Women in combat: A deeper look into women’s equality

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With the ending of the ban on women in combat, the discussion on women's equality is taking an interesting turn.

As women we find ourselves thinking more deeply about the question of women's equality, and whether these types of opportunities are needed.

Now those women who choose the military as a career have at least the legal right to be promoted and reach the highest rank available to men. As women, is this not what we want? To be able to reach the highest levels of the career we have chosen for ourselves?

But then I ask, do I really want to fight arm-in-arm with men whose strength may be greater? Do we want to be alongside male soldiers, confined inside a Humvee, having to relieve ourselves in front of them as they do now in front of each other?

What would happen if I became romantically involved with one of them? Would that cloud my ability as a member of my unit and compromise my mission, as some have pointed out?

According to reports women have already fought alongside their male counterparts in the line of fire and confined to Humvees while on missions. Based on interviews with male and female soldiers, both genders have adapted and missions were not compromised.

Ending the ban is a step towards women in the military being seen by their job performance first, not their gender. Despite the variations in strength and height, there are women who can perform equally, and at times out-perform, their male counterparts. That they do not compete alongside men in sports, as some have noted, does not mean they cannot. It only points to societal norms not yet changing in this area.

Will lifting the ban help move women's equality forward? I am not saying women are no different than men. Of course we are; we give birth, they do not. But brute strength has nothing to do with it.

I have seen a slender indigenous woman lift a large tank full of propane gas, swing it over her shoulder and walk up a flight of stairs. I have witnessed women use wheelbarrows to run 100-pound sacks of flour up a steep hill.

I have also known of women who have fought in their countries' civil wars, alongside men and under the worst conditions. So the argument that women cannot be beside men in war does not convince me that as women, we don't have what it takes.

I ask: what will it do to the mindset of many men to see women protecting them and looking out for their safety? One soldier reported that he did not see any difference.

Of course, ending the ban may be a step toward true women's equality, but let's not take it overboard and believe we have landed. We cannot ignore that taunting, rape, pay inequities, being passed over for positions because of your gender, still exist. Many men still see us as inferior, and as objects. 

As a woman I welcome any action that will move our gender closer to full equality. But would I want to be drafted? No! I am against soldiers of any gender being sent out to fight for capitalist greed, but lifting the ban has caused me to think more deeply about what true equality for women looks like and what is needed to get there.

Rossana Cambron is former national board member of Military Families Speak Out, an organization of people who have relatives or loved ones in the military, who support our troops but oppose the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Photo: Female U.S. Army soldiers talk on Jan. 24 about the decision announced to open combat positions to service members regardless of gender.   Ted S. Warren/AP

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  • I agree that limitations on one group (here, women) versus another group (here, men) is discriminatory and thus people opposed to discrimation should be against the limitations. But progressives and the Left should also oppose expanding the imperial army: recruiting women to extend U.S. imperialist interests is not a progressive step forward.

    Posted by Michael Arney, 03/25/2013 8:39pm (1 year ago)

  • Worked with ladies in the Military. They did an excellent job. If they wish to go into combat let them. In fact to prove they can do it let them form a brigade and hit the hills of Afgan.
    However, don't all of you think we have made enough money for those Capitalist controlling the war machine and should bring our troops home ?

    Posted by SwampFox, 02/01/2013 6:52pm (1 year ago)

  • I think this issue has to be looked at first from the viewpoint of what being allowed to "serve in combat" means for working class youth of either sex. Military service is offered as the primary opportunity to get career training and a "coming of age" experience and that is the main problem. Opening up this horrible option to women is not really a step toward equality. Real equality would be job training and opportunities in safe and productive venues.

    Going to war and killing and getting killed is not the first choice of young women or men. It is a desperation move in a society that offers no jobs or future to its youth.

    Posted by bobbie, 02/01/2013 12:42pm (1 year ago)

  • One of things about being a Marxist is that we need to see things in the larger context of capitalism. It seems to me that having women in combat in the US is NOT a step towards women's equality at all. Every soldier in the US army is responsible for enforcing the power of US imperialism by force and violence. This sytem is extremely destructive to women world-wide as well as men and children. Having the "right" to participate as an oppressor is not a step forward.

    Posted by Louis Shipman, 02/01/2013 10:17am (1 year ago)

  • While a supporter for women's equality, I'd hate to envision a scenario of the "fairier sex" contributing to U.S. imperialism. Hopefully, that scenario is wrong.

    Posted by revolution123, 01/31/2013 6:51pm (1 year ago)

  • I must admit this "advance" for women leaves me ambivalent. Although I agree with Rossana Cambron that women are fully capable of doing what is required to be combatants I am concerned that equality in the military will be tauted (sp?) as an avenue to full equality - true equality in all of life. This will probably pass before pay equity - that disturbs me. They will let us die along with the young working class men. Will that help us rise to our full potential in all other spheres of life? I doubt it.

    Posted by Esther Moroze, 01/31/2013 4:46pm (1 year ago)

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