USMC to Allow Women in the Infantry

Posted on April 22, 2012

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Whoa, there, calm down, it’s not actually a done deal yet.  It’s more like a pilot program, with plenty of details still to be researched and decided.  But already, the naysayers are flooding the comment boards.

First, I dismiss outright the purely reflexive, ideological comments like these:

“Combat is a man’s job. Simply put. You go to war to protect your women and children not to put them in further danger. This is called chivalry….”  Rachel Shouse Gooding

“All of the REMFs* both civilian and active duty are doing their best to destroy what’s left of military traditions.”  Ben Bryant

Sorry, but tradition and chivalry have little to do with the kinds of wars we have been fighting for the past decade, and even before that.  And no, we don’t go to war to protect the women and children (at least, not since we stopped getting overrun by barbarians looking for war brides).  And in extreme circumstances historically and around the globe, women and children fight, too.  No, we go to war for reasons of vital national interest, when all diplomatic means have failed (I don’t always agree with our leaders’ opinions on “vital national interest,” but that’s another article).  So let’s look for some rational reasons to keep women, as a category, out of combat.

Next up:  many complain that most women don’t have the necessary upper body strength, that a 5’3″ female can’t do what a 5’10” male can, that women can’t lift and carry the heavy loads that men can, that they won’t be able to keep up on a march, a run, or in combat.  I totally agree that most women won’t be able to cut it.  However, these are all specious arguments, because the USMC is establishing gender-neutral physical standards for the Infantry.  Gender-neutral means one standard for everyone.  I know from experience that plenty of men out there will not meet that standard, and most women won’t.  But many men will, and some women will.

Some commenters lodged their protests against the weaker sex by expressing a preference for being carried out of a burning building by a male firefighter, by way of example.  Again:  the same physical standard for everyone is a big part of this whole concept.  If I’m in a burning building and two firefighters come in, they are both 5’10”, both breaking down doors with their axes, and both can toss me over their shoulders to carry me out, I absolutely do not care which one carries me out – even if one is female.  And it is this sort of picture which is likely to actually emerge as this program develops.  These women will not be winsome, very fit petites (or even average-sized women) like Demi Moore in GI Jane.  No, think more along the lines of Brienne of Tarth (played by 6’3″ Gwendoline Christie) from Game of Thrones.

So everyone stop worrying about the physical standards.  I guarantee you, only big, strapping, muscular and fit women will be in this program.

Ah, but there’s more.  There are also the worries about gender dynamics:  preference or privilege based on gender, male “protectiveness,” harassment, even rape.  Yeah, yeah.  Not to sound callous, but those things already go on in the academies and in the support and service units of the military, and they are dealt with on a daily basis.  It is a problem, but it is not a valid argument for removing women from their current roles, any more than it is for keeping women out of combat roles.  As for the argument that the “pointy end of the spear” is different:  yes, it is different, but you know what?  Women are already there.   As James K. Sanborn writes in the Marine Corps Times:

“This past winter, the Defense Department published a report saying that nonlinear combat against a shadowy enemy in Iraq and Afghanistan has negated the notion of a frontline behind which women can be kept safe. Working in support roles, 144 women have been killed in action and 865 injured since the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, according to Defense Department data. As such, old prohibitions have become irrelevant, according to the report.”

That alone is significant, but this comment from retired USMC Colonel Ken Plato is even more revealing:

“The problem with that sentence is the first four words: many of these females killed and injured were not in support roles – they were on patrol alongside their male counterparts to speak to female Iraqis and Afghanis. I’ve been there and I’ve seen it.”

1991_R_Iraq_aThis is also true of the Army.  You are not likely to find a female supply clerk or mechanic going house to house and kicking in doors, but you absolutely could find female military police doing exactly that, and female linguists or interrogators right behind them (this photo is of an Army soldier in Iraq).  The last decade of occupation of hostile countries means no front lines, and the need to engage everyone in the local population, including women, means we need military women “on the pointy end of the spear,” too.

*REMF:  Rear-Echelon MF, i.e., people far from any danger.   Yes, MF stands for what you think it stands for.

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