This week some news came out that made me really excited. The Pentagon announced that it will be opening up combat roles to women in the military. I have never had any desire to serve in the infantry and personally could not hack it (mentally or physically) even if I did, but I do not represent all women. Surely there are some women out there for whom this announcement has allowed them to finally reach their dreams in life, and I am happy for them. More than that, I am glad that one more barrier between male and female service members has been removed, so that it is easier to reach a place of respect for women in the military, something very few men in the military truly have.
I posted my glee on Facebook, and a friend of mine responded by posting this article article written by a female Marine Corps officer arguing against why females should have access to combat roles. Here was my response.
Okay, having fully read the article, I want to suggest the writer take a biology class. She talks about her injury in Iraq which led to restless leg syndrome, caused presumably by the weight of her armor on her skeletal frame, but there is no difference in skeletal strength between a man and a woman, her skeleton is exactly the same as any man with the same lifelong diet and activity levels. If her bones are weaker than average, it is because of poor diet and activity choices either she or her parents made at some point in her life, not her lack of a Y chromosome. However, this is common because we feed female children differently than we feed male children in our society. We tend to restrict food to girls in order to encourage a petite build, as is the fashion for women in our society. And I’d be willing to bet this woman has, at some point in her life, been on a diet, as most women have. Diets are notoriously hard on your bone mass, for a variety of complex reasons.
Furthermore, because of societal conditioning, women are simply far more likely to seek treatment for this kind of problem, and therefore far more likely to be diagnosed. That doesn’t mean men aren’t experiencing this issue. It’s just that societal pressure is more likely to encourage a man to suck it up and be tough, rather than seek medical assistance.
That same phenomenon could be responsible for why she saw slower deterioration of her male peers in Afghanistan. Women are taught to really give a lot of power to pain, and taught from a very young age that they can’t take it. In fact, the one source of testing yourself with pain we were historically allowed (childbirth) has even been taken from us, sending us all a clear message that we can’t handle pain. Meanwhile, men are taught from a young age to ignore their pain and not seek treatment. We know men are statistically FAR less likely to seek treatment for a physical or mental ailment, and when they do seek treatment it’s always far later than a woman with the same condition. It’s a mental thing, encouraged by societal gender norms, that she experienced faster deterioration, and that other women have too. Men wear out and break in the infantry just the same as women do, the difference is that many of them just silently die of their injuries, rather than getting help that might have saved them, but led them to a different career.
And the PCOS thing? That’s even more a dietary thing than bone mass is. I’d bet a million dollars it had more to do with chow hall food than chemical exposure on the battle field, although any chemical exposure she experienced likely had equally as detrimental an effect on her male counter part’s reproductive systems too, as our systems are remarkably the same, despite their different looks. They are all derived from the same tissue and function using the same hormones, just in differing amounts. But again, men are far less likely to seek treatment or even acknowledge fertility issues than women are. In fact, there are many perfectly healthy women taking clomid right now in an attempt to treat her husbands low sperm count. But if we’re talking chemical exposure and PCOS, I also would like to know what chemicals she’s been slathering on her skin daily in the name of beauty, what chemicals she’s been cleaning her home and work place with, what fragrances she’s been inhaling in her car, home, and work place, and what kinds of chemicals her food has been doused in. The lifetime effects of the thousands of endocrine disrupting chemicals women are exposed to daily in much greater amounts than men because of, again, societal gender norms, likely played just as big a role, if not a bigger role, in her PCOS as any war time chemical exposure. The vast majority of women with PCOS have never seen combat or served in the military at all. We have no way of knowing if this woman would have gotten PCOS had she not been in the Marines at all, but I’ll bet she would have. To blame a condition like PCOS, which is insanely common and known to be primarily caused by lifestyle choices (not genetics, as she implies here), on her experience in combat, is just ridiculous. And then to assume that men’s reproductive systems are somehow immune to whatever she believes caused her reproductive issues is completely ignorant. Or maybe men’s reproductive health just isn’t as important as women’s, since their worth in society isn’t defined by whether or not they produce children?
Here’s the deal. Biologically, we are created pretty equal. Things happen along the way that diminish that equality or make us perceive more of a difference than what there is. I agree with her that standards should not be lowered just to get more women in, nor should more women be smooth talked into combat positions by recruiters just to make the force more diverse, but if a woman can meet the standard and wants to be in the infantry, she should be allowed to. The only thing I took from her argument about the risks to longevity in combat roles is that both men and women should be better informed of those risks, and maybe men in combat roles should have their health better monitored. Maybe little girls should be encouraged more to be tough and strong and less to be thin and dainty too, but that’s outside the military’s scope.
And her suggestion that there should be a “separate but equal” female force in combat? Straight up offensive.
HOWEVER, I will say this would not have been my top priority when it comes to improving the lives of servicewomen. Do you think maybe now we can address the military rape issue?
The more I think about this article, the more I think that this officer, unbeknownst to her, made a really great point about how unhealthy and in natural it is for ANYONE to be in combat roles long term. Perhaps 11B simply isn’t an MOS one should be allowed to maintain indefinitely. Most infantrymen I’ve known don’t stay there their whole lives anyhow because it is so unbelievably hard on you. Why should men ignore this fact but not women? Patriarchy hurts and oppresses us all in different ways.
I am glad that we’ve taken this step. A friend of mine pointed out that our military is already kind of behind the curve on this one. Many other militaries have already integrated, as have our police force and fire departments. While it certainly hasn’t ended sexism in those professions, it’s a step. I’d like to see many more.