Just as "urban legends" abound on the Internet, so do fatuous stories about women in the military circulate in the media and on-line. We used to call them "latrine rumors" but sadly they are far worse and are being perpetuated by wanna-be celebrities and righteous newstwisters.
Too often the arguments against women in the military proffered by everything from PBS right-wing specious programming to antiquated military macho blocked brains are fraught with absolutely nothing more than rumor and fractured facts. If I published the ludicrous e-mails rants I get - fortunately very few - from these people you'd readily see that these folks are of the mentality who think that Star Wars is filmed on location in space.
So let's look at the asinine things they say and then look at the facts....with a little help from authors like Major General Jeanne Holm, Dr. Linda Grant DePauw, Linda Bird Francke and several studies.
1. The Israeli Army claim:
The legend goes that Israel removed women from combat because a group of them were captured and horribly mistreated - or that Arabs would "fight to the death" to avoid being captured by women.
The reality is that those few Jewish women who happened to have fallen into Arab hands before the Six Day War were treated with respect and returned in a few days.
The "fight to the death" theory is also not so - when Israeli women went out on patrol their opponents surrendered or retreated rather than engage in battle - for religious reasons - a man killed by a woman cannot have a desirable after-life.
Also in 1995 the Israeli Supreme Court ruled against the ban on combat training that had been enacted for religious reasons - not capture stories - in 1949.
For more details on women in the Israel Defense Force see:
Israeli Women in the military
Please note - this will open a new window, to return simply close it.
(Additional Source: Linda Grant DePauw in "Battle Cries and Lullabies").
2. The "women were not in combat in the Gulf War" claim:
The media and some parts of the Pentagon decided that women were not in combat in the Gulf. The phrase "in combat" has more definitons than a dictionary, including separate definitions by each branch of the military and the by U.S. Congress. In advocating for women in combat it is not advocacy for women to engage in hand-to-hand gut slitting direct ground combat - women are still excluded from that and many have no desire to even think about qualifying. Perhaps combat roles would be a better term.
The reality is that women certainly performed combat roles in the Gulf - they flew refueling planes, flew troop transport aircraft and helicopters, fired Patriots that destroyed Scud missiles, supplied mechanized brigades with fuel and ammunition, loaded bombs, operated radios, radar, and military vehicles. They marched through mine fields, maintained aircraft, guarded perimeters, accepted the surrender of Iraqi soldiers and subsequently pulled guard duty. Women were taken prisoner and some lost their lives in the Gulf - is that not being in combat?
Speaking of direct ground combat one has to wonder about all these male military "experts" who say they have been there. For according to two studies cited in "Ground Zero" - "only 15 percent of Infantryman in World War Two ever fired their weapons in combat and fewer than 15 percent of the hundreds of thousand of military personnel who served in Vietnam are estimated to have been in a firefight." Although 3,403,100 troops served in the Southeast Asia Theatre, the number of troops within the borders of Vietnam was 2,594,000 -at any given time roughly 400,000 to 500,000 were there - peak strength was 543,482 at one time.
3. The Desert Storm "nondeployable for pregnancy" claim:
Columnists and commentators had a field day with this one - distorted statistics hit the press like pot bellies on beer guzzlers. They threw numbers around that practically had the whole military pregnant and undeployable.
The reality is that yes some women were undeployable for reasons due to pregnancy -as were many more men undeployable for substance abuse, alcoholism, court martials, sports related injuries, off-duty fight related injuries and pending charges of domestic violence.
According to Linda Bird Francke in "Ground Zero" - "No official records were kept on the impact of pregnancy on women's deployabilty rate to the Gulf war or their evacuation from the Gulf."
According to General Holm in "Women in the Military" - "after the war DOD reported to Congress that the deployment of women was "highly successful".
4. The "extra time going to the bathroom" claim:
Critics and opponents of women in the military often state that "women will delay troops in the field by having to undress to go to the bathroom" - or "women pilots take more time on relief breaks".
The reality is that intelligent miltary women have discovered female products like "The Lady J" and "Freshette" - female portable urinals used by female campers, aviators, and mountain climbers. As for the other necessary function - both genders have to bottom strip for that. So face it guyz - the day has come when women can stand up to - well you know the rest.
5. The "women can't shoot and haven't had any weapons training" claim:
Simply not true.
The Army began individual weapons training for women in 1975 and the Marines caught up in 1985. The Army also trained combat support women in light anti-tank weapons, M-16 rifles, grenade launchers, claymore mines, and M-60 machine guns. Many military women learned to shoot long before it became "official" - Carol T. Kirk, MAJ, USA (Ret), was the first woman to be awarded the German Army Marksmanship medal. She qualified for the bronze medal in 1972 while an Army Nurse at the 30th Field Hospital in Germany.
6. The "women pilots and astronauts can't take the G-forces" claim:
Opponents of women finally getting to fly combat aircraft, and some male pilots, bandied this about in trying to prevent women from flying the newer, faster, aircraft - most of which were designated as combat planes.
The reality is that women can counteract G-forces because their physiology makes them more tolerant of G-forces than men.
