Women’s Equality and the Military: Where We Are and How Far We Have Yet to Go
Women and women’s equality movements continue to make history in the military, albeit gradually. This Friday, the first two women to ever successfully complete the Army’s Ranger School will graduate in Ft. Benning, Georgia. Ranger School is considered “the Army’s premier combat leadership course,” as described by the Pentagon, as well as one of the hardest training programs in the military overall.
News of the women passing the course came just one day after the Navy declared that they are on track with plans to accept women into their incredibly intense training regimen, known as the Navy SEALs. In an interview, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jon Greenert said, “Why shouldn’t anybody who can meet these [standards] be accepted? And the answer is, there is no reason. So we’re on track to say, ‘Hey look, anybody who can meet the gender non-specific standards, then you can become a SEAL.’”
And I agree.
Feminism has achieved many great wins, as far as equality goes, within the military in the United States, especially in the last decade. Perhaps the biggest one so far was the lifting of the ban implemented in 1994 that prohibited women from serving in direct ground combat, which, I believe, paved the way for advancements that we’ve seen since 2012 and will witness today. But even with the victories we’ve had, we still have a long road ahead of us before gender equality is fully integrated in all areas and branches of the military.
Let me just say that I don’t like war. Then again, who does? I’m opposed to the idea of lives lost and homes destroyed in order to settle disputes. But unfortunately, because of the world we live in, war is very much a reality and is therefore a “necessary evil.” We need a military, and if we’re going to have one, it isn’t fair — nor is it practical — to restrict what a person can or cannot do based on their gender.
The fact that gender integration is even a challenge today provides clear evidence that we need to take a closer look at archaic male patriarchal ideals and values. An argument consistently used is that women simply don’t have the physicality and psyche that is required in order to be in such demanding roles as on ground combat. Not only has that been disproved by the two women who completed Ranger School, having been trained by the same standards as their male peers, but also by the women who have served for hundreds of years, since the Revolutionary War when they had to disguise themselves as male and enlist under aliases, until now in Iraq and Afghanistan.
And still there’s a lack of trust in women. The women graduating Ranger School will receive and wear the Ranger tab but will not be allowed to become official members of the group. What’s the point in letting women try out and complete the training if they’re going to be denied entrance anyway?
In my opinion, gender equality isn’t about establishing whether men and women are different. Of course they are. I think it is possible to become so aggressive about equality that we forget that these differences are not a bad thing. Even as a feminist myself, I believe that there are certain roles in life that are and always will be gender specific, because of nature. But career paths aren’t, or at least shouldn’t be, one of those things.
Out of all our military branches I think it’s fair to say that the Marine Corps has been the most resistant to gender integration. Even to this day many within the corps are opposed to even integrated marches. They often point to the fact that they opened up the Marine Infantry Officer course to women and the results were embarrassing. Not a single woman graduated from the course and, as The New York Times pointed out, up until Lt. Col. Kate Germano “took command of the Marine Corps’ all-women boot camp, the failure rate of female recruits at the rifle range was about three times higher than that of their male counterparts.” But what the women needed was better training, which Colonel Germano had a great impact on before she was fired from the Marine Corps. The results dramatically improved and the percentage of women passing the initial rifle qualification in June was the same for the men.
Feminists aren’t asking to be exceptions to the rule. Lowering the expectations of women is not the answer to gender equality in the military. Doing so would only set us back and threaten combat mission readiness, putting more lives at risk. The physical requirements should remain the same — they’re high for a reason and should not be changed. But no one should be denied the opportunity to serve just because of appearances. If a female successfully met the same requirements as a male, then she has earned her right to be a part of team in a front-line position and should not be undermined or treated as a weak link.
Very few women may be able to fulfill such physically demanding roles in the military, and that’s fine. But to say that it’s impossible for a woman to do so is to completely ignore the many women who have died alongside our men in every war this country has been involved in.