Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Women in the Military

An article in the Times advocating women in combat units in the military prompted Blackfive's Uncle Jimbo to emphatically disagree. Rather strange that he opposes women serving in combat units, but finds the idea of gays serving openly to be acceptable. (He does acknowledge the irony.)

Catherine Ross, the female civil affairs sergeant who authored the Times article strikes that whiny, let-me-play-too tone as to why women serving alongside men in combat is no problem. After all, it wasn't a problem for her she says. When she had to share a container (hardly combat) with three male soldiers, they were, in her words, "perfect gentlemen." And if they hadn't been? I imagine that Ross would have been quick to file a sexual harrassment suit and seek redress for the wrongs committed against her person.

This article boils down to a few loosely connected thoughts on the part of a somewhat smug female who seems to place a lesser value on her innate feminine qualities and a greater value on her ability to be just like a man. Ross expresses the perverse twist of the feminist agenda which is not and never was a celebration of being female. Rather, it's an agenda fueled by women who covet entry into a man's world----but only on a woman's terms.

Far more interesting than Ross's article are the comments posted by readers of the Blackfive article. There is another set of comments here. As one reader comments:

I have an image of an interview with Navy Secretary John Lehman. I'll paraphrase: "Surely there are a few women who can run and jump and carry as much weight as men. Maybe 1 percent. But they are freaks. And we're not building a Navy on freaks." There are plenty of places for women in the military. We bring talents and a unique skill set to many different jobs. But battlefields and combat should not be on the list. I think they should interview every man who has been in combat and ask him "Would you want your daughter to experience what you experienced?" Bet I know the 99% answer.


  1. Women are a great asset to the military. A majority of the jobs in the military (cooks, technicians, linguists, accountants, etc.) are not combat-related and can be completed by any generally able-bodied person. By opening up these positions to women, recruiters double the population of eligible people they can pull from. The incorporation of women in the military is a very effective and successful way to increase military manpower.

    The role of women in combat is a much more complex issue. Are there women who can run, jump and carry as much weight as men? Yes. Are there women who are mentally and emotionally fit to handle the tough circumstances and decisions faced in combat? Yes. I humbly include myself as one of them and I would agree that the percentage of us is small, perhaps less than 1% of the general female population, and less than 5% in the military female population. So, the question becomes not whether or not women can perform effectively in combat, but should they? Basically, what are the costs and benefits? It’s an efficiency issue.

    The Army is a large, bureaucratic organization that makes costly, slow adjustments. You cited sexual harassment suits as one potential cost of accommodating women in combat; this would likely be true. The incorporation of women in combat would incur a costly, multi-facetted anti-sexual harassment campaign. Additionally, these all-male combat units would face a culture restructure that would have uncertain effects on their combat effectiveness. So the costs are somewhat known, but what are the benefits? Arguably, a combat soldier is a combat soldier is a combat soldier, regardless of whether or not that soldier is male or female. So, if this is true, then a female combat soldier brings no added benefit but an associated cost. With this analysis, the costs outweigh the benefits; it would be foolish to force the military to accommodate women into such units, especially during wartime when we cannot afford to make costly readjustments that bring no added benefit. Such a decision would not be in the best interest of the defense of our country and would merely be a political move.

    This being said, there is a narrow (very narrow) purpose for extremely capable women in combat operations in which their status as a woman would be advantageous and increase the likelihood of mission accomplishment. The regular Army is blunt tool that is very good at what it does but is too bureaucratic to handle the incorporation of women into its main combat branches at this time. However, a handful of the women “freaks” that John Lehman speaks of would have a purpose and effectiveness that could not be approached by men in roles as CIA paramilitaries and in Special Forces (a self-contained organization that technically falls under the Army). The use of women in these roles is delicate issue that requires expert discernment; it is definitely not the place of the general American public or whiney feminist groups to attempt to influence their use.

    As for Catherine Ross, I don’t know anything about her and I didn’t read the Times article she authored, but Civil Affairs is a “soft”, non-combat area of service and I would venture to say that she probably doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Additionally, I would caution against equating the general feminist agenda with the goals of those few female individuals in the military who are paving a role for women in combat operations – the feminists you speak of often have a gross misunderstanding of these women and are merely using their potential to fuel the feminist agenda at their convenience. In my experience, the two groups have little to do with each other.

    I would be happy to discuss these ideas with you at length. I have a fairly intimate knowledge of the subject and I’m always eager to discuss my opinions with intelligent, knowledgeable female civilians!

  2. Thanks for your input. You make several very good points and you've framed the issue well. Okay, I do understand about women in the sort of non-combat roles you mention, and I do (reluctantly I suppose) have to agree that women can and should fill such roles.

