The Pentagon might let women become infantry troops, but do most female soldiers and Marines actually want to be front-line war fighters? Does it matter? No. Framing the debate as "but the ladies don't even want to fight!" is offensive and besides the point.
It could be a while yet until the Pentagon officially decides whether women should be allowed to serve in combat roles, but there were some monumental policy changes last year: the department opened almost 14,000 jobs that would put women closer to the front lines, which, in many cases, simply meant that many women were officially allowed to do the jobs they were already doing. The policy still bars women — who constitute 15 percent of the 1.4 million serving their country in all branches — from more than 230,000 positions as infantry soldiers, Special Ops commandos, and in other direct combat roles.
The Pentagon also decided to let women volunteer for the Infantry Officer Training Program as a test to see whether they could hack it. Two women tried and dropped out, and none have signed up for the next course this month. The AP seems to think that means women can't handle combat and actually aren't all that interested in gender equality; reporters interviewed a dozen female soldiers and marines who "showed little interest" in ground combat because "they believe they'd be unable to do them."
"I enjoy supporting the soldiers," said Army Sgt. Cherry Sweat, who "doesn't feel mentally or physically prepared" for fighting missions."The choice to join combat arms should be a personal decision, not a required one." Administrative officer Marine Gunnery Sgt. Shanese L. Campbell said she "actually" loved her administrative job and "I've been doing it for 15 years, so I don't plan on changing my job skills."
The AP article began: "How many women will want to [become infantry troops? The answer is probably not many." While it's all well and good that some women aren't interested in ground combat, the tone here is placating, the article frustrating. It's true that only two women tried out for and dropped out of the famously tough Infantry Officer Training Program, but they didn't exactly fail miserably: the failure rate for men is 25%. Perhaps no women tried out this time around because they didn't want to deal with immense pressure to pull through; if they didn't pass, they'd undoubtably become scapegoats, too.
There are two main (and excellent) arguments for why women should be allowed to serve in combat roles. (They're outlined well in a federal lawsuit that was recently filed by the ACLU on behalf of several military women.) The first is that, in many cases, they already are: in Iraq and Afghanistan, battle lines were unclear and insurgents popped up everywhere, so many women who technically held support jobs ended up targeted by bombs or involved in firefights. Women also helped elicit information from local women who didn't feel comfortable talking to men. The second is that combat service jobs have more prestige than most other positions and lead the way to promotions. Women can't move onto higher-ranking positions if they can't get grab onto first rung of the ladder.
This exclusionary policy isn't only discriminatory and unfair, especially given that many women are already doing the requisite work to warrant the titles and promotions, but it's also hurtful for women who don't want infantry roles. What happens if only men are in power? Massive sex scandals like last year's Lackland debacle, to start.
Here are some very relevant statistics from the AP:
More than 200,000 U.S. women have served in the wars, 12 percent of the Americans sent. Of some 6,600 Americans killed, 152 were women; 84 of them were killed by enemy action and 68 in nonhostile circumstances such as accidents, illness and suicide.
Thankfully, the AP didn't only interview women who don't care if the Pentagon gets with the times.
"If there are women able to meet the required standard, then why not let them fight if they so desire?" said Maj. Elizabeth L. Alexander, a member of the 3rd Army in South Carolina who has served in Pakistan once and in Iraq three times in supply and maintenance jobs. Thank you, Maj. Alexander!
"Yes, there may be a small number of women who are interested," said Katy Otto, spokeswoman for the Service Women's Action Network, an equal opportunity advocacy group. "But does that mean they should be barred from entry?" Thank you, Otto!
Lory Manning of the Women's Research and Education Institute pointed out that just because women aren't publicly interested right now doesn't mean they won't be in the future:
"I think they'll be surprised by the number that will come forward," said the 25-year Navy veteran who retired in the 1990s. She said the Navy faced a similar question then: Did women want to go to sea?
"If you asked someone in 1985 about going to sea, she would have been thinking: ‘Girls don't do that and so I don't want to do that,'" Manning said. "But when push came to shove, they did it, they loved it."
It won't be an easy switch to allow women to become infantry troops — What will happen to the draft? Is the army adequately equipped to help them with PTSD? Etc. — but it's a necessary one that needs to be made soon for the sake of gender equality and the welfare of the entire military. News outlets that think it's worth not only pointing out but highlighting the fact that some women don't want to serve in the front lines should question whether they want to be on the wrong side of history.