Since I joined the army approximately twenty years ago (I won’t be getting any more specific for obvious reasons), I have seen vast cultural shifts in not only America, but the military as well. There was a time when the term “gay-bashing” was par for the course. It was crude, but it wasn’t out of the norm, especially for a military culture that openly denigrated homosexuals yet would often engage with one another in the most bizarre, homoerotic behavior. Even this was ok as long as you didn’t say, “I’m uncomfortable” and suddenly “make it weird” for everyone; as if being uncomfortable with your friend putting his genitals on you made YOU the weird one. I can’t even remember what that era felt like because it’s so foreign to the world I now live in. A conversation about women in special operations was almost non-existent back then. The actual conversation was about whether a woman belonged in the military AT ALL. There was never a shortage of opinions, and there still aren’t. As the information age radically changed, and the amount of information available at a person’s fingertips quickly became unlimited, so too did the ideas and norms we held sacred. Even still, I rarely interact with individuals who argue, for or against, based on legitimate ideas regarding the success or failure of women in military operations. The same tired stereotypes which existed back then still exist today, so I’m going to lay this idea of women in the military out, specifically as it pertains to special operations, and hopefully my thoughts will make sense.
Bear with me really quick while I acknowledge the stereotypes I’ve been graced with over the years. “Women are the weaker sex, women aren’t equipped to deal with the realities of combat like a man, women bleed out of their vagina once a month which will compromise their ability to maintain long term readiness in a warzone, women will get raped by savage men when they’ve gone too long without sex, men can’t handle seeing women die on the battlefield and they’ll be psychologically compromised, favoring protecting a woman vs. accomplishing the mission, and for my all time favorite, if a man goes down on the battlefield, a woman won’t be strong enough to drag him or carry him out.” I’m sure there are more. This list isn’t all inclusive, but it hits the majority of what I’ve heard tossed around and bantered about over the years.
Yes, women are the physically weaker sex. It’s not prejudiced to say that, it’s simply fact. A man produces testosterone at a much higher level, and this leads to higher growth rates of muscle mass and endurance than a woman is capable of achieving naturally. There are ALWAYS individual exceptions. There isn’t a single female professional athlete, in any sport, that I would be able to compete with, and beat them, at what they do for instance. A man who doesn’t train his body can’t simply rely on his hardwiring to propel him to victory. Likewise, a woman can train rigorously for a task and dominate her opponent if she’s out trained him. (It’s important to keep this in the context of individuals who are comparable in physical proportion.) However, if a man and woman train evenly for the same physical task, the man will be physically superior based on his genetic makeup alone. If this bothers you, stop reading. I’m not having an argument on the biological ground rules. They are set in stone, and that’s simply the way it is. Saying women have periods is also biological fact, and it doesn’t make them a liability in combat; period. No, gents, a pack of bears are not going to descend on your position because of the blood. It’s a stupid argument, moving on… The idea of men suddenly getting all rapey because they’re confined with a woman, well, I honestly don’t know how to address that. If this is your friend, your troop, or even a superior, then you need to deal with that issue whether a woman is in your squad or not. I don’t need a violent predator on my team who might compromise the mission. There is something to be said for a man’s instinctive drive to protect women and how that will affect them on the battlefield. Will that have some sort of fallout effect on mission accomplishment and cause a man to lose his senses? No; that’s absolutely absurd. Find someone who’s engaged in combat and watched a squad member, male or female, die in front of them, and ask them if they were emotionally compromised to complete the mission. Of course they were. How each person handles that moment, or the moments after, is vastly different. I can guarantee it wasn’t the sex that affected them emotionally. Finally, my favorite, we’ll address a woman’s ability to carry a man off the battlefield. STFU. If this is something you’ve said, you clearly haven’t thrown a hundred and eighty pound human being over your shoulders loaded out with fifty pounds of kit. This is a difficult task for anyone, and we’re calling women to the mat on this? Find me a man who can accomplish this task, and I can just as easily find a woman who can as well. It’s almost impossible to heft dead weight on your shoulders while they’re lying motionless on the ground. Dragging them is also a difficult task, though men might very well be more adept at this task if we take into account the biological hardwiring we discussed and the initial results from this last year’s ACFT (Army Combat Fitness Test) which were disheartening and eye opening all at once, but I digress. Often, injured soldiers are dragged/carried by multiple people anyways. Having addressed all of these common arguments, which fall flat on their face in regard to the nature of warfare we’re faced with today, I will discuss the one area I believe does impact our ability to integrate but also why I don’t feel it should be a limiting factor when integrating women into combat arms.
