Fighting and Winning like Women

By Hill, Robert M. | Military Review, November-December 2013 | Go to article overview

Fighting and Winning like Women


Hill, Robert M., Military Review


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IN MAY 2012, National Public Radio's Renee Montagne spent time in Afghanistan covering a range of critical issues facing the country as it looks to a future without significant NATO and U.S. force presence. On 10 May, the topic was women's rights and concerns that if the Taliban were brought into the political process or able to reestablish any degree of control, gains in women's rights would be, most assuredly, jeopardized. (1)

That same day, I read about the 2012 DePuy writing contest on the topic of womens' role in the Army over the next 20 years. In light of the National Public Radio story, it struck me as ironic that the U.S. Army was wrestling with the very same question. This soul-searching suggests a number of things:

* Best case--we're not as advanced on issues of equality as we'd like or need to be.

* Worst case--We continue to hold onto outdated and sexist views of women; i.e., we've fundamentally not changed much at all since their full integration in the early 1970s.

* Risk--Asking such a question is just lip service and a stall tactic.

* Opportunity: Admitting that we truly do know the answer is the first step toward genuine change. But like the joke--"Hey boss, when do you need that report," and the reply comes back, "Yesterday!"--we cannot wait 20 years to make needed changes.

Three Vignettes

I was a cadet at West Point when the first class with women entered in 1976 and ambivalent about their admittance into the Corps of Cadets. I remember asking my father, an alumnus and career infantry officer who saw combat in Greece, Korea, and Vietnam, how he felt. He surprised me with his response: future wars would demand more brain than brawn and women were damned smart. It would be foolish to limit the military's intellectual capital because of outdated stereotypes and prejudices.

A year after my graduation, as the cadets in the first class that included women were considered for leadership opportunities, I heard that a female company-mate had been recommended for a position on the brigade staff, making her one of the corps' highest-ranking cadets. Knowing her, I felt the academy had made a wise choice. Instead of accepting it, she declined. The story I heard was that she worried she would never know whether her selection was due to her achievements and potential or solely based on her gender.

I recently encouraged my 24-year-old daughter to consider joining the military. She has struggled with college academics, and I felt that enlisting would provide an alternative glide path to success. When I mentioned this to a friend, he said I should watch the film The Invisible War, about rape in the U.S. military, and reconsider my position.

As the saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Only in this case, as it relates to the role of women in the military, achieving the status quo is decidedly bad: for women, men, the Army, the Department of Defense, the nation and the world.

War on Women

Let's face it: being a woman is tough. Many assume much of womens' plight occurs in countries such as Iran, India, China, and Afghanistan, where they are murdered, mutilated, poisoned, or constantly harassed. The idea that they are maligned and mistreated in the U.S. is all-too-readily dismissed or ignored. It should not be.

In the United States, women are facing assaults on a number of fronts, from reproductive rights to equal pay for equal work, issues that many thought had been resolved but, in fact, have been simmering at a sub-boil for some time. (2) Whether there truly is a "war on women" or it is simply partisan politics is debatable; yet it is clearly symptomatic of the fact that gender issues remain unresolved and polemical.

The number of sexual assaults that the DOD Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office(SAPRO) estimates occur each year evidences this fact. …

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