(G-forces push down on a body, they overcome the ability of the heart to pump oxygenated blood upward into the brain. Blood begins to pool in the lower extremities, while blood circulation to the head is reduced. When blood circulation to the head is sufficiently reduced, the oxygen supply to the brain becomes insufficient.)
Height, not strength or gender, is the most negative factor in a pilot's ability to tolerate G stress. Because women have a smaller body mass the shorter distance between their heart and brain makes it easier for them to counteract the G-forces. Advances in centrifuge technology and training , special exercises, and newer G-suits are making marked improvement in aircrew G-tolerance.
7. The really rampant "dual physical standards" claim:
The media is always harping on this and so are the men in the military - in part they are right to complain - but this issue has more sides than the pentagon. Not only are there dual standards, there are probably octuple standards.
Each branch has different standards - not only for women, but for men, for older men, and "invisible" standards for the higher ranking officers and NCOs.
Nothing is standard between the services with respect to physical fitness requirements and they have been admonished to change them and catch up to fair and equitable standards based on gender, age and varied physiological abilities.
The GAO recently looked into this issue in depth - here is a brief from their report -
"There is a widespread perception that the existence of lower physical fitness standards for women amounts to a "double standard." However, the physical fitness program is actually intended only to maintain the general fitness and health of military members and fitness testing is not aimed at assessing the ability to perform specific missions or military jobs. Consequently, DOD officials and experts agree that it is appropriate to adjust the standards for physiological differences among service members by age and gender."
One hopes that these changes will address the fact that the ability to do 30 pushups does not constitute being a better soldier - especially when measured against the ability to do aerobic exercises - given that women can sustain aerobic exercises longer than men. Or that pitting upper body strength against lower body strength has anything to do with the ability to operate complicated equipment, fly jet aircraft, or fire sophisticated weapons. Brains, not brawn should be the watchword.
Hasn't anyone noticed that separate standards are a way of life in the rest of the world? Professional golf has the PGA and the LPGA - different strokes for different folks. Basketball has the NBA and the WNBA - neither sex is expected to play the other's game. The Olympics has men's events and women's events - so what's the big deal about the military creating different sets of standards for age, sex, and as qualifiers for particular jobs?
The rules are totally different with respect to physical standards for combat arms. According to Lt General Claudia Kennedy the following is the reality:
"These are the facts: Soldiers enlisting in the combat arms, who are by regulatory definition all men , undergo both Basic and Advanced Individual Training in gender-segregated (all male) units in what is known as One Station Unit Training. Therefore there are no women trainees to "weaken" the combat arms as political critics persist in implying. Their argument is without merit."
8. The "women can't throw grenades because they're biologically different" claim:
A few hack writers and some television pundits have repeatedly claimed that women can't throw grenades - and glibly show video clips of the young women's futile attempts. Conveniently leaving out clips of the women who could throw grenades the required distance. Conveniently leaving out the voices of the women who said "they never told me to use the opposite foot", or the woman who said "they made me move back so I wouldn't embarass the men who couldn't throw".
The reality is - yes, many women can't throw grenades or even baseballs - but throwing style is not determined by biology--anyone can learn to throw. Critics say that there is a structural difference between male and female arms or shoulders-in the rotator cuff- that dictates different throwing motions. If you ask any orthopedic surgeon, anatomy professor or women coaches - they'll tell you that there is no structural or biological reason why men and women should throw in different ways. Muscle size, yes - but the way the "hinges" work - no.
The fundamental mistake that many women make is in trying to throw with their body facing the target, rather than rotating their shoulders and hips ninety degrees away from the target, and then swinging them around in order to accelerate the ball. For some inexplicable reason the military doesn't deem it necessary to work at training women in these things and in strength and conditioning early in boot camp.
What really appears even more ludicrous to me is that with the new light weight grenade launchers, and the launcher adaptors for the M-16, why we would still train anyone, male or female, to stand up, extend their left arm, lean back and lob a grenade and make them a perfect target for enemy fire. That five seconds of full body exposure is four and a half seconds too long!
9. The "women have an advese efffect on unit cohesion and male bonding" claim:
Well this one has been so overworked, especially by people who have never served in a mixed unit, that it is getting tiresome.
The reality is that "during Desert Storm the combat support units, ships, and aircrews with women performed their missions well even under direct fire. When the action started the mixed units and crews bonded into cohesive effective teams. According to Captain Cynthia Mosley, commander of an Army combat support company that was in the thick of the action during the ground attack into Iraq: "When the action starts every soldier does what they've been trained to do - nobody cares whether you're male or female. It's just - can you do the job?"
According to studies conducted by the Military Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences "Trust, respect for tactical skill and a metaphor of familiaism - the good unit speaks and acts as if they were members of a family - the better the unit performs." (In this respect since when does the family exclude mothers, sisters, daughters and wives - are they not all women?)
There is also a lot of evidence that mixed-gender units in foreign militaries performed more effectively than single-gender ones - in North Vietnam and El Salvador for example. American commanders of experienced mixed-gender units noticed a similar pattern of positive dynamics - the women worked harder to gain approval and the men worked harder not to be outdone. This was quite evident in the Gulf.
