Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The next big discrimination barrier to fall in the armed forces: Letting women fight

Under the law, American women are not allowed to serve in combat roles in the military. In practice, of course, wartime necessity has meant something different. Officially, though, the discrimination still exists—and with good reason, defenders say: Women tend to be smaller and weaker, and changing combat-ready standards to include them would diminish the readiness and roughness of our armed forces.

My response has always been: Don't change the physical standards. Just change the discrimination. And now I see that's what is happening in Australia:

In a landmark move for the Australian military, women will be allowed to risk their lives alongside male soldiers and serve on the frontline. In a move described as "a significant and major cultural change" the Australian army will remove all gender barriers over the next five years and women will be able to take up roles that previously were considered too dangerous.
Women who met the same stringent physical and psychological criteria required of men would be able to work in the most dangerous of roles after the Australian cabinet approved the measure, said the defence minister, Stephen Smith.
"This is simply about putting into the frontline those people who are best-placed to do the job, irrespective of your sex," he said. "In the future your role in the Defence Force will be determined on your ability, not on the basis of your sex," said Smith.
Conservatives have other objections, of course—the co-mingling of female and male soldiers, the ability of Americans to deal with seeing women soldiers come home in body bags. In truth we've been dealing with both situations for years. And yes, there have been some horrific bumps along the way. But there's no reason the country should deprive itself of the service of the people best prepared and most willing to serve it—no matter their gender.


Notorious Ph.D. said...

I'm with you, Joel. The solution seems so simple when it's laid out like this. If a woman wants to be a combat veteran, and she meets the same standards a man has to meet, then why not?

As for this throwing male combatants off their game? Honestly, there might be something to that, but not something that couldn't be remedied. Men have been just as gender-conditioned as women, and that might lead to behavior anywhere from the rapes we've already seen to men in combat reflexively "protecting" their female troop-mates in a way that might endanger themselves, others, or the mission. Confronting all of this conditioning -- especially in such a highly gendered environment as the military -- will be much more of a challenge than getting women combat-ready.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

(Sorry... "combat veteran" in my first paragraph implies that these women want to skip right to the post-combat phase. Which, come to think of it, wouldn't anyone?)