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Women in combat: anything you can do, we can(not) do better

Women in combat: anything you can do we can(not) do better
Women in combat: anything you can do we can(not) do betterPhoto by: Shutterstock

When Leon Panetta lifted the ban on women in combat last year, he was met with the expected frenzy. Men who have spent time in combat seem best qualified to offer insight and have given overwhelmingly negative opinions. Women already serving seem divided; some say it’s been a long time coming while others disagree wholeheartedly. In the general public, the focus tends towards the ever-popular “gender equality” issue rather than on the realities of battle. And when it comes down to it, speaking as a perhaps excessively competitive woman surrounded by active duty service members and veterans alike, the truth seems ridiculously simple: women are the weaker sex, and we should not be in combat.

Now, before you stalk away from your computer or iPhone in disgust or mentally compose hate mail, allow me to explain. This is not a stance taken lightly, nor one reached without facts backing it. There is ample evidence supporting keeping women out of combat – and out of SOF – and you’re about to be treated to a wordy explanation. Bear with me, and read on.

Strength

“People with weaknesses get killed by the people who lack them. Notice I am still alive." Sherrilyn Kenyon

This is reality. Women aren’t capable of the same feats of strength men are; we are smaller and literally weaker. That is not to say women are weak; some women have proven exceptional strength in bodybuilding, but average women aren’t as strong as men. It’s biological fact. According to the National Strength and Conditioning Association, women are capable of producing two-thirds of the total strength men produce. Women also carry two-thirds the muscle mass men do. And then there’s upper-body strength: men have us beat hands-down. How many women could drag, let alone carry, a grown man to safety?

A study regarding upper-body strength differences of men and women by the National Center for Biotechnology Information was published by the National Library of Medicine. Those doctors went even farther, taking muscle biopsies and computerized topographical scans. Their studies mirror the rest of the scientific world’s findings: women are only 52% to 66% as strong as men, and men have far more lean muscle mass. Furthermore, biopsies revealed differences in muscle fibers: men have “significantly larger” muscle fibers throughout their upper bodies, leading doctors to believe the fibers’ greater size means additional strength. Men are physically stronger.

Speed

“There are some biological factors that cannot be overcome.” Dr. Benjamin Levine

If you’re a competitive runner, you’ve seen firsthand men consistently outdoing the women’s best times. No matter how hard we train, it’s flat impossible to shave off enough time to cross the finish line before that first elite-level man. Studies have been done on this subject as well, and although there is endless research on fast-and-slow-twitch muscle fibers, this is different. When it comes to speed, scientists say it’s our biological building blocks, or lack thereof: testosterone. An average woman may outrun an average man but male elite runners – and fit men - are a different story. Women also have more fat; even female elite runners average 8% body fat compared to male elite runners 4%. Science shows women also have lower red blood cell counts – 10% to 15% lower than men’s – which affects how well women use oxygen and perform overall. And in military life, where service members push their bodies as a way of life, men excel far more readily than women.

Sex

“We can’t have both chastity and mixed-sex complements. So what’s the priority – a combat-ready fleet or gender diversity?” Retired Navy Captain Kevin Eyer

Think this has no place in a discussion on combat capability? Guess again. The Navy is a fantastic example: consider what happened when they began allowing women on ships. They created a co-ed living situation in close quarters that included boredom; it comes as no surprise casual sex and pregnancy immediately became issues. And since the Navy began allowing women on submarines in 2010, the numbers have climbed even higher.

When a sexual relationship sours, the tension and emotional drama spreads, affecting everyone around the now-kaput couple. When it flourishes, jealousy and accusations of favoritism run rampant. And when assault occurs – and it certainly does – women understandably lose faith in the men around them, the very men they must rely on; not just the one who committed the assault, but men in general, suddenly feel toxic. And then there’s pregnancy.

In the Navy, sexually-transmitted diseases and pregnancies got so out of control they started supplying birth control for free. They clearly hoped such services would cut down on unplanned pregnancies, but it didn’t work. Among junior enlisted ranks, 66% of pregnancies are unplanned, a shocking number on its own; moreso when you realize it’s twice the civilian population’s unplanned pregnancy rate. Unsurprisingly, statistics show the number of men using birth control is also in a steady decline. Perhaps some remember the Acadia, a ship that served in the Gulf and had to veer off course to deposit literally half the women on board elsewhere – because they were pregnant. 36 pregnant women on one ship, and if you think that was a one-time problem, you’re wrong.

Yes, sex is a normal part of life. But as older, seasoned members and veterans of the Navy have pointed out, the men who once made port and looked for “fun” in town now simply turn to the easily (instantly) accessible women serving alongside them. Relationships gone bad not only can but do cause discord in units, destroy unit cohesion, and predictably poison the well. Pregnant women or women with sex-related health problems compromise schedules and missions when they must be removed from ships; the same thing will happen on the battlefield. If this all sounds one-sided because it takes two to tango, well, this is reality. Women pay a heftier price for sex than men ever will. Some women get pregnant on purpose, but it’s often a matter of immaturity and irresponsibility.

Safety, Security, and the Savior Complex

"Today the American knight holds the commercial supremacy of the world." Betsy Ross, reportedly spoken while sewing the American flag

Whether or not today’s empowered women want to admit it, most men are biologically inclined to protect them. Yes, some men are all too happy to hide behind women, but most aren’t, and the testosterone-laden alpha personalities typically found on the front lines are absolutely not among the wusses of the world.

As one combat veteran put it, most civilians and even some service members don’t understand the reality of front-line combat: you are deliberately, aggressively engaging and attacking the enemy, the chance of face-to-face confrontation is high, and if you falter, you die – or your brothers-in-arms die. If you’re in a scenario where everyone available is needed to return fire, that’s one thing, but having women on the front lines because they want to feel equal is absurd. Ignoring the differences in function, consider the idea of capture. The risk of male rape isn’t given due weight, but if a woman is captured, we all know her brutal violation is almost a sure thing. The men around her know this, so even if they didn’t feel compelled to protect the female among them – which they will – the idea of her being captured and raped will be so abhorrent to the majority they are likely to risk themselves – and one another – attempting to prevent it.

The desire to protect and save can override training to the contrary, and even if we can train men not to react so protectively with women in combat situations, do we really want to? Are those the men we want to create? Men whose natural instinct to shield women and children is replaced with a carefully-programmed callous disregard? I, for one, do not.

In order to let women in, every branch of the military is faced with lowering their physical standards. The 10 women who entered the Marines’ intense Infantry Officer Course as a part of an experiment regarding allowing women into male-only units all failed. The Army has until 2016 to comply with Panetta’s order, and although top officials claim they refuse to lower standards, the situation may demand otherwise. Special Operations Chief Admiral Bill McRaven caused an uproar among Navy SEALs when he announced his support for allowing women into BUD/S – but added he expects women to fulfill the exact same physical requirements as the men. Hooyah, Admiral McRaven; nicely played.

Women do not belong on the front lines of combat. Perhaps this push for battlefield equality is the result of feminism gone awry; perhaps it’s a fear of lawsuits. Some service members say it’s nothing but a grasping hunger for medals and promotions. Regardless of motivation, it shouldn’t be happening. But that’s just this woman’s opinion.

Author's note: However, "I declare to you that women must not depend upon the protection of man but must be taught to protect herself, and there I take my stand." Susan B. Anthony

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