01/15/11-by Bridgette P. LaVictoire
When Terry Pratchett wrote the novel Monstrous Regiment, there were people, including his editors, who found the concept rather absurd. The idea that women could perpetuate the deception to appear male and serve in the armed forces of a given nation seemed hard to grasp. After all, would the women not be spotted? It was not until the modern army with its physical exam prior to allowing someone into a combat role that women were excluded from fighting entirely.
Of course, this is just in the modern and strictly patriarchal idea of the military. While legends of the Amazons are commonly used throughout fantasy, women warriors existed. Among the Celts, women were expected to be competent in battle, and the most elite of all of the Celtic forces, the briganti, were a mixture of women and men who fought wearing pretty much nothing but a belt, sandals, and body paint. In Japanese tradition, the samurai (warrior) had its female equivalent in the joushigun (woman-warrior), and many women of that caste/class were expected to be competent in war craft and often made competent and spectacular generals. The shinobi (a Japanese form of ninja, which is Chinese) were male guerilla warriors and assassins and they had their female equivalent in the kunoichi. Tactics might have been different, but women in combat situations were not excluded entirely for a long time.
There are many world militaries which allow for women to fight in combat roles, and now the United States could join them, at least according to a panel which will recommend in March that Congress and the White House lift the current ban on women participating in combat roles within the military. This recommendation is based upon the reality that women are already involved in the fight, but invisibly, since women already support combat roles on the ground. Women routinely are involved in combat situations while defending convoys, and on bases. Women also serve on combat ships and fly combat aircraft.
MS Magazine quotes Retired Marine Lieutenant General Frank Petersen as saying:
Here is my problem. We’re talking about ground combat, nose-to-nose with the bad guys, living in the mud, eating what’s on your back, no hygiene and no TV. How many of you have seen how infantrymen, the ground troopers, live, and how many of you would volunteer to live like that?
Of course, his view is pretty much that women are weak- just the same way that gay men are weak and should not be allowed to serve openly in combat because, hey, everyone knows that gay men are limp wristed.
MS notes that his answer came from an unlikely source:
Tammy Duckworth, second in charge at the Department of Veterans Affairs and a former helicopter pilot who lost both her legs in Iraq, said, “I would do it in a minute [ground combat] for the honor of being able to serve next to some of the greatest folks that I’ve ever been able to serve next to. … Women are doing that right now.”
They quoted NPR as saying that the common concern was the same one as found during the repeal of DADT:
There are also questions about retention. If the Pentagon opens combat jobs up to women, how long will they stay in them? What if they get pregnant and can’t deploy? And there are the perennial concerns about unit cohesion. Will allowing women into intense fighting situations undermine the morale of all-male combat units?
Of course, the old enemies of DADT repeal showed up, including Elaine Donnelly, the president of the Center for Military Readiness, which is a front group for returning this nation to the days of arch-patriarchy. She said:
Physical differences between men and women do matter. If the purpose of the change is to help with career advancement and diversity, it’s fine. But if the purpose is to help better defend the country, then it’s divorced from reality.
Let us actually address this one somewhat. Taking the typical- and non-elite- Celtic warrior, they often wore into combat a chain-mail shirt and leggings, a helm made out of plates of metal, a shield made out of wood covered in metal plates or sometimes just solid metal, a spear, and a sword. Now, a long sword weighs about three pounds, a short sword is about two and a half, a falcatta (a special type of curved sword) weighs five pounds. A shield is bulky and heavy, often weighing a good five to ten pounds. Chain-mail is heavy as well, often coming in at over a hundred pounds. So, you are talking well over a hundred pounds worth of gear, and this does not include the pack that a warrior carried for their food and gear. What is more, women were expected to be able to wear such items and carry such packs.
Then comes the secondary reality, while women are, by and large, slightly weaker than men in upper body strength, women tend to be stronger in lower body strength and have a lower center of gravity than men. So, all sexism aside, women are more than likely going to do just fine in combat.
The rest of the article can be read at MS Magazine, and is worth it.
The time is right for the military to just get the shocks over at one time. They should go ahead and finish up the repeal of DADT, allow women in combat, and craft rules that will allow transpeople to serve in the military openly in the future.