Women Challenge Ground Combat Rule

Two female soldiers have filed suit in an attempt to overturn the U.S. policy which currently bars women from direct ground combat positions:

U.S. Army reservists Jane Baldwin and Ellen Haring, in a lawsuit filed today in Washington, said policies excluding them from assignments “solely because they are women” violate their right to equal protection guaranteed by the Constitution’s 5th Amendment. The complaint names Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Army Secretary John McHugh as defendants. “This limitation on plaintiffs’ careers restricts their current and future earnings, their potential for promotion and advancement, and their future retirement benefits,” the women said in the complaint filed by Christopher Sipes of Covington & Burling LLP in Washington.

I really have no idea how they will fare in court, but I will note that their chances of receiving a favorable hearing may be enhanced by the recent draft report of the Military Leadership Diversity Commission, which recommended the ban be removed. Among other problems with the ban, it significantly hampers women in the Army and the Marines from career opportunities. Since the primary mission of those forces is ground combat, it's pretty difficult to rise above a certain point when you are barred from the infantry and other specialties most central to the service. Recognizing this, the Army has recently announced it will crack open that barrier--slightly--by allowing women to serve directly in combat battalions. This will open up six previously closed specialties, but about 30% of jobs will remain men-only.

But while I can't predict the outcome of this lawsuit, I'm afraid I can predict the wave of misogynist and gender essentialist bullshit which will roll down from certain quarters in response to this news. (Having served-while-female myself, I am EXTREMELY familiar with this horsepuckey.) Here goes:

We will hear how women are super-duper terribad for Dudely Morale and Unit Cohesion and Arglebargle Blah Blash blah--despite the fact that there is zero evidence for this assertion, save in the imagination of the complaining person. As the commission's report notes:

... to date, there has been little evidence that the integration of women into previously- closed units or occupations has had a negative impact on important mission-related performance factors, like unit cohesion. ... Furthermore, a study by the Defense Department Advisory Committee on Women in the Services (2009) actually found that a majority of focus group participants felt that women serving in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan have had a positive impact on mission accomplishment.

Whooops your ASS-umptions, misogynists!

We will also hear a lot about how women just aren't physically or mentally capable of holding up in conditions of combat, blah blah blah blahbitty misogytty bang bang. Despite the fact that the U.S. Marines and Army have been quietly attaching women to combat units since very early in the Iraq War.

Despite the fact that U.S. military women have dealt with being under fire in prolonged and stressful ground combat conditions since at least the Battle of Bataan. Despite the fact that U.S. military women have been decorated for their actions in, er, well, ground combat. Despite the fact that in, oh, say, the Canadian Forces, all military specialties are open to women--and Canadian women serve just as capably (and just as INcapably) as their male comrades.

Yes, despite those facts, we will hear how those women weren't REALLY in combat, or how decorated women didn't really deserve it (but their male counterparts did!), and how Planet Canadiana is of course TOTES DIFFERENT from Planet Murika, etc. Because "my girlfriend can't do pushups," or wev. Plus I knew this one woman in the army once and she was horrible so they are all horrible! Also: every male soldier looks exactly like Stallone at his prime, and can carry 6 million tons of dishsoap in his backpack for a week, and women can only carry 1 million tons of dishsoap, which is of course all TOTALLY RELEVANT to the way wars are fought. Ahem.

But whatever. The world is changing. Sadly, it is not changing to the point where wars no longer happen, and therefore nobody fights in them. It's not changing to the point where wars become any less terrible and costly, or less filled with tragedy, atrocity, and horror. But I hope that AT LEAST it is changing enough that the human beings who choose to serve the United States by wearing its uniform can be judged on their actions (good and bad) and their abilities (competent and not), rather than being pre-judged by their genders. In a country with a very long cultural tradition of relating military service to notions of citizenship and patriotism, this stuff matters for reasons even beyond the obvious injustice of workplace discrimination.

I wish Command Sergeant Major Baldwin and Colonel Haring all the best.

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