Women in history […] problem of women in the military, and offer a solution to the problem. Historically, women have not served as members of the military for a number of reasons. Traditionally, society views women as weaker than men, physically and emotionally, and so they are deemed unfit for combat. There are a variety of other reasons many people oppose women in the military, as well. Women play a vital role in military operations, and have served in combat in many other countries (notably Israel), very successfully. If women choose to join the military and play an active role in America’s defense, they should be able to serve in combat or non-combat situations.
The problem with women in the military has many causes and issues. Today, women serve in the military in combat and non-combat roles, but women still do not participate in ground combat, and they are not stationed on combat Naval vessels. In the past, there was a ceiling on how many women can enter and serve in the military at any time (two percent of the total military), and in some branches of the service, women are banned from all combat roles (the Army and Marine Corps). One military writer notes, “Even today, though, the official policy of the Army and Marine Corps excludes women from combat which precludes 12% of skilled positions and 39% of the total positions” (Willens). Thus, women can serve in the military in many roles, but active combat is not one of them.
This is an issue for a number of reasons. First, many women want to serve their country and fight for it, rather than serve in behind the scenes functions. Second, because women do not serve in active combat roles in many areas of the armed forces, they do not face the threat of a draft, and many people feel that is unfair. More importantly, women in the military face several challenges their male counterparts do not face, such as pregnancy, menstruation, sexual harassment, the need to leave children at home for long periods of time, and gender issues. These issues can create emotional and physical barriers to a woman’s performance, and they are perhaps the most contentious problems with women in the military.
It may seem that women are the only people involved in this problem, but that is not the case. Many military men oppose women in the military for a variety of reasons, and the families of women in the military are involved, as well. For example, women who serve in the military must be away from home for long periods of time, leaving children and spouses to care for themselves. While this is true for men in the military, traditionally men take less of a leadership role in caring for the family, and so their presence is missed, but not as much as the mother is missed if she is a member of the armed services.
The consequences of the problem are varied. First, many women want to play a more active, combative role in the military, but are barred from many combat positions. Second, if women do gain combat status, many believe they should also face the draft if one is instituted, and that could pose a problem for many women with families and responsibilities who do not want to serve in the military. A majority of women do not seek military careers, and this might create hardships for these women and their families.
In addition, many people feel women are not as physically and emotionally geared for combat as men. Traditionally, women are the nurturers and mothers in society, rather than the protectors, and so, many people feel women are not suited for the rigors of combat duty. Pregnancy and menstruation can also create psychical barriers for some women, who could not serve in combat roles during times of pregnancy or menstruation. Thus, women face several decisions about military service and their own physical limitations. Many women do not suffer health problems like these, and so they do not feel these issues are valid. The ultimate consequences of these issues are varied, as well. Many women are fully capable of handling themselves in combat situations. However, some women could find themselves under pressure or unable to handle certain physical situations and they could technically but the other members of their unit in jeopardy. Thus, the problem of women in the military is many-faceted and must be solved if women are to serve in combat in the military.
Historically, women have served in many military organizations, especially in times or revolution or crisis. Another author notes, “In the past, the few cases of the mobilization of women into combat units were not so much the result of premeditation as the result of the sheer presence of circumstances. Women were armed when the homeland was invaded or when survival of a sociopolitical movement was at stake” (Goldman xii). There are also cases of women dressing and men and fighting in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars (Willens). However, in peace times, women have rarely served in the military until fairly recent times, and then, only in non-combative roles. It is only recently that many areas of combat have opened up to women, including flying air attack helicopters.
One problem historically affecting women in the military is the draft. Military author Willens continues, “Some argue that, should combat slots be open to women, women may be subjected to the draft. The male only draft was considered to be constitutional in 1981 in the Rockster V Goldberg case, largely because the draft was viewed as a way to fill combat slots — slots from which women were barred” (Willens). Many women feel that women cannot truly gain an equal foothold with men anywhere if they do not take the same risks men take, and that includes serving in the military.
Women have not served in the military in the past because of worries about their physical capabilities, but also, society has traditionally viewed women as weaker than men. Women are traditionally the mothers and nurturers who maintain the “home fires” for the men who go off to war. Separate military branches, such as the WACS and WAVES were not established until 1942 during World War II, and women served in very specific, non-combative roles. In 1948, women’s service was integrated with men’s in the “Women’s Armed Services Integration Act,” and it was this Act that limited their numbers to two percent of the overall military enlistment. It was not until 1991 that flight restrictions for women were lifted, allowing them to fly in some combat situations, and more limits were repealed in 1994, defining what jobs women could and could not hold in the armed services (Willens). Thus, there is a long history of women not serving in the military, and it is only in recent history that women have played such an active role in the armed forces.
