Academic journal article Parameters

On "Women in Battle'

Academic journal article Parameters

On "Women in Battle'

Article excerpt

This commentary is in response to the featured articles "The Female Soldier" by Anthony C. King "What Women Bring to the Fight" by Ellen L. Haring; and "Gender Perspectives and Fighting" by Robert Egnell published in the Summer 2013 issue of Parameters (vol. 43, no. 2).

Three questions dominate the articles by Haring, Egnell, and King on women in combat:

Will the inclusion of women impact military cohesion and culture?

* Can and should women be required to meet the physical standards required for combat roles?

* Do women improve or diminish troop readiness and effectiveness?

While the authors raise important points related to these questions, there is plenty of room to push the discussion further and to move beyond "can they" and "should they" questions towards a more frank discussion of women's current and historical contributions to warfare, the drawbacks to military cohesion, signs of the need to revise military culture, as well as gender issues within the military that the removal of the combat exclusion will certainly not solve.

All three authors address what has become a central concern related to women and combat: physical standards. The authors cover the most significant arguments on both sides of this debate. King argues that women will need to prove themselves against existing standards "just as ethnic minorities and gay men have," while Egnell and Haring point to both the gendered nature of the standards and their potential anti-quatedness given the changes to modern warfare. Haring makes an often-overlooked point that should make this debate mute--there are, in fact, no established set of occupational standards for combat.

In terms of military cohesion and culture, it is encouraging to see Egnell and Haring question both the nature of military cohesion and the presumption that current military culture requires preservation rather than revision. King ascribes some of the most disappointing arguments relevant to this discussion. In particular, King gives credence to van Creveld and Kingsley Browne's position that the military is an inherently masculine institution that has, and will continue to be, corrupted and weakened by the inclusion of women. It is perplexing that Martin van Creveld continues to be called on as an expert when it comes to women in combat. Van Creveld established his position on women in 2000 when he stated that war was "an assertion--the supreme assertion--of masculinity" and that women inherently diminish the core qualities of an effective military (Martin van Creveld, "Less than we can be: Men, Women and the Modern Military" journal of Strategic Studies 23, no. 2). Since then, van Creveld has cherry picked research to support this opinion. Scholarship based on the premise that women are inherently inferior to men in any other venue would be described as sexist; the hesitation to give van Creveld's work this classification continues to baffle me. In my view, when it comes to debates on women in combat van Creveld's work should be treated as editorializing at best, with much of the content trending towards sexist polemic.

There is extensive research indicating that women do not negatively impact military culture and cohesion (Women Content in Units: Force Development Test [MAX WAC]). Moreover, Egnell and Haring hint that current military culture may require revision rather than preservation. In doing so, they raise an important question: would it necessarily be detrimental if the current military culture were altered? Given that the last decade of US war operations has included low points such as the Abu Ghraib abuses, images of soldiers urinating on corpses, record suicide rates, and a rampant sexual violence epidemic, the negative aspects of group cohesion and the potential need for cultural evolution within the forces should be taken more seriously.

When it comes to physical standards and military culture, there is a potential to talk in circles. …

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