And what about the astronauts? You don't hear of any problems in space relative to unit cohesion. The men and women of NASA, military and civilian, have been performing as a "cohesive unit" on space flights for years.
Sources: "Ground Zero" by Linda Bird Francke; U.S. House Committe on Gender Discrimination in the Armed Services and NASA.
Source: Major General Jeanne Holm in "Women in the Military - an Unfinished Revolution".
10. The "women can't endure the rough living conditions in a combat zone" claim:
Get a grip - do you think they stayed at a luxury hotel in the Gulf?
According to General Holm: "Many U.S. military women lived like grunts in the field. They slept in coed tents so cramped that if anyone turned over you knew it and under lean-tos set up beside the trucks they drove. They endured blistering heat and the lack of privacy. They ate MREs, guzzled bottled water, went days without showers and put powder in their hair instead of washing it."
Source: Major General Jeanne Holm in "Women in the Military - an Unfinished Revolution".
11. The "men only want to protect women" claim:
Fatherly generals stand up and preach that women don't belong in the military because the goal of all men is to protect women - and that the men will be so busy protecting the women they won't do their job.
Well then if that's the case why do we have figures like this?
"On average each fiscal year from 1990 to 1996, 23.2 per 1000 spouses of military personnel experienced a violent victimization."
-FY90-96 Spouse and Child Maltreatment, Department of Defense.
"The rate of violent victimization of spouses in the U.S. military has steadily increased from 18.6 to 25.6 per 1000 during the same time period."
FY90-96 Spouse and Child Maltreatment, Department of Defense.
"More than 8,000 active duty women were abused by their spouses from 1990 to 1995. Half of the cases involved abusers who were also in the military."
Department of Defense, December 1996.
"Eighteen percent of the victims in a sample of incidents were active-duty members."
Department of Defense, October 1996.
"One in four female service members under age 50 has been physically abused."
Women Veterans' Experiences with Domestic Violence and Sexual Harassment, Drs. Murdoch and Nichol, 1993.
In 1997, the Defense Department reported a substantiated rate of abuse of 22 cases per 1,000 spouses. The Navy rate for that same year is 12 per 1,000. The Bureau of Justice Statistics places the average national rate of victimization for women from 1992 to 1996 at about eight per 1000.
One answer to the "men only want to protect women" spiel is in a great quote by Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, Civil War Medal of Honor recipient - "You men are not our protectors... If you were, who would there be to protect us from?"
12. The "time lost for pregnancy claim":
This vacuous old saw has been grinding for twenty years and is dragged out every time another hack writer is looking for an argument against military women. Yet as far back as 1975 the Navy discovered that men lost 190,000 days to drug rehabilitation and another 196,000 days to alcohol rehabilitation - almost twice the "time lost" by women to pregnancy. Pregnancy reports and surveys have been generated over and over and by 1990 speculation was rampant that pregnant women were costing the military a proverbial fortune in early returns from overseas bases. Well surprise, surprise - another study showed that the average cost of the early returns for men was $7,174. while the average cost for women due to pregnancy was $2,046. Among medical evacuations, AIDS and substance abuse accounted for up to 8 percent, pregnancy for barely one percent.
Source: Linda Bird Francke in "Ground Zero"
Sadly the "out of control media" is no help - it continues to foster these myths on both cable and network televison - pandering to the righteous ranters that for some reason don't see the military as the place for women to seek the opportunites offered by the nation's largest equal opportunity employer - the Department of Defense.
For instance see:
1. An Open Letter to PBS for specious broadcasting against military women! PBS
2. More "televisioneering" against military women: This time a cable cabal.
13. The "Feminization of the Military" lament:
This babbling treatise belongs in the 8-track graveyard along with the rest of the "Archie Bunker" philosophies. It's usually prattled by a short-timer with about two years served, over thirty years ago, who has gone on to other things. To advocate denying the equal opportunity education, training and benefits of military service to women, and to hawk the feminization lament as a reason is condemnation without reason.
The armed forces draw their members from our modern society - it follows that the make up of the services must reflect that society from which they are drawn. Feminism is not the catalyst behind women volunteering to serve nor is it the motivator. Ask the women who served long before feminism was a pop-culture term. Do those who espouse a womanless military also want it to be a plebian corps with philistine standards or a skilled modern force trained and equipped to maintain peace worldwide?
For more on this topic please see: "The Feminization of the Military" lament rears its ugly head again.
More "Experts" stirring their pond scum.
My Final Answer
14. The hue and cry that women will be sexually assaulted if they are taken prisoner.
None of the military women taken prisoner in the Pacific in WWII were sexually assaulted.
But the real answer is a question.
Do you really think that male prisoners are NOT sexually tortured, raped, and sodomized?
**Granted I've never been in front line combat but then neither have eighty percent of the men in the military. In my 22 years of active duty I have however - survived two military plane crashes; rescued a sergeant from drowning ; helped remove dead bodies from the flight line after an RB-47 crash; disarmed a knife-wielding troop in a barracks brawl; disabled and removed a would-be rapist from my squadron's barracks; thwarted two bloody suicide attempts; and performed many casualty and mortuary duties too gruesome to mention.
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