Women soldiers are tougher than men
Summary Anna Mulrine of CS Monitor 21.1.11
The news this week that a US government commission has recommended that women soldiers could be allowed to fight in combat without detrimental effect to the women concerned is clearly news to some.
But the reasons for preventing women from being combat soldiers in the US army have always been pretty flimsy.
Anna Mulrine reports that:
“The question has long been whether women are capable of handling the mental and physical rigors of combat.
“The commission pointed to long-standing concerns that “women in combat impede mission effectiveness because they cannot handle the same equipment or tolerate the same physical stress as men.”"
You might just want to read that last bit back.
“(Women) cannot…tolerate the same physical stress as men.”
Really? Because last time I checked, women seemed fairly well equipped to handle physical stress. We’re even biologically equipped to handle one major physical stress that I’m fairly confident would kill your average man in a New York minute, namely, er, childbirth.
And before I hear any of those protests about physical strength, let me stop you there. Physical strength is variable over both sexes. Fact.
There are some women who are stronger than some men, there are men stronger than some women.
But the reality is that physical strength – especially in modern combat – is not what makes a good soldier, either on the frontline or anywhere else.
In some situations, brute raw strength will be an advantage, in others, speed, size or dexterity will be essential – and neither sex holds the monopoly on any of these attributes.
There’s only one reason to keep women away from the frontline, and that’s sexism. That’s a fact.
How can I be sure? Well, because as the US Army reported this week, they’re already there.
Although women are not allowed to be ‘in combat’, thousands of women soldiers are serving in combat on the frontline via a semantic loophole that allows women soldiers to be ‘attached’ to companies serving in combat.
And if that weren’t enough, Anna Mulrine also quotes General Peter Chiarelli, the Army’s Vice Chief of Staff, who points to the lower incidence of females in the total number of suicides of soldiers:
“…the numbers are very, very small. I believe we’re at somewhere in the vicinity of 7 percent, and that 93 percent are in fact males…. The resiliency of women – I may be out of school to state this – seems to be higher for whatever reason,” Charelli said.
For me the bottom line is that keeping women out of combat zones is not only insulting to women, it’s also profoundly insulting to men. As Mulrine highlights in her report, the distaste for women on the frontline isn’t just caused by good old-fashioned gallantry.
“It has long been considered a politically dicey proposition, given concerns that should female casualties spike, the nation might quickly lose its appetite for war,” she writes.
I find the implication of this particularly horrifying. Is the consequence of the gender divide the fact that we somehow find the deaths of hundreds of our young men more palatable than we would find the deaths of women?
As a pacifist, I certainly didn’t become a feminist to fight for the right of women to join the army, but if that’s your calling, sister, I’m the last woman who would stand in your way.
Regardless of the rights and wrongs of war, being a soldier has never been an easy profession – not least in these times, where governments exploit the patriotism of predominantly working class soldiers in the interests of thinly veiled imperialism.
Nonetheless, women have the right to serve, they are capable of serving and it’s about time they were officially allowed to stand alongside men.