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