You know it. I know it. Acclaimed Japanese children's book author Taro Gomi knows it. Nonetheless, in an opinion article published on Wednesday, former Marine-turned-attorney Ryan Smith objects to women serving in ground combat positions in part because it would make pooping too embarrassing for men.
At the Wall Street Journal, Smith writes, "Many articles have been written regarding the relative strength of women and the possible effects on morale of introducing women into all-male units. Less attention has been paid to another aspect: the absolutely dreadful conditions under which grunts live during war." These conditions include having up to 25 Marines "forced to sit, in full gear, on each other's laps and in contorted positions for hours on end" in the backs of amphibious assault vehicles.
"Sometimes we spent over 48 hours on the move without exiting the vehicles. We were forced to urinate in empty water bottles inches from our comrades ... Many Marines developed dysentery from the complete lack of sanitary conditions. When an uncontrollable urge hit a Marine, he would be forced to stand, as best he could, hold an MRE bag up to his rear, and defecate inches from his seated comrade's face."
Smith concludes, "It is humiliating enough to relieve yourself in front of your male comrades; one can only imagine the humiliation of being forced to relieve yourself in front of the opposite sex."
This is not the first time that concerns have been raised about how bathroom etiquette will wreak havoc on the delicate system of male/female interaction, particularly in a military context. In the 1970s, noted anti-feminist Phyllis Schlafly campaigned against the Equal Rights Amendment in part because she thought it would make gender-segregated bathrooms illegal. (It's worth noting that Schlafly also did not want women to be drafted. Her campaign, STOP ERA, stood for Stop Taking Our Privileges. And she apparently still has a thing about the government intervening in bathrooms, although now she crusades against low-flush toilets.)
I find myself wondering whether or not tampons and pads would also be an issue. Presumably, if men feel uncomfortable pooping in front of their peers, it would be equally as awkward for women to publicly change tampons. In fact, a 2011 study stated, "Menstruation causes a hassle in the daily lives of women during deployment. Issues include not having enough time to change menstrual hygiene products and the preplanning required to manage menses throughout the day, which, when it fails, can result in leaking and staining. Convoys represent a particularly difficult challenge because women might be in a vehicle for eight straight hours, making hygiene difficult. Preplanning for menstruation while on duty included carrying extra pads, tampons, baby wipes, plastic bags, and hand sanitizer."
Smith is certainly correct in noting that military service involves serious physical discomfort, which affects both men and women. It further likely does require significantly violating societal norms; arguably, so does serving in the military in the first place, as military structure is unlike civilian structure.
But stating that "it would be distracting and potentially traumatizing to be forced to be naked in front of the opposite sex... [and] it would be painful to witness a member of the opposite sex in such an uncomfortable and awkward position" seems to rely on the notion that men and women are totally unfamiliar and uncomfortable with each other's bodies, and these physical differences cannot be overcome socially, even in situations where it is critical to do so.
Further, it trades on an assumption of heterosexual sexual attraction, or at the very least heterosexual norms, disregarding the new inclusion of openly gay servicemen and women. And it should be noted that opponents of overturning Don't Ask, Don't Tell also mentioned showers and bathrooms as potential sites of "morale damage." But a year after repeal, the military has shown no ill effects from overturning DADT.
As Zach Beauchamp puts it at ThinkProgress, "Smith’s scatological suppositions don’t stand up to scrutiny."