Military should offer equal opportunities to women

Callista Stoop

If you ask leaders in Australia, Israel, Denmark, Canada, France, Germany, New Zealand or Norway, they would agree that there are women who can serve as a part of infantry units. Each of these countries has opened up their combat arms and, more specifically, their infantry branches, to women. The United States Armed Services should be next to allow women to compete for a spot in the infantry. However, the standards for a combat infantry soldier should not be lowered for women trying to get a slot. Those leaders and politicians concerned with “political correctness”, or those afraid of backlash from equal-opportunity advocates, should take into consideration the cultures of some of our opponents in current conflicts in the Middle East, and need to realize that for a country that prides itself on freedom and equality for all, our stance on female combatants is dangerously flawed. In order to truly embody the values of equality and equal opportunity on which it as a country prides itself, America needs to open up the opportunity to compete for an infantry slot to its women, but also base it on the same qualifications required of male candidates.

Opponents of female integration have fabricated an almost standardized list of reasons why a women would not be able to “cut it” physically as a member of an infantry platoon. The most common of these seems to be the “I don’t want to have to worry about her not being able to buddy-drag me out of combat if I get injured, her weakness makes her unreliable.” Admittedly, a weak battle buddy is a cause for concern. But is that same issue brought up when a 5’5”, 130-pound airborne infantryman goes to combat? No. Is he expected to be able to move the largest soldier in the platoon? Again, no. So why should it be expected of a woman of the same size, if she can pass the same physical tests as him?

That being said, a woman in the infantry should be able to pass physical tests to the same standards that are expected of their male counterparts. Yes, the regular physical fitness tests administered to the rest of the military are scaled per gender — but for support branches like logistics or intelligence, the primary mission is not necessarily a physical one. There will always be a physical fitness and warfighting readiness requirement of all soldiers, but the only context in which a gender-scaled physical fitness test does not make sense is that of the combat infantryman, where physical capabilities are what can make or break every mission.  

Another argument that is frequently used to justify keeping women out of combat arms is the inconvenient need for separate quarters. Both the French and Danish armies incorporate women into their infantries without having to cordon off separate areas for their women, yet the American military has not yet figured out that neither hygiene limitations nor the possible sexual aspect of sharing sleeping space should be barriers. The former issue tends to be brought up in connection to a woman’s menstrual period, with the reasoning that it is too messy to deal with in the field. However, modern advances in birth control generally limit the degree to which this become a problem; and for those times that it does occur in the field, baby wipes can solve the rest — and get buried in the same hole that conceals other human functions while in the field.

Arguing against opening infantry opportunities to women because of a fear of “distracting” the men is by far one of the least modern viewpoints an American soldier can have. As a military that prides itself on discipline and that fights for freedom of all peoples, how can we openly admit that our troops do not have the self-control to abstain when presented with the (rather unappealing) image of a female in baggy camouflage pants? This point become especially absurd when we consider some of the oppressive cultures with which we are currently in conflict — cultures that deny women basic rights, and require them to cover themselves in extreme manner in order to make sure that their men need not exercise any self-control in the face of temptation. While refusing to have females in an infantry platoon due to fear of distraction is not on the same level of injustice as is treating women like property and forcing them to hide their entire bodies behind swathes of dark cloth, it does still speak to the same principle of enabling a lack of self-discipline and encouraging an attitude that justifies following physical urges. 

Opening up infantry opportunities to women might not change much about its composition, if the standards are not lowered in accordance with gender; there are not that many women that can meet those standards as there are men. However, the equal opportunity issue does not concern how many women are accepted into the infantry after testing, or what percentage of women make up the front-line force — it is only a matter of opening the door to any female that wishes to train to the standard of a combat infantry soldier and giving her that opportunity. This open door not only proves the nation’s adherence to its ideals of freedom and equality, but also serves to discourage the oppressive treatment endured by the women of the Middle East. America’s presence in the Middle East has protective and humanitarian motivations as well as strategic ones; in order to manifest the ideals to which it adheres, America must prove them to those that are not free by leading by example in equality matters.

Stoop is an Arabic senior from Rockville, Maryland.