Women in the United States have long fought for the right to be included in many facets of society, from the right to vote to breaking into professions like the medical field and other traditionally all-male fields to getting females elected to major government offices. But one of the most intriguing questions of integration has yet to be fully answered, to equally allow women to have the right, the honor, and the privilege of serving and defending their country as part of the United States Armed Forces. Being in the military means prestige, honor, pride, and the sheer satisfaction that comes along with engaging what is considered one of the most valiant and traditionally revered professions on the face of the Earth.
There has always been and Submarine Leadership continues to be considerable debate in this country as to exactly what extent women should be allowed to serve their country, and what the effects and trade-offs of such integration might be. Sex scandals such as what happened at the Las Vegas’ Tailhook convention in 1991, where dozens of servicewomen were accosted and sexually molested by servicemen or the misconduct of former Lt. Kelly Flinn, the Air Force’s first female B-52 bomber pilot, who faced court-martial in 1997 for military charges of adultery, have served to raise questions about military integration. Can female and male military personnel be combined without the military losing some of its effectiveness? Can women be as good at being soldiers, sailors, naval aviators and fighter pilots as men? Should women be allowed in the line of fire and in direct combat? What role should sexual harassment and fraternization play in the combination of women into the military?
The real question, essentially, is whether or not women can serve in any military capacity at all. The issue the United States faces at present is to decide for itself whether or not women should be allowed in combat. That is, in every major war until World War II, thousands of women served in the military in traditional roles such as nurses, office staff, and the like. But as WWII broke out, sheer need, often the best equal opportunity employer, led to the creation of the Women’s Army Corps (WAC), the Navy’s Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service (WAVES), the Coast Guard’s Semper Paratus: Always Ready (SPARs), which is their motto. The Marines and what was to later become the Air Force also began to accept women applicants, (Moskos 2).
In 1976, the three service academies; the United States Naval Academy, the United States Air Force Academy, and the United States Military Academy all accepted their first class of women. While it was long debated whether women could compete and excel in the kind of environment that service academies are known for, at least the scholastic questions were answered when one of the female cadets at West Point was recently named the valedictorian of her graduating class.
In October 1997, the United States government dedicated a new memorial at the Arlington War Memorial in Arlington, VA. Named the Women in Military Service for America Memorial, it was the first national monument of its kind that, like Arlington itself, recognized those who fought and died in the protection of their country. Women have faced two fights when it came to the Armed Services, the first being the right and honor of serving their country and secondly on the battlefield itself. While women are now capable of being both enlisted personnel and officers in the military, a new question arises – should the role of women in the military finally be expanded to allow them to fight for their country in direct combat?
Many experts argue that when it comes to women in the military, there are over-riding reasons why the proverbial line must be drawn when it comes to making women part of America’s combat force. Among the most strenuous objections to the proposed integration comes from male officers and enlisted men themselves, whose primary fear is that this proposed change would have the potentially cataclysmic effect of significantly weakening the effectiveness of the U.S. military.
They say that this change could cause a decline in the cohesion and the effectiveness of the troops, elements that could quite literally mean the difference between life and death. Among the reasons commonly cited for their belief that the nation’s defenses would suffer are: a belief that women are simply physically incapable of the tasks and strains that come along with combat, the risk of sexual misconduct that accompanies the combination in close proximity of young men and young women for long periods of time, the incalculable expense of accommodating women onboard combat vessels, and the risks and consequences of pregnancy.
In a report to Congress entitled “Summary of Presidential Commission Findings and Record in Support of Alternative Views”, it was pointed out that the need for a superior military, which are the needs of the nation, must outweigh any civil rights claim no matter how noble or seemingly justified. “Civil society protects individual rights, but the military, which protects civil society, must be governed by different rules, civilian society forbids employment discrimination, but lives and combat missions might be put at risk by service members who cannot meet the demands of the battlefield, the military must be able to choose those most able to survive, fight and win,” (Congress 1, 75).
Most studies show that women are biologically weaker than men. They are smaller in stature and have weaker skeletons and upper bodies and cannot do as much as men. Combat not only pushes people to their emotional and mental limits, it can also be inordinately physically demanding as well. A test of Army officer candidates showed that “only one woman out of 100 could meet a physical standard achieved by 60 out of 100 men,” (Congress 2, 59).
Likewise there is the question of whether or not women would be able to handle the physical strain of fighter planes. “Aviators on combat missions must maintain situational awareness on all sides while coping with repeated exposure to high G force; i.e., up to 9Gs in the Air Force, 7.5Gs in Navy aircraft,” (Congress 1, 77). It has not yet been proven whether or not the female body can sustain exposure to this severe stress for long periods of time, but it is believed that very few women are strong enough to survive this magnitude of force.
It is also believed that women generally are less able to lift large weights than men because of their smaller upper bodies. Heavy lifting jobs onboard ship such as the transportation of bombs and missiles which previously were done by four men are now assigned to teams of five or six people of mixed gender to do the same task, (Congress 1, 176). On board ship, they say, this kind of redistribution of manpower is not only expensive, it is nearly tactically impossible. At sea, every man counts, and having two people do one man’s job is not an option. Likewise in the Army, cadets and soldiers often need to carry almost 100 pounds of weight over rough terrain for several miles, both in training and in battle. People argue that the physical inferiority of women would make them costs rather than assets in the ranks of combat.
It is said that when he was asked what he thought of the Battle of the Sexes, Gerald Ford said that there could never truly be a Battle of the Sexes as long as there is so much “sleeping with the enemy”. This points out what people say is a real fact of life, if you put men and women together for long periods of time, even if there is no actual sexual misconduct, the risk and implication of impropriety will always exist. A recently released science-fiction movie, Starship Troopers, portrayed a futuristic view of the Armed Forces, including a scene where men and women who were about to go into combat together even shared communal showers with no stigmatism whatsoever.