The question of whether women should be in the military or not is debatable and many arguments can be presented both, in its favor or against it and this paper presents such arguments in a precise manner. The paper starts with a historical background on the presence of women in the military and how they evolved through various traditional roles to their current roles over their time spent in the military domain. The paper also looks briefly at the military status of women in different countries and moves on to discuss the U.S. military policies related to the subject. Different statistics and surveys have been presented, followed by an argument presenting both sides of the issue and finally a conclusion, which is based on my personal opinion.
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Men and women are two separate genders that together make this world go round. Both have their roles and jobs to perform, they have their characteristics as part of their nature which define their core personalities and help them perform their tasks in a particular manner. Men are the stronger gender and are designated to play the stronger roles in life, both mentally and physically whereas women are the fairer sex who is not as strong as men and therefore differences exist between both by many different means. In earlier days, the roles for both genders were well defined but now the boundaries are growing blurred with time, this is also valid for the different professions that they adopt.
Typically, the women were formerly more likely meant to be teachers or doctors because of their caring nature, and men were more likely destined to be engineers or pilots because of their low emotional involvement with tasks but now things are not that way any longer. Now, women and men both perform a variety of tasks and the presence of both genders is equally visible in different professions. This provision of equal opportunities for both genders has been further promoted by laws against discrimination and practices that encourage diversity. Besides, there is a call by women for their liberty and empowerment. Today, women are very much a part of the world where once only men prevailed and they are trying their best to fulfill the demands of their new roles. Yet, there are some roles and professions that prefer to continue with the traditional genders that were meant for them because of different reasons which make that particular gender more preferable and one such profession and role that remains to be decided is that of women in the military.
Background of women in American military
Women have been assisting in the military even before World War I but chiefly as nurses and aids except for a few who were directly involved in the operations of the battles. In World War I, the first enlisted women served as operators of radio and telephone, clerks and translators. The first time when women became members of the regular military was in World War II when each service had its own women’s corps under the direct supervision of female officers; Women’s Army Corps (WACs) was the first of these units enlisting 400,000 women to work in different jobs so that men could be freed to fight. After the Women’s Services Integration Act of 1948, a lasting place for women was established in every branch of the military but still restricted promotions were given to female officers and there was a ban on women from not only taking part in jobs of ground combat but also from appearing on most Naval ships and Air Force aircraft (“CRF”, 2000).
With time, more jobs opened in the military for women, together with some jobs in combat. The first female cadets entered service academies in 1976 and soon, female officers began commanding men. In 1978, the Women’s Army was dissolved as a result of the assimilation of women into the regular Army through the provision of various non-combat roles (“CRM”, 1997). This was followed in 1993 by lifting of bans that were in place to prevent women from serving aboard Navy warships and combat aircraft in action. Today, women have 92 percent of all career fields available to them in the military except for positions in infantry and tank combat units (“CRF”, 2000).
Current role of women in U.S. military
Today, the women in the military are playing important roles like serving patients in the form of doctors, looking after legal matters as lawyers, flying aircraft as pilots, operating heavy equipment, controlling air traffic, serving military police, and many others except that it has not been this way forever. According to Gen. Wilma L. Vaught, a retired Air Force Brig., it took women over 220 years and many efforts by women to arrive at their present plateau in military service. The professions for women have evolved from those related to cooking, laundering, and nursing without any rank, to stronger and masculine ones like ranked officials, operators of heavy equipment, administrators, etc. (Williams, 1998).
In the U.S. military, the capabilities of women are utilized and integrated through providing them support roles and tasks in the required services. Although there are no laws to prohibit women from serving “in combat” but there are ones to do so from assigning women permanently in Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force to ships and aircraft occupied in a combat mission. In absence of laws, Army and other services have adopted policies that further restrict the part that women may play in the military (“Eserver”, 2005).
Women and military in different countries
In the UK, there is a policy that restricts women soldiers from taking part in frontline combat roles and this ban will stay in effect despite a two-year-long review on the issue of women serving in infantry or tank crews. This policy will not put the combat effectiveness at risk by bringing women as members of all-male combat-fighting units and starting an irresponsible experiment, as said by some of the top military officials (“BBC”, 2002).
