On January 23, 2013 the ban on women in combat was lifted. Personally, as a woman I think that this decision is good. When it first came on the news, my mother sadly commented, “That isn’t right.” I disagreed. Her argument continued with, “Women aren’t as capable as men.” Her opinion isn’t a complete surprise to me considering that this is the person who still feels it’s not good for me to drive alone at night. She’s the kind of person who sees pictures of me drilling a triangle choke in jiu jitsu training, and can only say “that is not very lady like.” Still, her opinions do slightly confound me. On the one side she says one thing, but on the other side it is her who always tells me that I can do anything I want. I have always appreciated and loved her vocal support in this way. Since I was born, she has helped my father in all the housework – from changing light bulbs, to painting, to yard work and everything in between. Undoubtedly, she’s far from helpless. It’s like she is stuck there somewhere in between women of the past, and modern women today.
My uncle, on the other hand argued that women “were capable of fighting just as well as a man” but the problem was that men “instinctively try to protect women.” According to him, a man wouldn’t be capable of doing anything but putting themselves in between a bullet and a woman. I sat there in the living room in
downright shock and anger. I didn’t even have the frame of mind to reason through these two statements with them.
My uncle’s sort of old fashion thinking is about as stone age as people still not believing in the fact of evolution (which unfortunately a lot still don’t). This idea that a man’s instinct to protect a woman is so strong, they can’t stand the idea of her getting hurt. I have some far off recollection of hearing this concept before, but I think that was at least 12 years ago if not more. I’d be interested to see this supported as an actual biological fact, but feel it’s more likely to be a social construct. It seems much more rational and logical that if this idea had any truth, it would be a result of what males have been taught and have learned socially and not something that is a biological “instinct”. Even if founded in some truth, the military is specifically there to train you. You will relearn how to eat, speak, walk, shower, shit, and everything and anything in between.
Moreover, being something that is probably more a result of being socially taught we have the capability to change this. We can – and we have been changing this old fashion way of thinking for years. This idea that men feel they have to protect women comes from the way we treat our sons, our fathers, our brothers. How we treat our mothers, our daughters, our sisters. Ourselves. The way we view the world, and how we pass that view on to the next generation; that is what has drawn the line between women and men.
In fact, women have been in dangerous and combat-like situations for years, even if mostly unintentional. Take this exert from the news site The Guardian:
“Sergeant Susan Sonnheim of the Wisconsin National Guard…had been blown sky high by a roadside bomb while on a night patrol in Iraq. She was still full of shrapnel, literally, and was in constant pain from serious spinal and limb injuries, as well as losing the sight on one of her eyes. She had only survived because a bullet had been slowed by her Kevlar vest and then stopped by a tobacco tin in the pocket, which contained the tobacco that many chew “in combat” to keep them alert.
Sonnheim, who won the Purple Heart for her wounds, explained that the issue of whether women were or were not allowed into combat became irrelevant in Iraq and Afghanistan because of the nature of the insurgent enemy. There was no frontline, only pockets of conflict and moving, urban, guerilla forces ebbing and flowing in the mountains, deserts and villages.
“There is no reason for women not to be in combat. It’s a buddy system – you look after the person next to you whether they are male or female. Once you are a soldier, that’s the way it is, a soldier is a soldier,” Sonnheim said. Male colleagues standing with her, also in dress uniform, agreed.”
It isn’t the reaction of male soldiers, lack of physical strength, the inability to work together, or other outdated excuses that has held women back from combat in the military. This area of equality has taken so long to bridge because war is horrible. No one should have to see the things they see. Do the things they do. No one should have to live in conditions so horrible that basic human needs become difficult. No one should have to loose friends, limbs, and loved ones. It’s not that men need to protect women from this. It’s that we all want to protect anyone from this.
But the reality is war exists, and someone has to. I rather no one ever have to be deployed. It would be nice if that little thing called world peace the beauty pageant winners always talk about would actually come true. In the meantime, allowing equality in the military is the fair and right thing to do.