Before we raise our fists in solidarity with and in support of women gaining access to ground combat missions in the military, Americans should take a closer look at what outgoing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta's decision may mean for women.
In theory, allowing women to participate in combat (a phrase that is problematic in itself), seems like not only an advance for equal rights for women but insures that tasks are being delegated evenly and fairly. With an estimated 230,000 combat positions being potentially being opened up to women, it seems as though women are gaining some ground in making advances in their career in the military.
In an interview before the Super Bowl, President Obama said that he had “no hesitations” about women serving in combat positions. And although the president of the United States supports such a measure, General James Amos, the commandant of the Marine Corps, did not sound equally excited.
During his first speaking engagement since the ban was lifted, General Amos made it absolutely clear that the military would not lower its standards in order to have women qualify. Why, I wonder, would his first response allude to women receiving special treatment? Much of his talk focused on the importance of making sure that women were just as prepared as their male counterparts for the position, with no emphasis on how monumental such a move was. Because some of the requirements are easily gauged (such as the requirement to load a main gun, among others), the ones that are not so easily measured prove to provide special challenges.
The Pentagon has started taking steps to assure that the correct requirements are in place to meet the physical and psychological requirements of being in combat. What these steps may cause, however, is a heightening of the already intense requirements, which would make it nearly impossible for women to even qualify. And while certain requirements, for example that men and women will be required to complete the same number of pull ups, will be gender neutral, there are some that have been altered to fit the comparatively lower amount of body mass that women tend to have.
But now that women are allowed to participate in combat, I think it is time for the military to address another gender specific problem: rape.
While the inclusion of women in combat does great things for those who wish to participate, I think now more than ever as, civilians need to pressure representatives to take measures to address this tragedy. Currently, when women report cases of sexual harassment or assault, their case often goes through a chain of commands before reaching the appropriate person who can help. With an estimated 19,000 sexual assault incidents every year and only a small fraction of those being reported, one has to wonder what inclusion really looks like in the military.
So with major strides being taken for women in the military, such as access to abortion being covered in the defense bill, and now the ruling to allow women in combat, I only hope that women in the military continue to receive fair and equal treatment.