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Killer Instinct: Can Women Cut It In Close Combat?

Is our army's current stance on women institutionally sexist?

Lucy Mannion

Naked Politics Blogger

Our overlord, David Cameron has stated that he wants to see women in close combat roles in the UK military by the end of the year.  Currently, women are excluded from ground combat units whose primary purpose is to ‘close with and kill the enemy.’  A plethora of military whizzes blasted this mission as political correctness gone mad, fearing that the might of the army will be undermined, but I believe this is an intrepid and crucial move on behalf of the PM.

For too long the military has been structured and ideologically shaped around a patriarchal system that privileges notions of masculinity for little other reason than tradition.  Despite what those addicted to Call of Duty may portray, I don’t think that the destruction of life comes naturally to either sex.  Therefore, to encourage soldiers to kill, a culture has developed that equates toughness in combat with proud masculinity.  I wonder if there is trepidation that allowing womenfolk to kill may make the military less alluring to blokes, but defending their morale is not a sufficient reason to formally discriminate against women.

I feel that most of the justifications giving for excluding ladies from close combat units are based on myths, folk psychology and misguided intuition.  The whole men are from Mars, women are from Venus shtick is certainly not helping here.

Some declare that women are not physically strong enough or mentally aggressive enough to fill these positions, but you cannot judge what someone is capable of on their sex alone.  The Secretary of State for Defence, Michael Fallon agrees pronouncing that roles should be decided on ‘ability and not gender’ and the military itself admits that a general disparity in vigour is not an adequate basis for a blanket ban of women in close combat roles.  Certain women will be physically qualified for these roles and some will not, surely whoever makes the cut can take part, just as it is with male recruits.  The prowess and ability of female athletes has shown us what the fairer sex are capable of.

Others are fretful that the inclusion of women will damage the critical cohesion of close combat teams, but I would postulate that successful teamwork does not rely on a homogenous group (bands like Steps and S Club 7 have taught us that!)  In fact the argument about unit cohesion was also used against President Truman when he ended segregation in the military based on race and that seemed to turn out ok.  There are clearly much more pertinent factors for the triumph of a unit such as training and decent leadership.

There are also apprehensions that if this goes ahead, Adam will protect Eve at the expense of their mission, but I think if women start to be perceived as just as capable this should not be a setback.  Regardless, female soldiers are already in harm’s way and have died on the frontline.

It is worth noting that women have been incorporated in to close combat units in other places, they are free to enrol in all occupations in the Canadian forces since 1989 (except in submarines, for complex reasons) without any great disaster and numerous other countries have followed suit.

Much of this debate seems to focus on the reaction of fellas with further reservations about how they will keep it in their pants if small troops contain possible intercourse partners.  I would argue that if soldiers are a band of brothers, surely we can extend the sibling concept to create an artificial incest taboo and anyway, once again, why are men’s problems becoming women’s problems?  I’d like to see the penis penalised for once.

The military seems to be one of the last bastions of society formally allowed to discriminate against women, with decisions on the level of their inclusion being made almost exclusively by chaps.  However, disputes about the practicality of women in close combat teams often seem to belie moral and social qualms alongside fears of trampling the male ego.  Even the good old boys club of the church is modernising now, with women becoming Bishops for Christ’s sake!  So why not the army?

This isn’t about promoting equality at any price.  But jobs that don’t actually require a penis or vagina should really be open to everyone and the arguments that have been used to prevent this in the forces seem to rely more on beliefs than facts.  The military is a founding block of the state and its composition casts a shadow over our society.  Until women can fight and die for their country in the same way as a man, how do we expect to see more progress in equality across the board?

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