Cathryn Beeson-Lynch

Over the past 40 years, and particularly over the past decade, female soldiers in the United States have successfully served in every branch and military occupational specialty that has been made accessible to them. Currently, 70 percent of Army occupational positions are open to both genders, and research has shown that there are no major differences in task performance between equally qualified and trained male and female soldiers. With that being said, the continued ban against female participation in 30 percent of Army positions is somewhat telling of the overarching patriarchal ideologies that persist within the American social structure.

The U.S. Army’s first experience with fully integrated female soldiers was during the Persian Gulf War. Post-war research showed no significant difference between male and female soldiers “other than physical strength capabilities” and that soldiers had a “generally positive view” regarding performances of both male and female soldiers. Research has substantiated that there are certain physical differences between the sexes. For example, on average, women have 55 percent less upper body strength than men, and are five inches shorter. Therefore, there are certain occupational requirements and war tactics that legitimately trump the principal of equivalence in favor of having all-mall soldiers because men provide a set of skills that most women are physiologically incapable of offering. For instance, introducing women into ground combat would not necessarily improve the mission due to the high physical demands. Without question, if the U.S. Army were only required to prepare for high-intensity conflict, then it would seem logical to keep the current ban intact.

However, the increase in low- and medium-intensity asymmetric warfare makes the practice of restricting female participation in the Army seem sexist rather than pragmatic. There is no current research that accurately demonstrates that women insufficiently meet the psychological and physical demands of asymmetrical warfare. Rather, recent scholarship has suggested that female soldiers improve military operations involved in asymmetric warfare. Women are able to gather intelligence that would otherwise be unavailable to men due to cultural differences. Female Engagement Teams have functioned to reduce tensions and increase credibility within civilian populaces. Thus, the use of female soldiers in asymmetric warfare, characterized by a low- and medium-intensity conflict environment, can improve military intelligence and increase military successes.

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U.S. Army CPT Katherine Redding (right), Female Engagement Team leader from the 504th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade, asks Haji Neda Mohammad (center) if she may speak with the women and children in southern Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, January 6, 2012 (source).

Those who support the ban make several claims to uphold their argument. One of the most noteworthy is that male soldiers possess certain qualities that enable them to provide an inevitable measure of superiority to their roles. Yet, with that logic, the same could easily be said for women; if female soldiers are shown to have a unique set of qualities that enable them to outperform men in various tasks, then would it not be more beneficial make use of these particular female skills? Research has shown that women have abilities that make them more effective than men in certain tactical situations – particularly in the areas of stability and security. These skills are impetrative within the asymmetric battle space. It seems as though the restriction of female involvement in the U.S. Army during a period marked by asymmetric warfare is a direct result of society’s inherent and sexist belief that men’s unique skills are more valuable than women’s.

Works Cited

  • Summers, Clark H. “Women.” Military Review 93.4 (2013): 71-78.Military & Government Collection. Web. 24 Oct. 2014.