Women in Combat
Literature Review Question: What does literature reveal about women in combat? How does society view women in combat?
Imagine being a U.S soldier on a mission in Kabul, Afghanistan in search of a member of the Taliban. You’re part of a team that consists of five men and one woman. You get on a helicopter to get to your destination. Shortly after you have reached your destination and you and your team wait patiently atop a mountain in the distance to scope out the situation. You split into two smaller units of three and make your way toward to the village where your culprit suspected to be. You are leading your team, signaling them when it is clear to move. Suddenly, you disrupt an IED that has been placed in the ground by the Taliban. Seconds later, you find yourself in a pain you have never felt before. You look down and see you’re missing a leg and are bleeding profusely. You feel someone apply pressure to your wounds and look down and it is the woman U.S soldier that is a part of your force. Does it matter that it is a woman helping you? Can she provide you with the same help that a male soldier could?
America’s Armed Forces is a complete voluntary system. There are about 2.3 million people who make up the Armed Forces, including the different branches: Marine Corps, Army, Navy, Coast Guard, and Air Force. Only about 15% of the 2.3 million people are women (“Women in the Military Statistics”).
Women have been serving since 1775 during the Revolutionary War. They would serve as nurses, cooks, and laundresses only if they proved to be helpful and if the commanding officers approved. Between 1917 and 1918, women were beginning to have more roles in the Military. These were the last two years of World War I and 33,000 women served as nurses and support staff. More than 400 women died in the line of duty. From 1962 to 1972, during the Vietnam War, over 7,000 women served. They served mostly as nurses in all five divisions of the Military, Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, and Coast Guard- all volunteers. In 2008, 16,000 women served in Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Germany, Japan, and other related areas (Time Line: Women at War). These statistics show that over time, the number of women serving has grown and their roles have expanded. Many women were and still are becoming more involved in combat and fighting for our country. Despite these trends, negative voices are heard.
Although women have proved to be effective in combat, there are many concerns that people face. The main concern is whether or not women can perform to the same level that men perform at. Kingsley Browne, a journalist, makes a very one sided argument that putting women into combat is a very “Disastrous Decision”. He says, “The physical differences between men and women are obvious, as few women have the strength, speed, or aerobic capacity of even the average man” (Browne). The physical difference may be a make or break for the women who fight in combat. It is natural that men have a much stronger physique and when it comes to fighting in war, it is very important to be physically strong and fit.
It is believed that women have a more important, traditional role to fill- motherhood. Mark Davis says, “Women are amazing people, often with talents and contributions beyond what any man brings to the table” (Davis). He also says, “It is because womanhood is special and sacred that we should not send out daughters, wives and mothers off to be killed, maimed, or taken prisoner” (Davis). Davis has a different view point on the topic of involving women in combat and through the use of ethos and pathos, he brings up religion and the traditional roles women play in life.
Another main reason why people are against having women fight in combat is because of the desires that arise when you mix young men and women together. Anna Simons, a journalist, says, “As for the three problems, the first is that every sentient adult knows what happen when you mix healthy young men and women together in small groups for extended periods of time. Just look at any workplace. Couples form. At some point, how couples interact- sexually, emotionally, happily and/or unhappily- makes life uncomfortable for those around them, Factor in intense, intimate conditions and you can forget about adults being able to stay professional 24/7” (Simons). The main concern that Simons presents in her argument is whether or not the men and women stationed and at war would be able to stay professional and ignore their desires to interact sexually and emotionally. She then says, “Inconvenient truth number two is that men and women have been each other’s most consistent distraction since the beginning of time. To pretend that we don’t know what will happen when men and women are thrown together for prolonged periods in emotionally situations defies common sense” (Simons). She has a very strong opinion and argument that integrating women into combat may be a bad decision based solely on the fact that the men and women could form situations within themselves that would prevent them from being professional while on the job. She then concludes her argument with, “The only thing that should matter is whether the presence of women will contribute positively to the combat effectiveness of combat units” (Simons). This reveals that there are obvious things to consider when integrating women into combat units; both the men and women would have to stay professional and ignore their natural desires.
Supportive voices are beginning to be heard. Joshua S. Goldstein, states that women are an effective aspect to war and perform well. He says, “The United States, the world’s preeminent military force, has successfully integrated women into the military on a larger scale than ever in history” (Goldstein). Over time, more women have volunteered to actually fight in combat. Goldstein says, “Most are in healthcare and administration, traditionally feminized occupations, but a growing number has participated in combat…Women have fought in wars rarely, but effectively on numerous occasions” (Goldstein). For an example, “In Afghanistan, 4,000 US women soldiers (as of 2009) had also played an important role in interactions with civilian populations. In strictly de-segregated societies, US women soldiers form an indispensable link to local women who may provide intelligence to head off trouble planned by their male relatives” (Goldstein). Women are very helpful in what they do when it comes to talking to the civilians. The US women soldiers were able to communicate and get the women civilians to trust them and give the soldiers input on what their male relatives may be planning. That is an extremely helpful and smart tactic of the United States to use. So, it is proved that although there may not be many women fighting, they are effective aspect to war and do perform well.
