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Women in combat roles: to be or not to be?

Paul Hazelton
Paul Hazelton

Throughout most of human history, women have been barred from entering official combat positions, and for some previously-sound reasons: armor was considered too heavy, the conditions too abhorrent, etc. But with the growth of the feminist movement, the general progression to a more equal society and advances in technology, this practice is being re-evaluated. So much so, in fact, that the Army recently opened Ranger School — and more recently, the Navy SEALs — to women in an attempt to test the feasibility of female soldiers. Reportedly, two out of 19 volunteers for the ground-breaking experiment passed. But does that mean women are ready for the front lines? The answer, apparently, is not yet. However, I would argue that day isn’t too far off.

There is no biological disadvantage where shooting, military strategy, leadership or split-second judgment is involved.

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However, many would argue against this point due in large part to the insistence that allowing women to take on combat rolls may pose a strategic disadvantage — an argument with some credibility. One valid point relating to the argument is that female and male anatomies are clearly different. These physical discrepancies are crucial to consider when it comes to moving wounded soldiers, running with heavy gear and many other aspects of combat. But if the U.S. military keeps its tests the same for both sexes — which they have — this problem shouldn’t exist due to men and women who pass the test achieving the same standard of physical ability.

The opposition might also argue that allowing men and women to serve in the same unit could lead to romance, which in turn could cause jealousy, favoritism and even disgruntled sabotage. Worse yet, if a female soldier was sexually assaulted by a member of her own unit, trust would degrade sharply, therefore greatly disrupting effectiveness.

These are legitimate concerns. Of course, the military could reform how it deals with these transgressions and/or give prosecuting power to the justice department, although there have been calls for both of these actions before and little has been done to negate the problem. A better solution, as politically and socially incorrect as it sounds, may be to simply segregate women and men into separate units. This would decrease the chance of sexual assault, romance and pregnancy, which could present further complications. If this separate units policy were adopted, it’s plausible to think that the testing requirements for women could be changed, allowing even more women to serve in active duty because the expectation for physical ability would likely no longer be standardized.

The fact that women experience menstruation cycles is another argument I’ve encountered against women assuming combat roles, and it can be summed up as follows: Women’s natural menstruation cycles cause them to be weaker once a month. But, is that true? A recent article from the New York Times cites an experiment by the Estonian Centre of Behavioural and Health Sciences division of the University of Tartu, which helps debunk this claim. The experiment involved European rowers, some of whom raced competitively, some just as a hobby, but all came in once a month during their bodies’ peak estrogen levels to test their athletic ability. The results stated there was no measurable change in athletic ability no matter what point of the menstrual cycle the women were in.

Despite the resistance to the idea of women serving in combat, it is already the norm in at least 16 other countries, such as Israel, Germany, Canada, France, Sweden, China and even North Korea. This isn’t to imply that the transition will be seamless or that gender-related problems won’t occur, but if we as Americans wish to keep this country’s progressive identity intact, we have an obligation to change with the times and allow the other 50 percent of the population to serve their country.

Collegian Columnist Paul Hazelton can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @HazeltonPaul.

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