women dressed as men to fight while others served as nurses and aids in battle zones.

In World War II, women from all nations served the military; in Britain and Germany, many worked in anti-aircraft units.

A recent New York Times article reported that women have been serving in combat roles for years, particularly in their roles as aircraft pilots. This recognition of service not only provides women with more opportunities, but also allows women to further advance their military careers.

So have we finally shattered the brass ceiling? It all hinges on the 14th Amendment.

The 14th Amendment, adopted in 1868, mandates equal protection under the law. Provoked by the Civil Rights Act of 1866, the 14th Amendment was designed to protect the rights of citizens (specifically minorities) from unjust exclusion under the law (specifically the Black Codes after the abolition of slavery).

Many politicians commended Panetta for upholding the 14th Amendment by allowing women to serve in ground combat roles like artillery, armor and infantry.

However, other politicians and veterans felt the unequal physical fitness standards violated the 14th Amendment by not holding men and women to equal standards. A recent op-ed by Billy Birdzell in “TIME” magazine explained that the different standards originated from the assumption that women would never perform the same
roles as men.

“Bottom Line: Equality should mean equality,” wrote Birdzell, a former U.S. Marine Corps infantry officer.

The Pentagon reports that fitness standards have been closely examined to make sure they are both logical and fair. Women must run two miles in 15:36 minutes, and they receive top marks for doing 42 push-ups while men must complete their 2-mile run in 13:36 minutes and the men’s push-up number is 71.

Top military officers are also analyzing different combat training scenarios (like hiking several miles with a large backpack of supplies) to make sure both genders can benefit from the activity.

Have women truly shattered the brass ceiling? Immediate responses to the new measure give us some indication of
public opinion.

“The military does not have the luxury of discounting the nearly 11 percent of its forces who are women,” Birdzell wrote in his “TIME” op-ed.

Many politicians and veterans repeated this praise. Allowing women to serve in combat offers the opportunity to advance even higher throughout the military ranks. Furthermore, studies reported by The Huffington Post show that women and men experience similar stress levels in combat, making them equally competent to handle high-pressure situations.

As predicted, the controversial proposition received negative backlash from conservatives and high-ranking military
officials.

“Obama putting women in combat is part of an intentional plan on his part to feminize and weaken the U.S. military,” tweeted American Family Association spokesman Bryan Fischer.

The Wall Street Journal ran an equally disparaging piece written by Marine infantryman
Ryan Smith.

“It is humiliating enough to relieve yourself in front of your male comrades; one can only imagine the humiliation of being forced to relieve yourself in front of the opposite sex,” Smith wrote on the norms of combat.

So the brass ceiling may still be intact. However, it’s slowly cracking. With time these so-called “norms of combat” will adjust, particularly as women embrace the opportunity and succeed in their duties.

“Women who seek to be equal to men lack ambition,” Timothy Leary said.

Not only is this one of my favorite quotes, it also summarizes my opinion towards women in combat. Women should hold themselves to the highest standards, regardless of men. They should strive to excel in combat not because “a man did it,” but because they know that they can do it, and succeed.

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1 Comment

  1. Eric Stratton April 24, 2013

    You have got to be kidding me? Where was your push for equality when women first entered into the military? Not once have they been made to meet the same standards in our entire history. The first time they have been held to the same standard was in the recent two Infantry Officer selection course at Quantico. Shocker, the National Women’s Law Center is already advocating for a change in the standards. Here is why gender matters, we are not the same. Females and Males are not interchangeable. Women and men both have advantages, in the physical strength and endurance realm, men hold a huge advantage.

    “The Pentagon reports that fitness standards have been closely examined to make sure they are both logical and fair. Women must run two miles in 15:36 minutes, and they receive top marks for doing 42 push-ups while men must complete their 2-mile run in 13:36 minutes and the men’s push-up number is 71.”-Classic!!! So, they have to examine them to see if the are “fair”? I thought it was about meeting the same standards? Hey, curious, since the average “Light Infantryman” load is 29kg in combat, shouldn’t that be the standard, period. No seeing if it is “fair” since women have about half the VO2 Max and upper body strength. I mean, why should upper body strength matter either? There is no way anyone would ever have to pull themselves up over a wall in a city with kit on. Not a chance of that happening.

    “Top military officers are also analyzing different combat training scenarios (like hiking several miles with a large backpack of supplies) to make sure both genders can benefit from the activity.”-No this is classic politics. They are going to have to justify the standards because women will not pass them if they hold them to the same standards. They are going to lower the overall standard and then say they are the same, but lowering the bar does not mean you made the grade, it means standards are lowered. That is what the US Military has ALWAYS done and that is what it will continue to do. Go read up on the Q Angle and also Military Medicine and VA rates of orthopedic injuries in females due to vast differences in skeletal frames. We are not the same and genders are not a social construct.

    Here is a tidbit from the UK study that was done in 2002′, reviewed in 2010 and the UK decided against letting women into the infantry. From the UK MoD report-

    “The Women in the Armed Forces report examined the differences in the physical abilities of men and women which are relevant to military performance and observed, unsurprisingly, that they differ significantly.Differences between women and men in their capacity to develop muscle strength and aerobic fitness are such that only approximately 1% of women can equal the performance of the average man. In lifting, carrying and similar tasks performed routinely by the British Army, this means that, on average, women have a lower work capacity than men and, when exposed to the same physical workload as men, have to work 50-80% harder to achieve the same results. This puts them at greater risk of injury. In load marching, another fundamental military task, and in all other simulated combat tasks, women were found to perform worse than men, and the greater the load, the greater the discrepancy. The
    study concluded that about 0.1% of female applicants and 1 % of trained female soldiers would reach the required standards to meet the demands of these roles.”

    Hey, just because we did similar studies in the 80’s, 90’s and recently and came to the same conclusion does not stop us from implementing a terrible idea anyway. If you as a journalist major won’t let the facts get in the way of a good story, why should anyone else let those silly thing get in the way either? Am I right? I mean, who want’s truth, facts or combat effectiveness when you can have feel good, self-esteem building, gender neutral testing that lowers the standards so much that a child could meet them? Why should combat effectiveness ever matter if someone has a “brass ceiling”?

    I am sure you are going to make a great journalist.

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