Last week, the US military officially ended the ban on female combat roles. Due to promotion within the infantry requiring combat experience, women have until now been effectively precluded from rising up the military ranks, which makes this news welcome in more ways than one. But before they've even had the opportunity to face attacks on foreign soil, women face a battlefield at home as people take to the press to voice their (largely negative) opinions on the matter.
Serendipitously, I happened to watch Ridley Scott's intellectual masterpiece G.I. Jane last night. I was surprised to realise the 1997 film, starring Demi Moore and her (then newly acquired) enormous fake breasts, deals with almost every issue currently clogging up comment boxes on the internet. What that says to me is either Ridley Scott has a crystal ball or the vast majority of the moaning public haven't managed to come up with anything original or enlightening in 15 years. Fiction it may be, but stick with me on this one.
The arguments against allowing women to serve in combat roles are many. If I were to address them all we could be here till America elects a female president. Actually I could simply point out that women have been serving in combat roles in Israel, Germany and Canada for many years already and be done with it, but let's look at a couple negative opinions anyway. The biggest one appears to be that women are not strong enough. Well, to quote Anne Bancroft in G.I. Jane: "How strong do you have to be to pull a trigger?" (I told you this film had it covered). Yes, men are physically stronger than women. But as Ms Bancroft says, being a good shot is not gender-specific, it's a skill. As are hand to hand combat and military tactics, disciplines in which 'small' can be trained to overcome 'big'. Just ask the Viet Cong.
Some insist that putting men and women together in combat will create sexual tension, resulting in compromised missions. What are they, 12? The rest of us manage to go to work every day without having to hump the person next to us, well, at least not in the middle of an important meeting. I seriously doubt a soldier would be checking out their team mate's arse in the middle of a fire fight. Somehow I think they'd be more concerned with their own arse.
What about integration? Can women penetrate the boy's club? Well I'm sure the same concern was raised about other minorities - blacks, migrants, gays - but over time they managed. With strong leadership, there's no reason women wouldn't do the same. As Guru Ridley helpfully illustrates, G.I. Demi was at first subjected to sexism and efforts turn her team against her, but in the end her determination, intelligence and skills won them over (oh, did I just spoil the ending?). She managed to overcome all sorts of obstacles, not least the obstacles sewn onto her chest. Seriously, how do you crawl around the floor with those? I'm sure every minority has and will continue to face similar obstructions - the prejudice I mean, not the boobs.
So far, no woman has passed the arduous Marine IOC training. But just as not every man is suited for the Marines, neither is every woman. It takes a certain type to want to be a soldier; a ridiculously fit type who is fine with being yelled at, shot at and eating from a ration bag. If G.I. Jane is accurate, it's no wonder that 25% of males drop out. Many believe that no woman will ever pass unless the Marines change the testing standards. By change, they of course mean lower. And if they do that, those pesky forum contributors say lives may be lost. That's a fair point, so the challenge lies with the Marines to come up with gender neutral tests whilst still maintaining skill levels which won't compromise people's safety.
But you know what, all this debate is pointless. There have never been any women in combat roles in the US, so there's no proof it won't work. You can't have a hypothesis and announce a conclusion without research, experiments and analysis of data. It's like saying a flourless, sugarless, eggless cake won't work before you've even thrown a group of ingredients in the mix, put it in an oven and observed what happens. We need to put women in the combat mix. Then when the data is there we can have an opinion. But for now, why don't we all just shut up and let them get on with it?