Women In Combat: The Battleground of Gender Equality
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced recently that the military will lift the ban on women serving in combat, opening up approximately 230,000 roles to women that will include front-line positions, thus expanding greater opportunity for leadership.
The Defense's formal acknowledgment of women in combat is only just catching up with the reality of what happens on the battlefield. Women frequently faced combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. Tammy Duckworth, the recently elected Congresswoman from Illinois and is a double amputee who served in Iraq, is a perfect example.
The Defense Department instated a policy in 1994 prohibiting women to serve in units that primarily consisted of ground combat. Though Congresswoman Duckworth flew a Blackhawk helicopter, which doesn't technically qualify as “ground combat,” defining what counts as combat in the contemporary war zones is becoming increasingly ambiguous. Women regularly go out on patrol, run convoys and serve on bases under the threat of attack.
But the removal of the ban will give women access to all combat positions and allow them to gain recognition for duties many were already shouldering—as well as earn the opportunity to be evaluated for jobs based on their qualifications rather than their gender.
Some even argue this move will produce a safer and more equitable environment for servicewomen.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey said banning women from serving in combat contributed to the military’s sexual assault pandemic. While he admited the issue is more complex, he attributed the disparity of roles in the military to a culture that fosters the degradation of women.
“When you have one part of the population that is designated as warriors and another part that is designated as something else, I think that disparity begins to establish a psychology that in some cases led to that environment. The more we treat people equally, they more likely they are to treat each other equally,” Dempsey said.
Though opening up equal opportunities to women in the military seems like a logical progressive step toward gender equality to some, others argued that women are not fit for combat, masking misogyny in the more palatable antiquated ideals of chivalry.
Daily Beast Reporter David Frum countered Dempsey’s optimism: “The people we are likely to meet on the next battlefield are people who use rape and sexual abuse as actual tools of politics. In Iranian prisons, rape is a frequent practice. Women are raped before they are executed. In Iran, in Pakistan, in Afghanistan rape is a conscious tool of subjugation and it is something women will be exposed to. In the name of equal opportunity they will face unequal risk.”
Frum’s concern about women’s sexual vulnerability to enemies on the battlefield proves empty when one consider the fact that women in the military are at a much higher risk of rape from their fellow servicemen. As many as one in three military women experience sexual assault. Women in combat zones are more likely to be raped by a fellow solider than killed by the enemy. And as far as the fragility of women’s psychological health in battle, women who have been raped have a higher rate of PTSD than men in combat.
Rather than patronize a women’s capacity to keep up with men and formally fulfill roles they have already proven successful in, perhaps commentators should dig deeper into the problematic culture of the military that belittles and victimizes its own servicewomen. In the meantime, opening up all roles to women is a step in the right direction for gender equality in the military.
Anya Callahan is a reporter for Campus Progress. Follow her on Twitter @LezAnya.
- Teaching Consent: When Is it Too Early to Talk Sex, Boundaries and Bodies?
- Coast To Coast, College Sexual Assault Survivors See Gains
- Love Triangles With a Side of Sex-Ed: Welcome to “East Los High”
- NWL: ‘Old Enough to Get Pregnant, Old Enough to Decide’
- How This North Carolina Bill Will Restrict Health Care for Minors