Gender Neutrality in the Military Women Combat Essay

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According to online polls, whether and how women should serve in combat is one of the top social issues of 2017 (“The Most Popular Social Issues of 2017”). One of the reasons why this social issue is currently trending is that as of January 1, 2016, the military began phasing in a new policy that opens ground combat positions for women. Over 200,000 new combat positions have been open since January 2016, but “relatively few women have been trained or deployed for these jobs yet,” revealing important structural, human resources, and leadership impediments to gender equality in the military (Patterson 1).

Historically, women have not served in the military other than in medical and support roles (Barry). Women have, however, served in combat roles globally within the past several generations. In fact, the list of countries in which women serve in official military combat roles now is astonishingly long and surprisingly diverse, from Eritrea to New Zealand. Even misogynistic cultures like that of Pakistan permit females to serve as fighter pilots (Fisher). In the United States, women have been serving indirectly in positions that are akin to combat, and have died in the line of duty (Patterson). Since Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan), women have also been deployed as “fighter, bomber, attack, and helicopter pilots in all branches of the military, and aboard combat and support Navy and Coast Guard vessels,” (Klenke 38). Given that women already enjoy a strong presence on the front lines in the armed forces, it seems odd that there would be any controversy at all about the recent gender liberation of ground forces combat positions.

Yet it was amid great public and military sector outcry that in 2013, the United States lifted its ban on women serving in infantry, artillery, and other units defined as direct combat (Bumiller and Shanker). Military officials continue to decry gender equality in combat, with outlandish statements published in military journals stating, “Political correctness has no chance against Nature,” (Eden 46). Yet women are going to start serving in combat because the Pentagon has said so, and the question now is not about whether women should serve in combat, but how women can be trained to reach their highest potential in battle situations.

The pros and cons of women serving in direct combat are important to outline and understand in an objective fashion. Women have as of yet not been fully integrated into military combat units, as the Pentagon and each branch of the military works out the specific methods by which to integrate armed forces. The key issues surrounding the question of whether or not women should serve in combat missions include how to address training and skills development, how to alter core military organizational culture, how to maximize the potential of all soldiers in different types of combat scenarios, and how to address gender gaps in combat leadership.

Physical Differences

Physical preparedness for combat is a primary issue in the debate over whether or not women would serve in front lines positions. As Barry points out, one of the main arguments presented against gender equality in combat positions is physical readiness. Barry points out, all armies do have greater physical fitness standards for training for combat. This is especially true for some armed forces, like the Marines. Some studies have shown that women cannot compete physically with their male counterparts one for one, with one study in the Marines showing that an all-male group “significantly outperformed the integrated group in almost every metric,” and that women were “slower and weaker,” (Klenke 42). Some sources point to the obvious biological differences between men and women to presume differences in combat readiness. “Anatomically speaking, men have broader shoulders and backs, and thicker necks.  Males are born with more testosterone, which enhances the body’s ability to build muscle.  This physical advantage helps males to handle the stresses of combat,” (Smith). Those who oppose any female participation in combat site two specific impediments related to physical prowess and training needs for maximum military preparedness (Thompson).

Eden claims that gender differences in ability are “deal breakers in combat,” which does make sense (43). Yet research does reveal that the physical strength argument reveals astonishing double standards. For one, not all men can compete at the highest level and many underperform a woman in peak performance.

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“Many women have the physical strength and stamina to engage in ground combat while many men do not,” (Klenke 44). Second, Klenke notes that women are often systematically excluded from training exercises that might have helped them to improve their performance—something that is also linked to the leadership and organizational culture problems with gender parity in the military.

Some of the gender differences in physical preparedness is related to training. As of yet, women do not receive the same type of basic training that might better prepare the most physically adept among them to serve in demanding combat roles. The American Marine Corps is only beginning to consider requiring females to complete pull-ups in order to ensure that more women have the capacity to serve in combat roles should they desire to do so (Seck). As a result, less than half of the women in the Marine Corps are able to complete three pullups (Seck). The problem seems to be too little training for women, or gender biased training, than it is innate ability. Creating more robust training and skills development for female soldiers on a combat track provide specific challenges for military personnel seeking best methods of creating a gender-neutral combat force. Some believe that “the small number versus the additional logistical, regulatory and disciplinary costs associated with integration do not make it a worthwhile move,” (Sisters in Arms). Because change can seem threatening, many military personnel do not want to reconsider ways of creating an inclusive force.

Current physical strength and training exercises designed to prepare soldiers for combat discriminate against women and showcase a culture of double standards. Because current strength and endurance tests are designed for men rather than women, aspiring female combatants might risk injury in training or ground execution (Sisters in Arms,). Poor training is the problem, not female soldiers. Women are biologically different from men and therefore do have different physical capacities to fight. Those capacities can still become assets on the ground, and as the military is set for full gender equality in the military, it is important to develop the right physical training programs to maximize the potential for all soldiers to serve where they are needed most and where they can perform at their best.

Voices strongly in favor of a gender-neutral combat force site several reasons why women should be allowed to serve in any role for which they are qualified. Because the nature of military combat has changed dramatically due to advancements in specific types of technologies, gender and sheer physical strength play a less significant role in some combat missions. Women already serve in specific tactical maneuvers including as fighter pilots. Even when the combat mission involves traditional physical force, gender may not be as important a concern as innate ability, training, and psychological strength. Some men may be better suited to combat roles that rely more on psychological than physical strength, just as some women may be better suited than some men to serve on the front lines. It is not necessary to lower standards and expectations to suit the lowest common denominator, but simply to adjust standards to meet the needs of each specific combat role. Thus, military jobs “should be based on performance, and those who can meet those standards should be able to participate,” (Iskra). Each combat role could also have its own set of standards, thus eliminating the fear that allowing women in combat would compromise physical readiness. Even when physical differences are accounted for, combat involves far more than a few set of skills, many of which a lot of men cannot perform either. Additionally, “systems are in place to ensure the inclusion of women does not compromise national defense…because unqualified women will self-select out of the service or will be unable to meet the physically demanding requirements,” (Dunn 1).

Organizational Culture

Core military culture will need to change when women were serving on the front lines. The military does already have women in leadership positions, but the introduction of women to combat roles does change strategies and tactics used on the ground. Moreover, the….....

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Works Cited

Barry, Ben. “Women in Combat.” Survival: Global Politics and Strategy, Voo. 55, No. 2, 2013, pp. 19-30.

Bumiller, Elisabeth and Shanker, Thom. “Pentagon Is Set to Lift Combat Ban for Women.” The New York Times. 23 Jan 2013, Retrieved online:

Dunn, N. Pro/con do women belong on the front lines? The Torrey Pines High School Falconer. Feb 2013. Retrieved online:

Eden, Jude. “Women in Combat: The Question of Standards.” Military Review. March-April 2015.

Fisher, M. “Map: which countries allow women in front-line combat roles?” The Washington Post. 25 Jan, 2013. Retrieved online:

Iskra, D.M. “Women in combat: Is it really that big of a deal?” Time. 6 Feb, 2013. Retrieved online:

Klenke, Karin. “Women in Combat.” International Leadership Journal. Summer 2016. Retrieved online:

Lopez, C. T. & Henning, J. “Army describes plans for integrating women into combat.” U.S. Army. 2013. Retrieved online:

MacAskill, E. Women in military combat is nothing new, just not British. The Guardian. Dec 19, 2014. Retrieved online:
“The Most Popular Social Issues of 2017.” I Side With. Retrieved online

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