The British military is likely to be opening up all posts to women sometime this year; the USA has already taken that step. This could be a positive move that widens the pool of available recruits – but it also has the potential to be a disaster. What tips the balance will be the approach taken to physical standards, and the wrong decision could have a catastrophic impact on the combat effectiveness of teeth arm units. So far, unfortunately, the signs aren’t good.
It’s the 21st century, and hopefully social attitudes have changed enough that simply being a woman isn’t going to make it harder for a soldier to do their job. I’m not too convinced about a lot of personality-based arguments either. Yes, women do naturally tend towards a more consensual, and less authoritarian, decision-making process; there’s plenty of science to back that up. On the other hand, they can also adapt very well to the military’s way of doing things. I’ve met plenty of female officers and NCOs who don’t have the slightest urge to sit down and discuss how to solve a problem; they just give an order and expect it to be carried out. So that’s all fine.
But the elephant in the room is physical strength. On average, women have less of it than men do. Yes, there’s an overlap. Many women are fitter and stronger than the average man. Some women – a lot fewer, but some – are fitter and stronger than the average infantry soldier. But the fact is that most men, with appropriate training to build them up for it, can meet the physical standards to become an infantryman. And most women, no matter how you train them, can’t. They’re less likely to have the upper body strength to carry a heavy load, their generally smaller stature makes it difficult for them to keep up on marches or move across obstacles, and they’re more prone to injury.
If a woman can pass the current physical standards for the infantry, she’s likely to do just as well as a male recruit. The danger is that a high rate of failures and injury-related dropouts among female candidates will attract the attention of those who’re more interested in social engineering than in combat effectiveness, and standards will be “updated” or “adjusted” to boost the number of women who can meet them. And that’s just wrong.
I’ve seen for myself the resentment caused by differing physical standards. When a male soldier finishes a run in 10 minutes 31 and gets put on remedial PT for failing, while a woman who comes in two minutes behind him gets a pass, people start to grumble. If 21 push-ups in two minutes is good enough for one soldier, why is 40 in the same time not satisfactory for another? It builds in an assumption that women aren’t as capable as their male colleagues. I got reprimanded on a work detail once, when I was having a pile of old office furniture put in storage – an officer decided that I’d been wrong to ask two females to carry a steel filing cabinet. I explained that it was the next item to go and they’d been the next soldiers to get back from the store, but he replied, “Nonsense, get a couple of the lads to carry that. It’s much too heavy for them.”
Was that officer putting a grumpy old NCO straight? Probably, in his mind, he was. But to me he was working on an assumption that women aren’t as good as men. If physical standards are “updated” to boost recruiting, that assumption will have a degree of truth behind it, and that’s not fair to all the soldiers – women and men alike – who are fit enough.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.