US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced today that women can now fulfill combat roles in the military.
Before, women were only allowed to fulfill non-combat roles. The combat ban served as an impediment to the promotion of women in the military, because they could not fulfill combat prerequisites for promotion. Women currently compromise about 14% of military personnel.
It may be a year before the fine points of this are worked out and women can actually start fulfilling combat roles. Panetta noted that they were still considering whether there were certain roles women could not fulfill.
This decision has brought up a whole menagerie of responses:
1. Conservatives are real mad because women might distract men, because men might be uncomfortable looking gross in front of women, because because women might get men killed, because women aren’t as strong as men, etc. Of course, these are all typical sexist arguments, adapted into military language. Panetta has already announced that women and men will be held to the exact same standards in combat training.
2. Conservative and CNN contributor David Frum is worried about women being sexually assaulted in prisons. While this is a legitimate concern, his argument really just an argument about women in the military altogether. Besides, the real concern shouldn’t be sexual assaults by enemy combatants – which, while an issue, are not nearly as frequent as sexual assaults by fellow members of the US military, which are overwhelmingly, depressingly frequent. If these guys were actually concerned about preventing sexual assault and not just concerned about telling women how they should be protecting their bodies, they would be talking about how to address this travesty.
3. Feminist Theologian Mary Hunt writes for Religion Dispatches about her ambivalent feelings on women being allowed to participate in an organization she finds abhorrent.
4. Of course, this ambivalence is only furthered when you consider the only reason we moved past our vast institutional sexism to allow women in the military in the first place was because we wanted to piss of conservative Muslims – the time we first really let women get involved in the military was during the first Gulf War.
5. And right now, I’m listening to Paul Krugman talk about the fact that the only way to get people to change their backward attitudes about economics is a fake alien invasion. Can war – and hating the sexism of the Arab Muslim other, thus necessitating our non-sexism – change our attitudes? Probably not, given all that we know about military rape – it just necessitates that what we call “sexism” is the sexism of the other, not our own.