    I guess you're also saying that there are certain combat roles that you think women can justifiably handle provided they are physically qualified and not given a handicap because they're women(i.e. the 'freaks'), right? That would be those para-military and Special Forces jobs if I understand you correctly. I'm not knowledgeable about that, but, obviously,as you say, discernment is required in those cases. If the Army could, without outside political pressure, be left alone to examine how and where women could be a benefit without being an added cost, then the whole question of women in the military might perhaps be handled in a reasonable manner. Unfortunately, what happens is that the issue becomes politicized before discernment is ever properly applied. I'm not sure how that can be avoided.

    I think you've rightly pointed out that the issue of women in the military isn't quite as black and white as I might have thought.

    Stay tuned for more on this subject. I hope you'll comment. By the way, how do you feel about gays in the military?

  3. I'm not sure how to avoid the issue being politicized either. My opinion on government in general is that when it meddles, it prevents optimum performance and this is a classic case.

    Regarding our earlier discussions about feminitiy in the military and your impression that military women abaondon their feminine qualities with a goal to be "just like a man," I wanted to make this point. The qualities that make a military person successful are not uniquely "manly" qualities (although our culture may see it that way) - tough, bold, strong, courageous, a good leader - whoever said those were only manly qualities? Women can be strong in body, mind, and character too - and not in a artificial, forced way, but in a healthy and natural way if they are properly encouraged.

    I think sometimes it's easy to place too much focus on gender and not enough on what a person is capable of. This reminds me of a relevant quote from COL Oveta Culp Hobby, an Army nurse during WW2 - "Women who stepped up were measured not as women, but as citizens of their country...This was a people's war and everyone was in it."

    As far as gays in the military, I think the current policy is wise. I see no reason to change it. Recognition of gays in the military would have drastic ramifications that might very quickly make the military one of the most gay-friendly organizations in existence.

    Sounds absurd, right? Think about it this way: if gays are recognized, then the next step is to recognize their partners as well. Now if that happens, their partners will be eligible for all military benefits to include medical benefits and will draw an additional income for things such as housing and food. So, the military could find itself among the first organizations to offer benefits for gay partners.

    Now the logical thing for the military to do would be to withold recognition of gays' partners until gay realtionships are recognized by the law (gay marriage/civil unions). However, in the meantime, this would create some interesting equity issues! For instance, a dual military gay-couple living together would be paid more money than a dual military married couple living together, of the same rank. On the other hand, a married military man/woman would draw additional pay when separated from their spouse, where a gay partner wouldn't.

    Anything perceived as unfair or motivated by gay prejudice would be quick to attract an "Equal Opportunity" violation, which is potentially career-ending for the offending party.

    Realistically, open recognition of gays in the military may be inevitable, but from a strictly legal and logical standpoint (I haven't yet given my personal, morally-motivated opinion) it would be premature. Don't believe the gays that say "we just want to be able to serve openly and that's it" - nonsense, they will demand full benefits and recognition immediately and with the equality-driven culture of the military and the way UCMJ laws work, if the military yeilds a legal inch, gays will likely win all the ensuing legal battles.

  4. Regarding the matter of manly qualities, I do agree that courage is a quality (a virtue!) that both men and women may possess. However, when it comes to toughness, boldness and strength, these qualities often come across differently in men vs. women and there may be ways that a man executes these qualities that a woman cannot. A bold woman is often negatively perceived as pushy, strident or arrogant whereas a bold man is more positively viewed. A tough woman is often perceived in an unflattering way--vulgar or,ironically, mannish. A woman might be tough or bold in advocating for her children or a mother might be tough and strong in caring for her terminally ill child (a case I know of personally), but I'm not sure that such toughness translates to a battlefield or to being in charge of a group of male soldiers. And in terms of physical strength, a woman is probably never going to be as physically strong as a strong man. There are also qualities like risk-taking, sense of freedom and a sense of adventure that are more generally (and I do recognize it as a generalization) found in men than in women. Having said that, I do recognize that females can be tough, bold and strong, but I don't think possession of those qualities necessarily prepares them for military service.

    On the matter of gays in the military, I couldn't agree with you more and I think you've outlined the potential problems far better than I could have. Since you are so knowledgeable about the military, I'm discouraged to read that you feel open recognition of gays in the military is inevitable. To me, this marks another hasty slide down the slippery slope of social disorder and decay. Perhaps I over-react.

    I'm going to be posting another blog on women in combat along with a link to an interview I came across on the subject. Please read and comment. Thanks!