Other countries have also an increased number of women and job opportunities for them in the military. For example:
- On combat ships, seagoing positions were opened to women of the British Royal Navy in January 1990
- Most of the NATO nations except Italy and Spain do not exclude women from the military but instead have either no combat exclusion laws or policies or statutory restrictions with selected policies.
- Canada and Denmark train women as fighter pilots.
- Japan’s Self-Defense Forces are served by approximately 6,000 women in support roles (“Eserver”, 2005)
Statistics and surveys
More than 229,000 women are serving in military services on active duty. The percentage of women taking part in U.S. military personnel has increased, the available statistics show that there was an increase of 6.9% from 1973 to 1980and a further increase of 2.3% in the next eight years. Amongst these women, 15 percent are officers and it is the same ratio for military men overall (“Eserver”, 2005).
Besides, the legislations and policies in place, public opinion surveys also verify that the U.S. citizens encourage the participation of women in the military sturdily but not in direct, ground, hand-to-hand combat. The last survey regarding ‘attitudes concerning women in the military was conducted in 1982 by National Opinion Research Center (NORC) and the results of the survey demonstrated a vigorous public approval of the presence of women in the military where maintenance or increase in proportion was desired by Eighty-four percent of the respondents, 81 percent considered the augmented attendance of women had not reduced efficiency of the military and merely 35 percent favored hand-to-hand combat for women. The survey also showed tremendous support for women to serve in traditionally female jobs like nursing which exposes them to battle (“Eserver”, 2005).
A survey of the current armed forces personnel showed that ‘79 percent of enlisted women and 73 percent of officers thought women should be allowed to volunteer for combat roles’ but when it came to volunteering for combat arms, it was denied by ‘70 percent enlisted women, 79 percent non-commissioned officers, and 71 percent commissioned officers’. In response to another question asking for the similarity between standards of combat readiness for both men and women, 52 percent of men wanted the standards to be similar while 81 percent of women wanted them to be diverse (“CRM”, 1997).
Policies related to women in the military
Currently, there are different policies in action that limit the role of women in frontline combat yet they are present in visible numbers in the military because of other alternative jobs available. A brief review of the major segments of the military concerning the presence of women and current policies is given below:
- ‘active-duty women: 86000 (11 percent of the active-duty force)
- Jobs currently open to women: 52 percent ‘
Women are excluded from positions where it is obvious to have daily involvement in direct combat, as a part of the policy of the Army, even though no statute overtly bars their assignment in the Army (“Eserver”, 2005).
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- ‘active-duty women: 57000 (10 percent of the active-duty force)
- Jobs currently open to women: 59 percent ‘
The statute and Navy policy both restrict the job assignments for Navy women by prohibiting them from serving on combat ships or flying combat aircraft; though they may be assigned temporarily to combat ships or to Navy auxiliary ships, training ships, or civilian contract ships (“Eserver”, 2005).
- ‘active-duty women: 77000 (14 percent of the active-duty force)
- Jobs currently open to women: 97 percent ‘
The statute prohibits women from serving in aircraft busy with a combat mission except when they are professionals like doctors, dentists, chaplains, and other similar ones (“Eserver”, 2005).
The presence of women can be seen almost everywhere in the current U.S. military where they perform diverse roles like flying aircraft, driving trucks through insecure areas, hauling automatic weapons to more traditional ones like nurses and doctors. The only place where they have been barred by law to be present is in units where the job is going out and embracing the enemy in combat like the infantry and artillery batteries. But today, there exists only a thin line between jobs that are combat and non-combat, where an absence of a front line may result in any unit get involved in a firefight any second, especially in a place like Iraq (Pessin, 2005).
The policies enacted by the Department Of Defense are not meant to protect women from all warfare, but only to restrict their exposure to a lesser level than direct combat. At certain times, even the non-combat positions may be closed to women based on the risk of exposure to direct combat, hostile fire, or capture. Another thing that is used to determine combat position is the type, degree, and duration of risk to evaluate if it is equal to or greater than that experienced by related combat units (of similar land, sea, or air type) in a similar situation (“NHC”, 2008).
“They endured the same living conditions, duties, and responsibilities …. They performed professionally and without friction or special consideration.”
US Marine Officer
Women are found in the military in different roles, yet, the argument continues over what they should do and what they should not.
