That’s not just my opinion; it’s what a Pentagon commission on diversity is recommending. I am thrilled to hear a military group suggest ending the final discriminatory ban in the armed forces. People who want to put their lives on the line to serve their country should be able to, regardless of whether they are gay or straight, black or white or brown, Muslim or Christian, man or woman.
Supporters of the ban on women in combat say that having them serve in those roles will damage unit cohesion. Others think women just aren’t physically or mentally strong enough to be on the front lines. Those are pretty thinly veiled sexist arguments. Women and men already serve together in close quarters. I’m pretty sure they also have to be at least minimally fit to pass basic training. If opponents are so worried about women not being able to handle heavy loads, they should lobby for a basic physical strength requirement that every soldier, regardless of gender, must pass.
One final point that supporters of the ban make is that “Americans will not tolerate large numbers of women coming home in body bags.” This suggests, of course, that we have become desensitized to men’s deaths in the Middle East and that their lives are acceptable losses. So far, 134 women have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan compared to 5,700 men. I think it would be a good thing if the public were up in arms about women’s deaths in the military. It might put pressure on our leaders to get our troops out of the area. Just because it is “normal” for men to die in combat does not mean it should be tolerable. Their lives have the same value as everyone else’s. One of the battles feminists fight every day is the idea that women are weak and need to be protected by men. Ending this ban will help dispel that outdated notion.
It’s not just this commission that thinks the ban should end. In an admittedly nonscientific survey, a poll on CNN.com found 71% in support of women serving in combat. Another on MSN found 50% in support, 45% opposed and 5% not sure. I am encouraged by those numbers.
My only concern regarding this issue is the military’s abysmal incidence and handling of sexual assault. Way too many women in military academies on up the ranks report being sexually assaulted, and the response to their grievances is usually less than stellar:
The ACLU said one in three women are sexually assaulted during their service, but the military “has failed systematically to investigate complains, punish perpetrators and treat the health conditions suffered by the assaulted women.” According to the ACLU, only 8 percent of alleged military perpetrators are prosecuted.
To be fair, that 8 percent is close to the amount that are prosecuted in the general public. I don’t believe the military attracts a large number of rapists, although it’s possible that its hyper-masculine, macho culture appeals to misogynists. However, it’s clearly an area that needs further improvement. And maybe as more women’s roles are expanded and they are promoted to higher ranks, men will become more likely to see them as equals.
The bottom line is that women should be able to serve in any capacity in the military without fear. Their only worry should be of enemy fighters, not fellow soldiers.