Women on the Frontline
Following the existing debate on whether or not qualified women are equally entitled to be on the frontlines like men, lots of heated debate is generated. In January 2013, the United States military lifted its ban on women in ground combat positions, a policy that according to the information stated in the sources of Fox News (FoxNews.com) had been in effect since 1994. Skaine mentions that the ground combat positions were defined according to the 1994 policy as “engaging the enemy on the ground with individual or crew-served weapons, while being exposed to hostile fire”. This is the definition to which the above mentioned term ‘frontline’ refers to. The 2013 decision has generated many opposing opinions about the issue. Different factors such as physical strength, emotional complications, and cultural perspectives have been cited as reasons for either supporting or opposing to women being on the frontlines. The present essay will present you with an analysis of these reasons which will be used to highlight that they are beyond any shadow of a doubt the living proof on why women - who possess the required skills and capabilities and have reached the standards of any combat position - should be on the frontlines too. While these reasons have been used on behalf of those opposing to women’s right to find themselves on the frontline, the essay will focus on exactly the opposite argument, proving the power of women’s traits in terms of their physical strength, their emotional complications and their cultural perspectives. The above mentioned reasons are actually a double edged knife and the belief regarding its effect depends on the way one keeps it. These reasons can prove women’s right to demand their positions on the frontlines. Relevant information and support has been derived from published sources which empower the credibility of the argument supporting women being entitled to be on the frontlines in case they wish to.
As far as physical strength is concerned, Waller and Rycenga state in ‘Frontline Feminisms: Women, War and Resistance ’that war is to be seen as ‘a man’s domain which women are not permitted to enter unless they are given permission to do so’. In other words it is argued that women’s physical strength which is less compared to the one of men, leads to them being considered unable to measure up to the extreme demands of the infantry. According to D.B. Grady, this difference in strength is blatantly clear even at the very start of the applications, when men and women undergo a rigorous physical test. D.B. Grandy claims that in the case of a rigolous physical test the perfect score for the ladies is just the passing score for their male counterparts. This may be interpreted as women not possessing enough physical strength required for the ones on the frontlines.
Nevertheless this argument on physical strength cannot be considered a solid one.
Women have been undertaking for centuries jobs which require great physical strength including the military. Researchers have documented the peacemaker role women have held in their nations’ wars. Franks describes the battle for independence in East Timor and women’s participation in the struggle against their oppressor in the article ‘Women and Resistance in East Timor: The Centre as they Say Knows Itself by the Margins’. Franks states that women contributed to the movement thanks to their efforts to remove their enemy as peacefully as possible. In Sierra Leone, non-western women are forced to fight in conflicts whether they wish to or not. This was concluded by Mazurana & Carlson in ‘From Combat to Community: Women and Girls of Sierra Leone.’ Their study showed that women are considered to be peace makers and they are encouraged to join the Civil Defense Forces to work towards a calm solution to local or international problems as well as restore peace when the conflict is over.
Besides there are a number of countries even today in which women are included in their ground troops. Women are capable of going through the same physically intense training as men. In terms of the physical aspect of both sexes, scientific studies show that the physical make-up of men and women doesn’t vary so much. When men and women undergo the same physical training, their response to the stimulus may be differ due to their anatomic makeup. However, s Meth states in ‘Gender Differences in Muscle Morphology’, they both have the “same capacity to build strength when related to the total muscle mass”. Thus, according to Meth, the female body is capable of building the necessary strength as the male counterpart does, given that they undergo the same rigorous physical training. Before such training, Meth states that it is but natural that there would be a difference in strength since prior to the physical test, males and females have different ways of lifting boxes, throwing objects, or carrying loads.
The second reason which is treated as a reason opposing to women being on the frontlines is the emotional and other complications of women. Is it right and justifiable for women’s presence in the military forces to be regarded as a distraction? D.B. Grady says that putting women in close quarters with men, is opening opportunities for romances and relationships, things that members of the infantry are prone to engage in, especially during the downtimes. Hartley in his book ‘Just Another Soldier: A Year on the Ground in Iraq’ explained that women should not be allowed in ground combat because “the average grunt is fairly in touch with his primal self” and is therefore interested only in two things, and these are sex and warfare. The presence of woman, according to what Hartley states, becomes a challenge to the self-control of the soldier. Such an argument is extremely sexist. It is not fair to limit qualified personnel to occupy positions that allow them to contribute greatly to the defense of the country or of innocent lives just because the opposite sex cannot keep his self-control. And besides, the presence of women in the military has already been established. Men and women have already managed to co-exist in extreme conditions side by side. Their trainings would certainly ensure that both men and women are fully equipped to handle various challenges, both primal and environmental.