Along with the sexual tension that could arise, the greatest concern involves the cases that don’t get attention. Collins says, “The biggest safety concern for women in the military is actually not so much enemy fire as sexual attacks from fellow members of their own service. Because the crime is so underreported, it’s impossible to say how many women suffer sexual assault while they’re in uniform, but, 3,192 cases were recorded in 2011” (Collins). Collins argues that the military is a bad environment for women solely because of the threat of sexual assault from fellow military combatants. But, he does think of a way to draw attention to this concern. He says, “Allowing women to get the benefits of serving in combat positions won’t make that threat worse. In fact, it might make things better because it will mean more women at the top of the military, and that, inevitably, will mean more attention to women’s issues” (Collins). He thinks that allowing women who are capable to fight in competitive positions would bring more attention to women’s issues. But, some will argue that it is not about equality and women’s issues, but rather whether or not allowing women to fight in combat positions will be in the benefit of our country.
There was little research found on why women should be involved in fighting in combat. This has a lot to do with the fact that most people are too caught up on focusing on the negatives. The results can be interpreted in three different ways. One being that there just is not enough interest in women to join the military. In today’s society, there just might not be enough interest in women to join the military simply because of the threats that come along with it. Second being that most people see women as a minority when it comes to the military, but what is that based on? Physical strength, possibly. But, 15% of today’s military is women (“Women in the Military Statistics”). That number could grow over time. The last way that these results could be interpreted is that maybe people want to suppress this growing trend. Many of the negative aspects of women fighting in combat came from male sources and that could possibly be the reason why there is little positive documentation of women in combat. The men might not want women fighting alongside them. In conclusion, literature reveals that most of today’s society see’s women in combat as a negative aspect to fighting at war.
The bulk of literature reveals that most people are focused on the cons that women would bring to fighting in combat. It is mostly men who are proposing these negative thoughts, which reveals that there is still some sort of gender bias present in today’s society. Further inquiry into the dynamics between gender and the attitude of women in combat is necessary. This may lead one to ponder:
What does gender have to do with the attitude towards women in combat?
Our society is trying to eliminate gender bias, but it is still an issue present in fighting in combat. Because of the visibility of this issue, I decided that a quantitative collection of opinions would best support my findings. Of course, a qualitative data collection would be more in depth, but it was important to just investigate the pure and simple relationship between gender and the attitude towards women in combat.
Data Collection Process and Instrument:
Using the Likert Scale, I asked my journalism class, “Are you male or female?” and then stated “Women should be allowed to fight in combat” and the student would either strongly disagree, disagree, have no opinion, agree, or strongly agree. Lastly, I asked the student to state their reasoning. The student’s opinions remain anonymous. I took an equal amount of male and female responses and then compared the results, based on gender.
I decided it would be best to use my Journalism class as my sample for my data collection. My journalism class is made up of both males and females ages 14-18. I felt that this was the best sample to use since I had easy/ simple access to getting their opinions and teens would be the best sample for this research question. Students this age are the next wave to be introduced to fighting in combat seeing as this is the time for those moving on in their lives to enroll if they wish. Also, teens in today’s society are aware of the issue of gender bias.
Agree: 3/10: 30%
Agree: 0/10: 0%
Strongly Agree: 7/10: 70%
Strongly Agree: 10/10: 100%
Three out of ten males agreed with the statement: Women should be allowed to fight in combat. But, seven out of ten males strongly agreed with that statement. From the female perspective, ten out of ten females strongly agreed. I did not include strongly disagree, disagree, and no opinion because no one chose any of those as their opinion. So, 100% of the people who answered this questionnaire AGREE that women should be allowed to fight in combat. Most of their reasoning was based solely on the fact that women and men are equal and if someone is willing to fight for their country then they should be able to do so. One female even said, “Women are stronger than men” in her reasoning for choosing Strongly Agree.
The results from my survey tell me that the teens that make up today’s society are much more aware of the gender bias that is present that the adults who make up today’s society. It also tells me that gender does have something to do with the attitude towards women in combat because although 30% of the males who were involved in answering my questionnaire “Agreed”, 100% of the females who were involved in answering my questionnaire “Strongly Agreed”. It was interesting how not one person had an opinion other than agreeing that women should be allowed to fight in combat because most of the literature reveals that mostly males have a negative opinion towards the idea of women fighting in combat. But, my sample was teens in today’s society and most of the samples in literature were adults.
So, what does this all mean? This could mean many things. The literature revealed that there is a very negative attitude towards women in combat, especially in the adults in today’s society. But, my findings reveal that the teens who make up today’s society have a very positive attitude towards women in combat, even the males, and teens are much less gender bias. This is important because the teens that completed the survey are the next wave of people who could enroll into combat and they could be the ones making a difference in ignoring the gender bias. Future research should focus on finding the more positive things that women bring to the table when it comes to fighting in combat.
Browne, Kingsley. "Putting Women in Combat Is a Disastrous Decision." US News. U.S.News & World Report, n.d. Web. 12 Nov. 2014.
Davis, Mark. "Mark Davis - Military and Society Threatened by Women in Combat." Townhall.com. N.p., 25 Jan. 2013. Web. 12 Nov. 2014.
Goldstein, Joshua S. "War and gender." Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender. Springer US, 2004. 107-116.
"Here’s Why Women in Combat Units Is a Bad Idea." War on the Rocks. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Nov. 2014.
Time Line: Women at War. Colonial Williamsburg, 2008. PDF file.
Collins, Gail. "Arms and the Women." The New York Times. The New York Times, 23 Jan. 2013. Web. 20 Nov. 2014.
"Women in the Military Statistics." Statistic Brain RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Dec. 2014.
"Women in Combat: Maybe? Yes?" The New York Times. The New York Times, 27 Nov. 1992. Web. 08 Dec. 2014.