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Essay: Women in Combat: Breaking Down the Barriers

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  • Published: 1 February 2018*
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  • Words: 898 (approx)
  • Number of pages: 4 (approx)

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The Military’s view to fight wars has traditionally been interpreted as masculine, with the goal for peace seen as feminine. Historically, women have served in numerous positions in the military. Dating back to 1948, women have been limited by the Department of Defense (DOD) policies from being eligible to more than “220,000 of over one-million positions despite their exceptional service in combat (McSally, 2011).” DOD policies are riddled with discrepancies that result in confusion and frankly are in violation of voluntary restrictions by the military. “These policies are incongruent with two of America's democratic tenets and have limited full participation in the military by women. One, the armed forces, whether conscripted or volunteer, should reflect the society they defend. Women are nearly fifty-one percent of the U.S. population; however, fourteen percent of which are volunteer force and six percent are senior officers. Two, the U.S. Constitution is now interpreted to prohibit discrimination or lack of equal opportunity solely based on gender (McSally, 2011).”

The DOD implemented a ground combat exclusion policy that was in effect until January 2016. It stated, "service members are eligible to be assigned to all positions for which they are qualified, except that women shall be excluded from assignment to units below the brigade level whose primary mission is to engage in direct combat on the ground (McSally, 2011).” This theory is justified because all-male combat units are necessary. Although women are not officially assigned to positions due to this exclusion policy, they are employed every day in combat. For example, in the Afghanistan war, women have been necessary to fill the ranks that require the proper execution of assigned jobs, such as search women and children. Moreover, women are critical in winning the populations over as part of strategies to win wars. Hence, these are roles that just cannot be filled by men due to many cultural sensitivities.

It is arguable that women’s presence in the armed forces would interfere with military readiness and disturb unit cohesion according to scholars. Task cohesion is most important in mission effectiveness and is “the ability for group members to work together and accomplish shared goals (Segal, Smith, Segal, & Canuso, 2016)”. In turn, this translates to trust and confidence in each other that the job will be executed appropriately. Numerous trials have been conducted to see if women could be integrated into combat positions effectively. Results reflected that mixed-gender units outperformed all-male units.  Leaders have also noticed that female recruits were doing better on aptitude tests. “Although data presented reflects that women pose a higher risk for musculoskeletal injuries within military training and operational environments due to inherent genetic dissimilarities between genders; women who are strength trained and endurance trained can and will increase their performance in combat positions (Nindl, Jones, Arsdale, Kelly, &Kraemer, 2016)”. “Traditional conventional military field training is conducive to preparing large groups for war. However, this method fails to address strength and power capabilities needed to optimize a soldier’s performance required in a combat environment (Nindl, Jones, Arsdale, Kelly, &Kraemer, 2016)”. The need to tailor training methods towards exact tactical requirements will address specific needs of the individual, therefore optimizing performance and contributing to women's abilities to perform physically demanding ground combat positions.

Conversely, social cohesion is “the degree to which members of a group are willing to spend time together (McSally, 2011).” “Arguments discussing the inclusion of minorities such as women are "social experimentation," which will result in a less effective military. This argument is rooted in the importance of high social cohesion (McSally, 2011)” and studies have disproved this assumption. Although research reflects that integration of women into our armed forces does not affect task cohesion, males have resisted allowing women into combat positions because they fear they will lower drive amongst units. Men also believe that standards will be lowered to accommodate women; thus, they are less willing to work and spend time with their female counterparts. Also, leadership's "traditional" opinion towards wives, mothers, and daughters in combat has led to the controversy of gender roles in the military. For example, General Merrill McPeak stated, “even though logic tells us that women can conduct combat operations as well as men, I have a very traditional attitude about wives, mothers, and daughters ordered to kill (McSally, 2011).”  Leaders are willing to accept underqualified forces to fit with personal attitudes on the proper roles of women. Therefore, gender norms drive a women’s place in our national military. “While diversity may pose numerous challenges for leadership, ultimately it has had a positive effect on mission success across military organizations (McSally, 2011).” Finally, excess social cohesion within large groups can be unfavorable to performance as a whole.

Various assumptions and theories according to scholars as to why women should remain exempt from full participation in ground combat positions such as affecting military readiness and mission success due to physical restrictions and social cohesion have been rejected. With reevaluating military training programs to allow women the opportunity to improve physical fitness to conduct ground combat operations effectively as-well-as being given equal opportunity to advance in rank to promote diverse environments is imperative to embracing change and developing a well-integrated military. America must decide to change its traditional democratic philosophy by shaping the role of women in national defense and decision-making, rather than continuing old traditions about gender norms, because these inconsistencies in our military result in ineffective mission readiness.

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