The Archive

Women in the Military? -- in Combat???

... a Stringer discusses what may not be a new occupation.

Marjorie Burgess

    
When the draft ended in 1973, the all-volunteer service came into effect.  Since then, women have become an integral part of the military.  They are continually proving their ability in various specialties and leadership roles.  In ever increasing numbers women are volunteering for the military because it can afford them educational and economic advantages.  Many are becoming role models for other women.  The public is given a chance to view how well men and women can and are working together.  The employment of women in the military is helping to do away with stereotypes and old myths.

There is strong public support for having women in the military.  According to the Opinion Research Center, 84 percent of the respondents wish to maintain or increase the number of women in the armed forces. Eighty-one percent believe that the increased number of women does not reduce the effectiveness of the military.(1)

There has always been support for the so called feminine or traditional roles for women as secretaries and nurses.  Today, however, women are serving in the combined military services as infantry gun crews, seamanship specialists and electronic equipment repairers.  They serve as communications and intelligence specialists and as medical and dental specialists.  There are women serving in functional support and administration, as craftsmen, service and supply handlers, making a total of 11.8 percent of the Military. (2)

Women's reasons for joining the military frequently differ from the male serviceman.  When men and women were asked if joining the military would ensure them a $20,000 educational voucher 42 percent of the 16-20 year males chose this option as opposed to 18 percent of the females. (4)

There is no doubt that women in general, are not as physically strong as men.  Women, on the average, are weaker in the upper body strength than an average young man.  Men are larger, heavier, faster than the average female.  Men are apt to be more aggressive.  Since the average young woman is not as strong nor as aggressive, her first choice seems to incline towards a non-combative assignment.(5)

However, not all women conform to the average.  Some women are stronger and more aggressive than many men.  Why shouldn't such exceptional women be allowed to serve in combat?  History has many examples of women who served in this capacity from colonial times to the present.  Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley (Molly Pitcher) took her wounded husband's place at the battle of Manmouth.  Margaret Corbin fought in the artillery at Manhattan in 1776.  Women in the Continental army were paid for their services and provided in this way for their children.  These women were not considered "a bunch of eccentrics".  They were the sort of "good patriotic Americans" from whom the D. A. R. are proud to claim descent. (6)

Women are still not allowed to serve in combat positions in most of the military divisions and by policy in the army.

Since the Pentagon started recruiting women during the 1970s the meaning of the term "combat" roles for women has changed.  U.S. servicewomen in Saudi Arabia are setting up military installations in the desert and working on supply lines.  There are no plans to remove women from these positions of front line actions.  There is a strong probability that there will be casualties.  Women have been issued protective gear, carry arms and are trained to use them if needs be.

Many women are lobbying for a lift of combat restrictions.  Women can fly F-15s, just as well as a man and would not be in as much danger as in the positions where women are now permitted.  For example, it could be more dangerous in the back lines with supply details, communications equipment and refueling of planes.  Rep. Phyllis Schroeder cites that the military manual instructs to hit the "back line" first to isolate the "front line".

One of the most frequently cited arguments against women is their lack of physical strength.  But brute force is irrelevant in many of the highly technical combat equipment used in today's wars.

Male bonding is one of the most commonly used arguments against women in the service.  Historian Linda Grant De Pauw, founder of Minerva Center, says that these objections are a part of the old stereotypes of women as victims.  "It's like the image they used to have of blacks before they served with them -- that they were too cowardly, too stupid or would break their weapons," she argues. (7)

There are problems for women in the service as yet unsolved.  Women who wish to make the military their life's career are still finding resistance to what has been considered the male domain.  Women have been killed in war but is this a real issue?  Policewomen have been killed in the line of duty without a great outcry.  Although women's role in active combat has not been completely settled, in 1988 Ronald Reagan signed an executive order revising the Code of Conduct for POWs.  The statement, "I am an American fighting man", now reads, "I am an American".

Brigadier General Evelyn "Pat" Foote favors opening roles to women in the army, including combat. The problem with the combat-exclusion act, she believes, is that it "develops a whole male cadre and officer corps that doesn't know how to work with women." She further states that it prevents trained and qualified women from performing their assignments where they are needed. (8)

Had not the army expanded the opportunities for women in the service "it is doubtful if the volunteer forces could have survived in the 1970s." Women have been "the margin of success" for the all-volunteer force.  Were it not for the women, with their superior formal education and mental test scores, their places would have to be filled by "lower quality male volunteers". (9)

Women have allowed the United states to maintain the quality of its armed forces without conscription.  During World War II, the slogan used in recruiting women into the military had been that they would free men to fight.  Today, as Army Colonel Frank A. Partlow, Jr. has noted, women in the military "free men from fighting -- or, more accurately, from being drafted." (10)

Footnotes:
1. James A. Davis, Jennifer, Lauby , Nd Paul B. Sheatsley, Americans View the Military, Public Opinion Research Center, Un. of April, 1983 pp 23, 30-35, B-18.

2. Source: Defense Manpower Data Center 1987

3. Robert M. Bray, Viviane Cobb, Youth Attitude Tracking study II Supplementary Tabulations of Data Collected in Fall of 1988.  Research Triangle Institute, March 1988, pp 157, B-66

4. Women and Minorities in the All Volunteer Force, 1986.

5. Segal, op.cit. P. 270

6. Michael Levin, Feminism and Freedom (1987, P. 246

7. Newsweek; September 10, 1990 p.22; p.24

8. Atlantic monthly; August, 1990 pp 76-7

9. Martin Binken, America's Volunteer's Military: Progress and Prospects (paperback 1984) P. 8

10. Frank A Partlow, Jr. "Womenpower for a Superpower: The Nat'l Security Implications of Women in U. S. Army", World Affairs, spring 1984, P. 292

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