Academic journal article Military Review

Biases of the Incumbents: What If We Were Integrating Men into a Women's Army?

Academic journal article Military Review

Biases of the Incumbents: What If We Were Integrating Men into a Women's Army?

Article excerpt

Audie Murphy was too short and too light to join the U.S. Navy or the Marine Corps, but when the Army gave him an opportunity to serve, he went on to become our most decorated soldier. Military entrance standards clearly fail to predict some remarkable military performances. The presence of a Y chromosome has also not held up as a useful discriminator of soldiering, but still we in the United States have not given women an equal opportunity to serve with distinction in combat. (1)

With women in Ranger training, the U.S. Army is moving toward a new, enlightened perspective. It is changing the focus from trying to define what an entire group cannot do and, instead, it is seeking solutions that would ensure safer and more effective job performance for both men and women. However, the Army still is trying to integrate women into occupations that have been completely designed around men, the incumbents. This approach, if maintained, will deprive the Army of the advantages that gender diversity offers.

The advantages provided by gender diversity, particularly the increased ability to respond to unexpected threats with a wider choice of solutions, will only be advantages if we modernize existing equipment, tactics, techniques, and procedures that optimize the mission performance of the more inclusive group. With this modernization, we will also have the opportunity to consider health and performance issues of men that affect performance of the group.

To fully appreciate what these issues might be, it is instructive to reverse the point of view. Let us imagine we had an Army composed almost entirely of women and we were just now trying to fully integrate men. This mental exercise will evince some overlooked considerations. Of course, this is not a serious suggestion to flip the composition of the Army.

In this hypothetical reversal, what would the problems be, and how does this mental exercise help us recognize issues that we should be addressing for a more effective Army? Based, in part, on how women's issues were being discussed twenty years ago, six problems for men immediately rise to the top of the research priorities (2):

* body size and logistics

* physiological capabilities

* body fat standards and cardiovascular health risks

* frontal lobe development and self-control

* hormones and mood

* reproductive health

Body Size and Logistics

More than half of men would be excluded from service if they had to fit into equipment and crew compartments designed to accommodate the weight, height, and sitting height of the 95th percentile woman. (3) Design of equipment to fit the typical dimensions of just one sex has many implications for usability of the equipment, from the width of shoulder straps on rucksacks to the vibration characteristics in vehicle crew seat cushions, with consequences for fatigue and back pain. (4) Some performance issues can be addressed by providing equipment that is designed to fit, but maintaining expensive specialized equipment for a wide range of sizes is a challenge for many reasons.

One of those reasons is that obesity in America is not going away, and as the military services relax their fat standards to accommodate recruitment, military men--already larger than women are--will grow even larger. This means that at the upper ranges of size, men will present a greater challenge in jobs with limited crew spaces or specialized fitted equipment. Just how many larger-than-extra-large sizes can we afford for chemical protective suits? A few decades ago, these same arguments about the economy of stocking extra-small sizes kept women from Army jobs that required specialized personal equipment. (5)

Because of their size, men also would place a large burden on the logistics chain because they need 30 percent more calories than the smaller-bodied, and more-efficient women engaged in identical physical activities. …

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