It's going to take a while before the Defense Department truly integrates women into the hundreds of thousands of combat positions that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta opened to them Wednesday. Each service and combatant command will have the opportunity to assess the social and financial costs of the policy change, and it's safe to say that a number of jobs will remain closed to women in the United States. But given that the change was endorsed uniformly by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the same body (with different chiefs) that had trouble staying on the same page on the lifting of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell, ban, the reaction from some has been, to borrow a sexist phrase, hysterical.
1. Tucker Carlson tweeted: "The latest feminist victory: The right to get your limbs blown off in war." Note to Tucker: 130 American women have been killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. And of the several hundred who are injured, one now serves quite ably in Congress. (Rep. Tammy Duckworth flew helicopters.) I suspect that many feminists might well agree with Carlson: Women ought to have the right to get their limbs blown off if they're as qualified as men are. Duckworth, whose limbs were, well, blown off, was as good a pilot as the many more men who were injured by IEDs too. This is quaint and false chivalry.
2. It will be hard to integrate women in the special forces. I heard this argument on the radio, and it can be dismissed. There are many women who serve with distinction in the Special Operations Command. The Army Compartmented Element fields highly trained female interrogators and intelligence collectors who are forward-deployed with the Army's special forces and national missions forces. (Some actually helped with the Sensitive Site Exploitation analysis for the pocket litter collected by the SEALs who killed Osama bin Laden.) Similarly, the CIA's Global Response Staff, which provides security and does counter-intelligence for case officers, and many case officers from the agency's Special Activities Division are women. They serve side-by-side with their male colleagues, scouring Libya for militias who have stolen MANPADs, among other tasks. Most SF and SOF and NSW direct action combat roles will not be integrated, by the way.
3. It's an "untested social experiment." As opposed to what? Actually, it's been tested in plenty of countries and worked in most cases, particularly when the integration, the training, the housing, benefit schedules and other factors are duly considered. Women don't want the jobs or the risk, according to the "Center for Military Readiness," which does not speak for women. Then the argument goes: There is too much sexual assault in the military already, too much sexual misconduct; more women will only increase these pathologies. That's not necessarily so, especially if one of the causes of such misconduct is a lack of strong female role models in general/flag or command officer/NCO positions. Also, I have a feeling that most of the women who will volunteer for infantry units are going to be badass. In a good way.
4. Women are biologically different than men in significant ways, and so absolute equality of outcome is neither realistic nor desirable. This is Heather MacDonald's argument. As a statement, it is true, but it has no bearing on the decision made yesterday, which will take into account those differences and still restrict women from a range of roles that require the average upper body strength of a man. That such standards could have been influenced by social conditions rather than be a brute reflection of biological essentials is not part of MacDonald's equation. The worry that standards will be relaxed for women is more appropriately expressed as a desire to make sure that the standards for the job are exacting and right; that means that some may be relaxed, and some may be tightened. Equality of condition in the military for men and women is not a goal of this policy. An end to discriminatory policies that have no rational basis while preserving military readiness — a readiness that still does incorporate a recognition of gender differences — is.
5. This is just like wanting gender-integrated football teams! Or: Obama wants to take guns away from women to help them protect their homes but he wants to give them guns to use on the battlefield! He wants to get them killed. These are analogies in search of a common bridge. War is different than football. (And women in the military are already issued weapons.)
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- This is what happens when Republicans actually enact their radical agenda
- How I dug myself out of debt — and stayed that way
- 6 things the happiest families all have in common
- Russia is stealthily threatening America with nuclear war
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- The science of sex: 4 harsh truths about dating and mating
- 13 Urban Outfitters controversies
- America is doomed! (And other thoughts on our gloomy historical moment.)
- Your 2-year-old doesn't need to go to school
- 11 weeknight dinners you can make without a recipe
Subscribe to the Week