Should qualified women be able to enter special ops units like the SEALs who killed Osama Bin Laden? That's what Jezebel founding editor Anna Holmes argues in The Washington Post today. Maybe the question, suggested by a recent study on PTSD and women in the military, is whether the military is ready for them.
"The justifications used to keep women out of combat and special ops units are the same paternalistic, discriminatory excuses used in favor of upholding racial segregation in the military and, more recently, the "don't ask, don't tell" policy regarding gays and lesbians," Holmes writes. "In short, they have little to do with individual capability and reveal far more about ingrained ideas and misconceptions regarding psychology, sexuality and physiology."
She speaks to experts and veterans who note the challenges and risks, including physical requirements (but these are not insurmountable) sexual assault (but why punish female veterans?). Feminist attorney Brenda Feigen told her that the bans on women in special forces is likely to be overturned in court, rather than by a policy initiative like that of Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez.
While women are technically forbidden from combat, in practice female servicemembers see plenty of it. As Jane Blair, Marine officer and author of the forthcoming book Hesitation Kills, says in a q&a with her publisher,
The nature of warfare today is such that women find themselves on the front lines of battlefields because support units have to be alongside combat units....When the war kicked off, even though we were originally told the females in my unit might have to remain behind in Kuwait, there was so much chaos going on that I think we were literally forgotten about. Thus, we got to forge ahead and carry out the mission just like the males in the unit.
Indeed, a recent study by U.S. army researchers of 922 National Guard members, 91 of them women, who were deployed to Iraq in 2008, noted that there was no major difference in how much combat they saw. It did find, however, that women were more likely to have symptoms of PTSD, at 18.7 percent, compared to 8.7 percent of the men.
But the analysis of the researchers indicated that this wasn't simply a matter of female vulnerability — it was the sort of preparation and support of the unit and the army:
The women were much less likely to feel well-prepared for combat before deployment and were more likely to report a lack of unit cohesion during deployment....[The authors write,] "This study suggests that women may be at greater risk than men of developing combat-related PTSD in part because they are less likely to develop confidence in their own military preparedness or receive social support in the form of unit cohesion."
In other words, it's not enough just to get women in there; it's also about changing ingrained attitudes and social norms.