Men are pack animals. Every man who reads this knows what the dynamic feels like when it’s just the guys vs. when women are present. For lack of a better term, I will simply say men partake in an age old act I call “peacocking.” Men will be completely normal around each other. As soon as a woman is injected into the situation, a weird energy takes over. I could probably write an entire book on the various situations and resulting actions that take place, but for the sake of keeping this blog from running off the rails, I’ll just say that guys will often try to one up each other when women are around, even if it’s with friends and very subtle. There is one exception, however. When it’s a group of people who have known each other for a long time, the effects I’ve just described GREATLY diminish. If a crew is tightknit enough, then those issues will be non-existent entirely. This is why co-ed basic training has so many ridiculous issues. Take thousands of eighteen year olds, testosterone fueled men who don’t know each other, then throw in a bunch of random women, and watch the stupidity ensue. On the other hand, like I just mentioned with the tightknit groups, a seasoned team of soldiers who’ve learned each other’s characteristics and have trained for a period of time, will have erased this dynamic through their long term interaction almost in its entirety. This leads into discussing women in special operations.
Very recently, the first women was awarded the coveted Special Forces Tab and Green Beret for the first time in history. (There was actually a woman forty years ago, CPT Kate Wilder, who finished the course but was denied the ability to serve as a Special Forces Soldier. I’ll let you look that up for yourself.) To add to this, several women have been awarded the Ranger Tab over the last several years, and the congratulations seem to be far outweighed by the boo’s and cries of “they lowered the standards.” Have you seen some of the dudes running around with Ranger Tabs these days? I’m to think that a well trained female is so weak in her nature that she can’t hold par with some of these beta specimens running around our formations? I can’t buy that argument anymore. I’ve served alongside some hardass women who I would never second guess. I’m not going to start now. I also happen to know one of the Ranger Instructors who had a woman go through while he was instructing, and I trust him when he says there was no lowering of standards or pressure from above to give unfair grading so they’d pass. Simply put, there are plenty of women who can do the same job we’re asking of men, and they can do it just as well. Every time another stereotype is knocked down and proven wrong, it quickly diminishes into the void where all ignorant tropes eventually find a home.
Women will integrate as well into combat arms as they have with everything else they’ve been told they couldn’t do, and the arguments regarding their role won’t exist in twenty years, just as no one cares if a homosexual is serving alongside them anymore either. Culturally, we make up fear based “facts” to safeguard our notions of what should and shouldn’t be. However, more so than the digital/information age, it’s been our experience with women in our units over the last two decades, fighting side by side with us like we’ve never had in our history, that has knocked down the beliefs that they were somehow “less than.” Embrace the reality of the integrated world we live in. There are always going to be arguments people hold on to and hold up as a reason to keep the “no girls allowed” sign on the clubhouse door, but factually speaking, that sign fell off the door a long time ago when stories of women laying suppressive fire, calling for fire, and leading troops against complex attacks in the Global War on Terror circulated in the headlines. One standard is one standard. If it is met, then gender is irrelevant. Fail to meet the standard, then head through the same exit door that everyone else has. Barring people from combat roles because of their sex can no longer be a deciding factor that finds any refuge in our military, and it won’t. Accept that our teams are integrating. The nature of modern warfare demands it.