"As long as there have been wars, there have been women soldiers" (Skein, 1999). Taking this into consideration, it's almost absurd that there is debate today over whether or not women are fit to serve in the armed forces. Even as the nature of war is changing, the views about women in the military are hard pressed to catch up. To do this we must first, dispel the myths about women in the military.
The view that women should be protected because they are frail and dainty is still widely held today. Many people feel that women who want to join the military are trying to act like men or they are too delicate and, therefore, unfit for service (Herbert, 1998).
People also believe that if women are in the military that "men only want to protect them," says Captain Barbara A. Wilson (1996) of the U. S. Air Force, "men will be so busy protecting the women they will not do their jobs." In reality, there is evidence that mixed-gender units are more effective in doing their jobs than same-gendered units.
"The women work harder to gain approval and the men work harder not to be outdone" (Wilson, 1996). And back to the idea that women need to be protected, men protect women from other men who are trying to protect women. It seems like one big vicious circle. A page in Linda De Pauw's (1998) Women in War shows a propagandist picture featuring a woman and her baby being pawed at by two claw-like hands, one with the swastika and the other with a Japanese symbol. The caption reads "Keep These Hands Off," thus depicting the woman's need for protection. The symbolism of the enemy's hands moving towards the women emphasizes her helplessness thus creating another reason why it is believed that women are not fit for the military.
There is a commonly held stereotype that women do not belong in the military because they are the "weaker" sex. From the time we are little we are taught that boys are physically stronger than girls, and are, therefore, supposed to be the protectors of and caretakers of women. It is not until we are older that many girls learn that it is okay to be independent from men. Being too feminine is perceived as incompetent are weak, and those women who are too masculine may be perceived to be lesbians (Herbert, 1998), and homosexuality is greatly frowned in the military.
While men and women are undoubtedly built differently, young men and older men are built differently as well. The point here is that even though they are still men, older men are held to different expectations and physical standards than younger men (Tracy). Following this logic, women, being of different body build than men, should also have different requirements and should not b withheld from the military for this reason. We do not withhold older men.
That being said, the physical fitness program is not even used to assess the ability of individuals to perform specific missions or military jobs, but rather to "maintain the general fitness and health of military members" (Wilson, 1996). Tracy says, "It does not matter how strong you are, as long as you can do your job." I have recently heard someone say that women should not be in the military due to the differences in physical strength. I agree that I, personally, may not be able to do everything that some can do, however, I know that I can do more than some other men can do. There are even some jobs that, as a woman, I may be better suited for than a man.
A woman's physiology makes her more tolerant of G-forces that pilots and astronauts encounter; the smaller size of a woman's body means that there is a shorter distance between the heart and the brain, which makes it easier for them to overcome G-forces (Wilson, 1996). Even though women are built better for these jobs, men are not excluded from them the way women are excluded from many other jobs in the military. And women were not allowed into combat aviation until 1993 when defense Secretary Les A spin ordered the military to open these assignments to women (Holm, 1992). One of the most serious claims about women in the military, in my view, is the belief that women are not as likely to survive being prisoner's of war as men. This is another idea that has been brought to my attention recently and, I must admit, at first this seemed like a valid claim to me. I still did not think it should keep women out of the military, or even out of combat duty for that matter, but I can understand why this topic would make people wary about women in the armed forces.
Women are "delicate", as mentioned before, and more vulnerable than men as far as some are concerned. The truth, however, is that men and women are equally susceptible to torture of all sorts, and who is to say which type of torture is the worst. Tracy lists different ways of being tortured and asks that we put them in numerical order of what we would prefer to be done to us. Her list includes: get an eye gouged out, have a foot cut off, lose your fingers, have experiments done on you, be radiated, be killed, be starved, be brainwashed, and be raped. None of these choices seem like a viable option, and I would prefer avoiding each of these torture techniques. How about a last option: none of the above.
How can a person compare one type of torture to another and say which one is the worst? I do not think that anyone would be able to, with rape as a possibility, even for men. Tracy says, "[men are] not immune from that one." So, can a person think it is only men who are opposed to women in the military? Unfortunately even some women are against women in the military, specifically feminist anti militarists. According to Feinman (2000), these women believe that there is a connection between patriarchy and war, and they seek to "dismantle patriarchy" and, therefore, abolish war. On-the-other-hand, Feinman's equal rights feminists believe that they should be 100% equal to men in the military. In theory the abolishment of the military sounds wonderful, but that will never happen. So, if one cannot beat them, then one might as well join them, right? Actually I really think that men and women should not be treated differently.
There is always going to be a military, and there are always going to be women involved in the military. We would not tell a woman doctor that she can not be a neurologist, and we should not be able to tell women that they can not serve in the military, or rather, the particular part of the military that they are allowed to enlist. Does pregnancy make women more undeployable than men? Well of course it makes them more undeployable for the reason of pregnancy. Some studies show that women are up to 10 times as undeployable as men because of pregnancies and child care (Baer, 2003). This is before it is taken into consideration that "many more men were undeployable for substance abuse, alcoholism, court martial's, sports related injuries, off-duty fight related injuries, and pending charges of domestic violence" (Wilson, 1996). Today there is even a new issue regarding the participation of women in certain parts of the military.
With increasing technology, much of the military tactic used by the U. S. does not involve anyone participating in many hand-to-hand combat situations. I hope that no one tries to claim that women are not as adept at adjusting to technology as men are, as an excuse as to why women should not join the military.
Women may not have the same physical abilities as men, and I think sometimes women have better abilities adapting to situations no matter what their physical limitations may be. However, as a woman, I do not want to be told that I cannot do something just because I am a woman. That is discrimination, in which there are laws that prohibit such conduct except in the military where discrimination is allowed. Why is the appropriate for the U. S. and not the military.
Women sign up for the service just as men do. All women in the military have volunteered to be there and are aware that in doing so they may have to make sacrifices for their country. If, as a soldier I were told that I would be in a combat unit, it would be my duty to honor that command. Just as a man would do, I would protect my country to the best of my ability. "If she volunteers to defend this nation's rights then this nation should defend her right to volunteer for any military assignment" (Wilson, 1996).
"Whether one applauds or deplores their presence and their actions, women have always been a part of war" (De Pauw, 1998). As a woman planning to join the military, I intend to become one of those women. I feel strongly that I should be treated as an equal to men. Although, I believe that only those person's qualified for the rigors and stresses of the military should be admitted. And I feel that there are many women who can handle and even excel under the circumstances of military life.