Women in Combat: Let’s Get Real
In a milestone for gender equality, the Pentagon is finally ending the combat ban for women - a ban that had become woefully obsolete. At last, women warriors will get the recognition and promotions they deserve. The brass ceiling has been shattered, and that’s good news for both women and the military.
Or is it? I admire tough fighting women as much as anyone. Their leadership skills are as good as men’s. They have important roles to play in war, and they’ve been on the front lines - and dying - for years.
But please, people. Let’s get real. Women cannot equal men in ground combat, the kind of dirty, brutal stuff that (fortunately) makes up a very minor part of modern military life, especially post-Afghanistan. It’s not that they can’t be trained to kill - they can. The issue is that the physical differences between men and women are very large, and on the battlefield, they really matter, and can’t be wished away. Men are better fighters because they are bigger and stronger and can endure far more physical punishment before they break down.
The average female soldier is “about five inches shorter than the male soldier, has half the upper body strength, lower aerobic capacity and 37 per cent less muscle mass,” Stephanie Gutmann, author of The Kinder, Gentler Military, wrote in the New Republic. “She cannot pee standing up … She tends, particularly if she is under the age of 30 (as are 60 per cent of military personnel) to get pregnant.”
U.S. Marine Captain Katie Petronio is as tough and motivated as they come - a combat engineer officer with five years of active service, during which she led many field operations. She used to think women like her could serve in the infantry, but she has changed her mind. For one thing, women are far more prone to injury than men. Her last stint in Afghanistan was so gruelling that after seven months, she had lost a large amount of muscle mass and stopped producing estrogen. “I went from breaking school records to being broken in a rather short amount of time,” she told an interviewer. “And I was only doing a portion of what my infantry brethren were doing.”