Last week U.S. Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta announced that the United States military would allow female soldiers to participate in combat and serve on the frontlines. It’s a landmark decision in the battle for sexual equality and it’s a decision that some argue is long overdue.
But not everyone is on board with the controversial decision.
In fact, many critics revived the conventional arguments against allowing women to participate in combat in the first place.
“Let’s get real,” wrote the Globe and Mail’s Margaret Wente, “Women cannot equal men in ground combat, the kind of dirty, brutal stuff that (fortunately) makes up a very minor part of modern military life, especially post-Afghanistan.”
Wente made an all-too-familiar argument against allowing women to fight in war — that the physical differences that exist between men and women are too great and represent an impossible obstacle to achieving true parity on the battlefield.
“Men are better fighters because they are bigger and stronger and can endure far more physical punishment before they break down,” she wrote.
In addition, women have the unfortunate luck of getting pregnant at the most inconvenient times — and often do while serving their country.
Wente appears unnecessarily alarmist. As an article in National Geographic points out, there are eight countries, including Canada, Germany and Australia, that have already made the decision to let women serve on the frontlines. Chaos has not ensued as a result of that practice.
Wente may be overstating the influence of the decision too. The idea that thousands of ill-prepared, fragile women are going to be suited and booted and sent out to war doesn’t appear to square with how the decision will be implemented.
As CBC.ca reports, Panetta made it clear that while women will be permitted to enter combat units, they still have to qualify for service.
He added that current standards for that qualification would be applied equally — both men and women have to make the same cut in order to serve.
Does that defeat opponents who say women just aren’t made for war? No. But the women who enlist and who, by virtue of their determination (both mental and physical), still make the cut should be at least given the credit they deserve. Not only have the proved their mettle — they proved it in despite of their perceived limitations too.