January 24, 2013 by Darlene McC
Earlier today Secretary of Defense Panetta removed the ban from women serving as ground forces in combat. Because, of course they weren’t serving in combat already, right? Officially they’re only in “support positions” – driving trucks, maintaining vehicles… and defending themselves if those duties put them in the line of fire. It’s interesting timing: are we perusing unparalleled equality in the military with Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell being repealed, or are we trying to be more inclusive because enlistment is dropping?
And then, of course, there’s this problem: Too Fat To Fight
As mighty women I think we owe it to the REAL women warriors who serve to consider their circumstances. There are two primary arguments as to why women aren’t fit to fight: that they don’t physically have what it takes, and that there are “social norms” that would make having women at all levels of the military uncomfortable & distracting for them or the men they will serve with. Let’s take these separately for now.
Women “Aren’t Fit” to Fight
I’m not in the military & I don’t want to toot my own horn: but today I deadlifted 225 lbs while training for a friendly competition. I have grappled and boxed in an all male studio for about 2 years. My sparring buddy is a 6’2″, 200lb black guy named Steve. We punch each other in the face for fun.
One of the primary arguments as to why women shouldn’t be in combat is they aren’t physically capable of doing “some jobs”. On the news this morning there was a gentleman (I missed his name in the banner) describing how some jobs will now have physical testing before assignment, such as loading the rounds in certain tanks. In the example he gave a person has to lift a 50 lb round in a confined space with little room to move; he claimed that women couldn’t have that job.
It seems fairly obvious to me that there are some men who probably shouldn’t have that job either. They then went on to describe how women would need to be tested before being allowed to enlist in certain special ops assignments.
One of my favorite shows to watch while I was in trainer school was Surviving the Cut. Here’s a taste:
Now, that looks a lot to me like “physical testing” (among other things). I would expect any woman who wants to be special forces to survive Camp McCall just like everyone else. Why would it be any different?! Yes, she’ll have to train harder. Yes, it will be physically rigorous. There will likely be fewer women than men. So what. There will be some women who can handle it and those women will go on to do those jobs.
Remember my buddy Steve & the guys I fight with sometimes? Every week they strip down to their underwear to change, right in the middle of the studio, after we’re done sparring. Some are married, some dads, some single; some have beautiful bodies, others… well, that’s not for me to say. Regardless, they long ago accepted me as one of them. The same is true for the trainers in the locker room at work – they drop down to their skivvies; doesn’t matter who else is in the room. (Most of the women change elsewhere, but that’s their choice).
This second argument is a bit more of knot. That we are socialized to politeness and men will be uncomfortable shitting in front of women; or whatever else they have to do. But lets take this 3 steps further. Google “rape in the military” on the news search and you’ll come up with dozens of the latest stories about suits filed and what the military claims they’re going to do about it now.
One of my favorite Law & Order: SVU episodes addresses this issue: that women in combat are not only exposed to enemy bullets, but by friendly “fire” in the form of sexual assault. From basic through service many women are subjected to sexual violence and do not report for fear of retaliation or disbelief in an already harsh environment. Now they also get the pleasure of hearing every right wing nut job who wants to put them back in the kitchen saying they asked for it when they wanted to be equal.
Men will get over having to shit in front of a lady; but the institutions themselves have to address the cultures that they create. If they force women into silence by sending them the message that they will be blamed and punished, that is on those institutions.
Moving On Up
One of the biggest wins of this decision: women can now get promotions. I didn’t even realize this today because I’d never given it any thought: because women could not serve in combat they could not lead. Meaning they could not be promoted.
I never realized that the reason we’ve never heard of a female General is because their couldn’t be one until today. While I know it’s going to be awhile before it happens, the first woman General is going to be bad ass… and I have every intention on hanging her poster on my (hypothetical future) daughter’s wall.