It has been argued by Elaine Donnelly, a former adviser to President Bush that restrictions regarding the position of women in combat roles are important as this exposes them to the risk of enemy rape and sexual abuse, thus providing an unequal opportunity to survive. This is true that the threat of sexual assault diminishes every woman’s life, no matter where she is but restricting them from professional opportunities in the military is less likely to reduce the international epidemic of violence against them (Ackmann, 2003).
The U.S. Army has been accused by some people of going beyond the rules or even breaking them by placing women in such units where they have to venture out on patrol and then face fair chances of coming across enemy ambushes. For some people like Ms.Donelly, the issue of military women in combat is not only about physical strength but also about ethics and law (Pessin, 2005).
Americans are a civilized nation and therefore according to Ms. Donelly “Civilized nations do not subject women to combat violence. We sometimes don’t have a choice about sending young men into war, but we do have a choice about young women. And we decided as a commission, in the majority, to say that, ‘No, violence against women, we do not endorse that. We support women in the military, but we don’t have to submit them to direct violence in combat.’” (Pessin, 2005)
Though it has been admitted by male military officers that women have performed as well and with a great amount of commitment in the army and in a situation where they have been exposed to combat positions (Pessin, 2005).
When women die in large numbers as in situations like war and people are more sensitive and overwhelmingly sad about this issue as compared to the death of men and the reason being that women are child-bearers- the carrier of life. Just like they are not allowed to play a rough game like football, similarly, they are not encouraged to join in combats.
Most people are concerned with protecting the life of females except for radical feminists who are incumbent upon achieving a utopian dream of women standing in place of men; a woman in a military uniform fighting in the war field is considered an ultimate vision. Bringing women in the military wearing uniforms exposes them to unnecessary risk as they might be at any point exposed to combat situations (Pawlik, 2003).
Thus, several arguments can be gathered on the matter related to serving women in the military but amongst all the arguments, one thing is apparent and that is women should serve in the military the debatable portion of this is only whether they should take part in frontline combats or not. Most of the arguments, surveys, and statistics support the military policy of barring women from the frontline combat positions because of many reasons like their fragile physical structure which carries with it the ability to give birth, the attraction of men towards them which may result in distraction and hence reduced effectiveness on the battle-fields. Besides women are also exposed to the risk of sexual assault and harassment because of their gender; all these things naturally make women stand at a disadvantage as compared to men when it comes to frontline combat on battlefields.
We have seen how the roles of women have evolved in the military from the First World War to this day, from their roles as nurses or attendants to those of drivers, communicators, instructors, and many more. The woman is a gender that deserves equal rights as that of men and for this right, they have struggled and come a long way; they have taken over many masculine roles and are no longer limited to being housewives or mothers only.
In my opinion, there are certain roles that nature has assigned to both genders, and those roles are meant specifically to be performed by them for example, women are meant to rear and nurture children and no man can be as good at it as them, similarly, men can physically perform tough jobs and most of the women cant match their strength. Women deserve to be respected by the opposite gender and not vice versa which may happen on the battlefields. Women indeed have remarkable strength and patience that sometimes even a man can’t match with but they have alternate options available to channel their strength rather than go and combat on the battlefields. Combating with the enemies should be left to men and women should support them through other jobs in the military but going to frontline combat is not an option, no matter how strong they might be.
Ackmann, M. 2003, ‘Restricting Women’s Military Role Hurts All’, Newsday.com, Web.
BBC 2002, ‘Should women be allowed to serve in combat?’ Web.
CRF 2000, ‘EQUAL OPPORTUNITY IN THE MILITARY’, Bill of Rights in Action, Web.
CRM 1997, ‘Women in the Military’, Issues Tearing Our Nation’s Fabric, Web.
Eserver 2005, ‘Facts About Women in the Military, 1980-1990’, Web.
NHC 2008, ‘Women in U.S. Military during Desert Shield/Desert Storm’, Web.
Pawlik, A. 2003, ‘ Jessica Lynch:Proof that women should not be in the military’, Web.
Pessin, A. 2005, ‘Role of Women in US Military Gets Renewed Debate’, Web.
Williams, R. 1998, ‘Military Women Take 200-Year Trek Toward Respect, Parity’, Web.