Recently the Department of Defense announced that, beginning in January, all combat jobs in the military would be open to women. The decision means that about 220,000 combat military positions, mostly in the Marine Corps and the Army infantry and armor units, are available to female members of the military, provided they can satisfy certain gender-neutral performance standards and other qualification requirements.
The last point is, I think, the most important one, because objective standards that are based upon a rational assessment of the expected needs of the job, but are blind to gender, should be the goal. Does the recruit, regardless of their gender, have the physical strength and capabilities, eye-hand coordination, mental characteristics, and other attributes needed to be part of the squad and do the job? If so, they should be eligible for the position.
I applaud this decision from the Obama Administration, which removes one of the last broad rules providing for differing treatment of men and women. Of course, the performance standards for various positions will need to be carefully determined, and in some instances the objectively determined physical demands of the position — such as the need for substantial upper-body strength in certain combat roles, for example — might ultimately lead to qualification of more men than women, as happens in, say, firefighting jobs. But they key point is that women who can meet the requirements have the opportunity to do so, without being barred by an unfair, across-the-board rule.
Much of the traditional opposition to the notion of women in combat roles, in reality, seemed to have little to do with actual physical capabilities and more to do with antique notions of sexuality and proper gender roles. There were expressions of concern that romantic relationships might form in the foxhole that could destroy unit morale, or that men in the unit might feel so protective of women in the unit that they would forsake their training to recklessly rescue the damsel in distress. Whether there was a factual basis for these concerns in the past is debatable, but my observation of group dynamics among younger people suggests that old-fashioned notions of appropriate gender roles don’t have much significance these days — and in any case I’m confident that tough Marine and Army drill instructors, and squad leaders, can train and discipline troops so that such concerns don’t materialize in reality.
There’s now one, last sign of unequal treatment between men and women when it comes to military service in America: registration with the Selective Service System, and the possibility of being drafted, which is required only of men between 18 and 25. When will this last bastion of inequality also fall to the enlightened attitudes of modern America?