“Don’t send our daughters into combat,” proclaimed Kathleen Parker in last Monday’s Seattle Times, describing the decision to allow women to work in combat roles within the military as an “abandon[ment] of all reason.”
Her obnoxious tone turned to a two-faced tirade of tiresome inanity after she attempted to defend her stance as a “feminist” view. Apparently words don’t mean anything anymore, or else she would have taken a pragmatic approach instead of defending her unequal treatment of the sexes in the name of equal treatment. Her reasons were essentially that women are physically inferior to men in combat, that including women poses a threat to unit cohesion and that women are more at-risk in prisoner situations. On the same line of thinking, she makes a rather teary emotional appeal, asking the reader to “hold the image of your 18-year old daughter, neighbor, sister or girlfriend” in mind when discussing combat. I’ll save that one for last.
For starters, it is true that on average, women don’t have the same upper-body strength that men do. Conceded. Fine. What you must say, however, isn’t that women in general don’t have the same physical strength—you must say ALL women lack the constitution to be good soldiers. We have physical standards to weed out unfit soldiers, male and female, so why add superfluous gender restrictions? This attitude of generalization isn’t just the very definition of stereotyping and gender discrimination; it’s patently untrue as well. If you care to disagree, I’m sure you could settle that score in a parking lot somewhere with Ronda Rousey; the number one female MMA fighter and judo gold-medalist would handily take down most military men in a heartbeat. Limiting the ability of minimally and equally qualified, let alone exceptional, individuals from participating in combat roles because of sweeping gender generalizations is morally indefensible. Saying so under the banner of feminism merely adds irony.
On to the issue of unit cohesion.
What’s wrong with saying we shouldn’t integrate blacks and whites in uniform? Is there something intrinsically bad about segregating platoons and brigades by ethnic and national origin, as was done in early 20th century combat? What’s so terrible about keeping gays out of the military? After all, a change to any of these standards might cause strife and disunity within the respective group.
The fear of damage to morale and unit cohesion is such a definitively destroyed argument that I can’t help but speculate on the motives of those who offer it in a serious manner. As for women, they’re already integrated in the rest of the military, including the many groups like the Naval construction battalions (SeaBees) that carry weapons, suffer mortar fire and enemy attacks and are working under combat-like conditions. Shockingly, damage to unit cohesion doesn’t seem to be threatening our borderline-overpowered military’s combat readiness in any way. To say, “oh, but it’s different this time,” would require a much higher burden of proof than the sexist hunch of a misogynistic military tradition.
As for the claim of increased vulnerability to exploitation in prisoner situations, everything that’s wrong with the argument is summed up by Parker in an appended parenthetical in the paragraph. On the heels of a snide comment deriding the “adult” designation of 18-year-old girls, she says “parents know better.”
This is paternalism if there ever was such thing. As if these women weren’t adults! As if women couldn’t make decisions for themselves! If you were to meet a woman who was physically fit, who was mentally steeled, and knew the implications of combat, to tell her “you can’t go because I feel uncomfortable” is undermining her right to self-determination in defense of a personal view on defined gender roles. Without seeing it, I wouldn’t have imagined a writer for a publication like The Seattle Times could seriously take such a condescending and disrespectful position.
Are there dangers in combat for women? Absolutely. Hygiene challenges, boredom, psychological damage, injury, rape, torture and death are possible problems for both sexes, and the burden is not shared equally. Women know this better than men. This is precisely why a willing and qualified female soldier who desires a role in combat should be granted their request with all of the expediency and support afforded to their male counterparts. If Parker and like-minded people, men or women, don’t have the guts themselves to serve their country on the front line, that’s fine. I’m sure no one will hold that against them, particularly those they’d be serving alongside. But they should keep their worries about other people’s welfare to themselves, at least where legislation is concerned. Let adults (yes, they are adults) make their own decisions without other people’s confusion over what “equality” actually means infringing on their right to do so.