|Photo by Israel Defense Forces
Beyond the strength issue, there's another big concern in allowing women in the military, and that is that gender matters. Ryan Smith in the Wall Street Journal did an excellent job in painting a picture of what combat conditions really look like, as he had served as a Marine infantry squad leader in Iraq in 2003. He tells of being enclosed in a vehicle for 48 hours, urinating and defecating just inches away from fellow soldiers, then having to strip with all his comrades while his clothing was burned for decontamination. Will women feel empowered by such actions? Will men?
Men and women also interact differently. When polled, 17 percent of male marines would leave the service if women were placed in combat roles, their biggest concerns being "fears about being falsely accused of sexual harassment or assault, fraternization or some Marines getting preferential treatment. They also worried women would be limited because of pregnancy or personal issues that could affect the unit before they are sent to the battlefield." The truth on this matter is we simply don't know what effect a large-scale deployment of women in combat units would have. There's no data because it has never been done before.
Then there are the larger family issues. According to this report, over 30,000 single mothers have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan and about 10 percent of women in the military become pregnant each year. So, female soldiers train and work alongside their male counterparts, but one in ten must be replaced so they can take maternity leave. Does that affect a unit's effectiveness? Add to that the higher divorce rate among female service members and one can see that sex makes a difference on how one processes military situations. These differences will only become more acute when more women are placed in high-pressure combat roles.
Ten months after her Senate proposal demanding women be placed in combat roles, the same Senator Gillibrand is standing before the Senate lobbying for the VAWA. "There is simply no room for partisan gamesmanship when we're talking about the safety of our families," Gillibrand said. "For millions of women and families, VAWA serves as a lifeline to keep them safe." So, Gillibrand seems to think that it is appropriate to focus on the sex of the person when worrying about the safety of women and their children. If such is the case, that standard should be applied appropriately to the question of female combatants.
It's important to realize that the Violence Against Women Act is calling for special protection for women, that a man attacking a woman needs to be categorized differently than a man attacking a man. If one were to ask why women need such special protections, the reasons listed would be pretty much the same as to those that are offered for keeping women out of combat roles. But folks like Gillibrand want it both ways. On one hand, women can do anything men can do. Give them a gun and everyone is equal (even though combat is not simply firing a weapon.) On the other, a fight between a man and a woman isn't a fair one, so women need the protection of the law. A woman should never be punched, but its O.K. to put her in a situation where she can be killed.
Equality has never meant that we must erase our differences. God made men and women differently, and this is clear when we look at biology. Gillibrand rallies for keeping families safe, but women in combat works against that standard, not toward it. It also does nothing to strengthen our military. Remember, the military should first and foremost be concerned with protecting our troops and winning battles. Of course we should do so in an ethical way, but I don't see barring women from combat situations any less ethical than barring asthmatics from the military altogether. If barring women from combat is somehow discriminatory, then we must judge the VAWA legislation to also be so. It is simply inconsistent to hold to both positions.