There is another darker side to the problem of women in the military, and that is sexual harassment and abuse. Two female soldiers were taking prisoner during the first Gulf War and sexually abused, and young women have been abused in some of the nation’s military academies as well. The story does not end there. One study of 537 female veterans found,
Seventy-nine percent reported experiences of sexual harassment during their military service; 54%, unwanted sexual contact; 21%, physical violence solely within the context of rape; and 36%, threatened or completed physical assault (30% completed), with 23% citing physical assault outside the context of rape or domestic violence (“Violence against Women in” 14).
Thus, the biggest problem for women in the military may not be where they serve, but the men they serve with. Many women testified the environment of the military favors a male-dominant role, and encourages the subjugation of women, even fellow soldiers (“Violence against Women in” 14). How to solve this problem may be the biggest challenge facing the military and women serving in the military.
How does America solve the problem of women in the military? Opening up combat jobs for women who desire them makes sense. If they can train for them and succeed, they should be able to fill the same roles as men. The Israeli Defense Forces has successfully integrated women into its ranks not only since the formation of Israel, but historically long before that. Women play a vital and equal role in Jewish history, and they have always aided in the defense of their nation (Goldman 137). While they do not serve in combat roles, all 18-year-old women must serve two years in the Israeli Army, and most young Israeli women welcome the chance to serve their country. However, Israel is the only country in the world that requires women serve in its armed forces (Goldman 152). Some women might not be psychically strong enough to endure all the rigors of combat, but many women are, and if they desire a full military career, including combat, they should have one. Author Goldman continues, “Rather than assuming that all women are incapable of performance by virtue of the average woman’s lack of capability, specific requirements should serve as the selection criteria, not gender” (Goldman 271). Gender should not matter if it does not matter to the women who want to join.
The government could open up more combat jobs to women to help solve the problem, and women who were interested in combat positions should be encouraged to serve in the armed forces. Indeed, in their own study, the government found that with the right training, women’s physical capabilities can increase. Another author notes, “An Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine report (January 26, 1996) shows that intensive training of motivated women can increase their physical abilities” (Jernigan 51). Thus, physical limitations are simply an excuse many people use to argue against women in the military. Even the military itself recognizes these characteristics can change with training.
How does the military solve the problem of sexual harassment and abuse in the military? First, the entire male-dominated network of the military needs to shift. While control and discipline should be prime concerns in the military, there should also be a code of respect and honor for fellow soldiers – male or female. Another writer notes that the military is shaped by domination and force, and these are used against women targets, even if they are fellow soldiers. She writes, “These values emphasize the use of force and domination to solve problems even sometimes at the expense of the people constituting the nation” (Toktas). Women should be welcomed into the ranks and appreciated for the skills they can offer, rather than for sexual roles and targets of abuse.
As for abuse, women who take an active combat role are aware of the risks that come with that role, just as men are. Men can be tortured and raped as well by enemy forces, and men in combat understand that. If women choose a combat role, they should be aware of the many facets of that role, including abuse by the enemy if they are captured. It is not a pleasant side of war, but war is never pleasant.
In conclusion, the problem of women in the military is not as problematic as one might think. Many women would like to take an active role in the armed services to serve and protect their country, but are prohibited by many regulations and societal pressures. Women who desire a military service career should not be denied. In a day when the armed services are all having difficulties finding qualified recruits, they need to open up other options. A draft for women is not necessary, but allowing women to choose combat or non-combat roles when they enter the armed services is the fair and right thing to do for women and the defense of the nation.
Goldman, Nancy Loring, ed. Female Soldiers — Combatants or Noncombatants?: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1982.
Jernigan, Pat. “Women at War: Gender Issues of Americans in Combat.” Minerva: Quarterly Report on Women and the Military 19.1 (2001): 51.
Marley, David John. “Phyllis Schlafly’s Battle against the ERA and Women in the Military.” Minerva: Quarterly Report on Women and the Military 18.2 (2000):
Toktas, Sule. “Nationalism, Militarism and Gender Politics: Women in the Military.” Minerva: Quarterly Report on Women and the Military 20.2 (2002): 29+.
Violence against Women in the Military.” USA Today (Society for the Advancement of Education) Aug. 2001:
Weinstein, Laurie, and Christie C. White, eds. Wives and Warriors: Women and the Military in the United States and Canada. Westport, CT: Bergin & Garvey, 1997.
Willens, Jake. “Women in the Military: Combat Roles Considered.” Center for Defense Information. 1996. 22 April 2007. http://www.cdi.org/issues/women/combat.html
All sources (except Internet citations) can be found at www.questia.com.
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