Women allowed in combat: Will that mean it's less safe for men? (+video)
Critics say that opening combat to women will create pressure to lower standards so that women can meet them. Backers say that equal treatment will attract more serious women athletes.
With women now allowed to serve on the front lines, are men going to be more in danger on the battlefield?
And will America‚Äôs national security be jeopardized by men leaving the infantry in droves because they no longer see it as a tough, elite calling?
These have long been frequently-cited reasons for not allowing women to serve in combat.¬†
‚ÄúI think some men will leave the infantry,‚ÄĚ says one senior Marine Corps officer. ‚ÄúYou‚Äôve got to ask yourself why most young men join the Marine Corps, especially that group that wants to be infantrymen.‚ÄĚ
The answer, in many cases, is to ‚Äúshoot stuff and blow things up,‚ÄĚ he adds. ‚ÄúSo some percentage of those guys would be like, it wouldn‚Äôt be as much fun.‚ÄĚ
These arguments are often closely linked to the shared physical hardships that lead to espirit de corps.¬†
Can a woman carry her fellow soldiers out of danger, or hike long distances lugging heavy packs without falling behind and holding her fellow soldiers back?
‚ÄúThe answer to that is very straightforward: Create a physical fitness standard,‚ÄĚ says Anne Coughlin, a professor at the University of Virginia School of Law, in Charlottesville, Vir., who is spearheading a conference¬†Feb. 1 on women in combat in Washington, D.C.¬†
‚ÄúThat‚Äôs all the litigation would ask for, or ‚Äď to be candid ‚Äď all that we would want.‚ÄĚ
Yet some worry that as women fail to meet physical fitness standards, the Pentagon will be tempted to lower them. ¬†
Recent history suggests that some standards are getting higher. The Marine Corps just got rid of the flexed arm hang for women as a physical fitness standard, and instead implemented pull-ups. Women must complete two pull-ups to pass the physical training (PT) test, and eight to max it out. Men receive the highest scores for 18 pull-ups, and must complete two to pass.
‚ÄúMy great fear is that once they‚Äôre open, and there are physical tests and so forth ‚Äď you have to be able to bench press this, carry this, hump a 70 lb. rucksack or whatever it is ‚Äď then the advocates for women in combat will say, ‚ÄėThose standards aren‚Äôt appropriate,‚Äô and they‚Äôll attack the standards,‚ÄĚ says Peter Mansoor, professor of military history at the Ohio State University and a former executive officer to Gen. David Petraeus in Iraq.¬†
‚ÄúMy great fear is not that we open up combat arms positions to women, because I think we should,‚ÄĚ he says.‚ÄĚMy great fear is that we‚Äôll dumb down the standards because women can‚Äôt meet them.‚ÄĚ
There‚Äôs another possible scenario, and that is that the military will attract more talented female athletes who didn‚Äôt want to join the military previously because they didn‚Äôt want to be limited by lower standards, says Anu Bhagwati, executive director of the Service Women‚Äôs Action Network.¬†
A former company commander in the Marine Corps, Ms. Bhagwati was the second woman to complete the Corp‚Äôs Martial Arts Program instructor trainer school, earning a black belt in close combat techniques.
‚ÄúRight now there‚Äôs no incentive for women to join the military, because they‚Äôre not going to be treated equally,‚ÄĚ she says.¬†
While defense officials ‚Äúthink they‚Äôre getting the best, many serious women athletes don‚Äôt see the military as a possibility because they know they‚Äôre not treated equally.‚ÄĚ
That unequal treatment is often rooted in closely held cultural beliefs about femininity and fear of misplaced chivalry on the battlefield.
‚ÄúIf a male soldier is protecting other males he gets the medal of honor, but if he does it for females it somehow becomes an act of crazed chivalry that places national security in danger,‚ÄĚ says Professor Coughlin.
It‚Äôs a line of thinking that tends to be dismissed even by those who have concerns about women in combat.¬†
‚ÄúOut of all the arguments, that‚Äôs the one to me that holds the least water,‚ÄĚ says the Marine Corps officer. ‚ÄúMost guys don‚Äôt even open the doors for women anymore.‚ÄĚ¬†
What‚Äôs more, women have been serving alongside men in battle for years. ‚ÄúEveryone‚Äôs on the same team ‚Äď those instances are extremely binary. It‚Äôs you and it‚Äôs the enemy,‚ÄĚ he adds, ‚Äúand we‚Äôre going to win.‚ÄĚ¬†
With the right to take part in combat on behalf of their nation comes risks, but also full citizenship, says Bhagwati. ‚ÄúI think in the history of the United States, every marginalized population only gained respect and real citizenship ‚Äď not just in the sense of the vote, but of one‚Äôs peers ‚Äď through military service,‚ÄĚ she adds. ‚ÄúOtherwise you‚Äôre not considered 100 percent American. You‚Äôre just not.‚ÄĚ¬†