Notice should be taken on the aspect of cultural perspectives. Those who have expressed opposition to sending women to the frontlines come from both genders. In ‘Women in the British Army: War and the Gentle Sex, 1907-1948’, Lucy Noakes describes how British women have failed to convince male military staff that they are capable of fighting in combat zones. Letters, diaries, poetry, newspaper articles as well as other documents have contributed according to Noakes’ statements to the myth of male supremacy and the need to remain dominant in the future. Noakes supports that men are against women joining the frontlines because there is the perception that doing so would lower the standards as women are perceived as less capable and not strong enough. Noakes refers also to the fact that incidents of rape, pregnancy, extramarital relationships, and sexual harassment have also been documented whereas in the US society, the notions of chivalry, male supremacy, and sexism are still prevalent. According to Noakes’ study and findings, those who oppose to the entrance of women into what is traditionally considered a male domain, may firmly believe that the frontlines are too hazardous for women. The prevailing perspective about the role of women in society is that of being nurturers and caregivers. The image of them carrying high caliber weapons, going to war, hunting the enemy, all go against that picture of warmth from an affectionate mother, a cheerful sister, or a caring aunt. Thus, these perspectives of what should be the roles of men and women within the borders of a society so that social balance can be achieved, are what lies behind the strong opposition against women entering into the male-dominated ground combat domain.
In other countries, women have served on the frontlines for decades. Canada made all positions in the military open to women including combat, in 1989. Skaine also states that Australia, Belgium, South Africa, and South Korea also allow their female soldiers to serve in ground combat. In the US, women have participated in wars since the World War I. Over the centuries and through the different wars that the US have entered, the women’s contribution is by all means not negligible. In the report of Tom Vanden Brook, Pentagon records show that there were already close to 300,000 women serving the war zones at the beginning of the wars launched in Iraq and also in Afghanistan. At this point, women have flown warplanes, and that is already a combat position. For Venice Armour, the long history of women in the military is enough proof that they can handle themselves in the front lines. She was a helicopter pilot in Iraq who was actively engaged in combat. Armour believes that having more women in the military would improve the institution in the aspect of realizing its mission. She emphasizes that opening women’s entry in the front lines is just formalizing what had already been taking place for a long time. Armour insists on the fact that it does not matter whether anyone is male or female as long as he / she gets the job done.
The book of Skaine traced the history and development of women’s participation in combat. She provided biographies of women who have actually participated in ground combat from the US military. The women who have served in combat positions include Specialist (Spc.) Veronica Alfaro of the US Army and Private First Class Monica L. Brown. Alfaro served in Iraq and Brown was a combat medic. Both officers show that women are capable of being in the frontlines and they have been able to do so with honor and excellence. Alfaro received the Bronze Star Medal for Valor in 2008. This award was the US military’s fourth-highest combat award. Brown was likewise awarded for assisting comrades despite being within the line of fire. She received the Silver Star, making her the second woman to receive such an award. The last time this medal was given was in World War II.
As a conclusion women appear to be capable of being on the frontlines. They can achieve the level of physical strength required of those in the infantry since they go through the same as male soldiers training. They can co-exist with male soldiers and serve their posts responsibly. It has already been proven that male and female soldiers can coexist and still do their jobs well, therefore allowing qualified females into the infantry would not present too many challenges that trained men and women cannot handle. Finally, the opposition to women getting into ground combat is driven mainly by traditional perceptions about the roles men and women should maintain in society. These perspectives have already changed.
As Vernice Armour says it all depends on if someone can do the job. According to Armour if one can do the job, then he / she should be out there doing it. Women have the capacity to handle the front lines. History has shown that women have always been an important part of a nation’s military. Countries like Israel, Canada, South Africa, South Korea, Australia and Belgium have women in their military forces, holding even combat positions. The US on the other hand also has capable women in its military force, which has been served on their behalf for a long time. It is but fitting to allow them access to more military positions, even ground combat. Military women are capable and they certainly possess the strength to carry on a mission whether up in the air, in the sea, or even on the ground. Even on the frontlines.
Armour, Venice. “Women on front lines? Of course.” CNN. 30 January 2013. Web. 27 September 2013.
Brook, Tom Vanden. “Pentagon opening front-line combat roles to women.” USA Today. 18 June 2013. Web. 27 Sept 2013.
Franks, E. “Women and Resistance in East Timor: The Centre as they Say Knows Itself by the Margins.” Women’s Studies International Forum 19.2 (1996): 155-168. Print.
Grady. D.B.”Why women soldiers don’t belong on the frontlines.” The Week. 24 January 2013. Web. 27 Sept 2013.
Hartley, Jason Christopher. Just Another Soldier: A Year on the Ground in Iraq. US: Harper Collins, 2009. Print.
Mazurana, Dyan & Carlson, Kristopher. “From Combat to Community: Women and Girls of Sierra Leone.” Peacewomenweb. Peacewomenweb, n. d. Web. 22 Jan. 2004.
Meth, Suzanne. “Gender Differences in Muscle Morphology.” Women's Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation, Ed. Nadya Swedan. Maryland: Aspen Publishers, 2001. Print.
“Military leaders lift ban on women in combat roles.”FoxNews.com.24 January 2013. Web. 27 Sept 2013.
Noakes, Lucy. Women in the British Army: War and the Gentle Sex, 1907-1948. England: Taylor and Francis, 2006. Print.
Skaine, Rosemarie. Women in Combat: A Reference Handbook. California: ABC-CLIO, 2011.
Waller, M. & Rycenga, J. (eds). Frontline Feminisms: Women, War and Resistance. USA:Taylor and Francis, 2001. Print.