The struggle between social justice and tactical superiority has come to a head as three female Marine veterans published a controversial op-ed, claiming that segregating genders in boot camps “reinforces” negative stereotypes about female troops.
The three Marine veterans -Kate Hendricks Thomas, Kate Germano, and Charlotte Brock- published an op-ed on the website Task and Purpose saying that segregating men and women during boot camp/basic training “reinforces negative stereotypes about the abilities of women, breeds distrust, and creates a negative impact on mental health for military women in and beyond the service.”
Depending heavily on the concept of “stereotype threat”, the authors explain that negative stereotypes (in this case, concerning women in combat roles) actually cause the stereotyped group to perform poorly, in full alignment with their stereotypes.
“From the moment female recruits enter Marine boot camp, they are trained to a lower standard,” the authors note. “This formalizes expectations that translate to stereotype threats: that they will run more slowly, have weaker upper body strength, and shoot a target with less accuracy than men.”
The authors of the op-ed went on to say that the Marines (and possibly the military as a whole) perpetuate the stereotype by continuing to recruit weaker females en masse and train them to lower standards, rather than aggressively seeking out stronger females and training them to the same standard as men.
While “Alpha females” are out there (many of them shine in high school and college athletics, for example), aggressively seeking out and recruiting them while barring or ignoring others would not be an effective practice to meet recruiting goals. That would be the equivalent of having to fill a used car lot in seven days with a limited budget, yet seeking out only Lamborghinis and Shelby Cobras- you just can’t do it, and certainly not in an efficient manner.
While the authors do wholly embrace the concept of “stereotype threat,” and seek out tasks to make the military a better-recruiting machine for A-type women, they seemingly ignore -possibly because they’ve not encountered it as intensely- a glaring shortfall in their strategy: physical capabilities, training and the unit cohesion created by the implementation of equal standards, as the most important quantifiable factors in actual combat.
The combat side of the military is often a return to man’s base instincts- the ultimate in “back to basics.” If someone doesn’t perform, if they cannot be trusted to meet an equal (and in many combat units, often higher) standard when it comes to physical fitness, marksmanship, and endurance, they are ostracized from the pack like a wounded animal. While attempts at rehabilitation can be (and are often successfully) made, the individual who falls behind carries that stereotype over their heads until they defeat it.
Is this fair? Not in the societal sense, no. However, it is sound logic when speaking of the individuals who must break free from the societal norm in order to sleep in filthy holes, march for miles on end with over 150 pounds on their back, carry their wounded comrade to safety and yes, kill other people, be it at range or in gruesome, eye-gouging hand-to-hand combat. For that, you need raw, brute force and unwavering conviction that your comrades are capable of dealing the same force at the same standard as you.
In short, society may be fair, but nature is not.
Some arguments can be made that other militaries (such as the Soviets during World War II and the Israeli Defense Forces) have successfully integrated mixed-gender units in combat. However, the Soviets only conscripted women as a last resort and while the IDF does have mixed-gender units (and are adding more) they function more in the role of a heavily-armed Border Patrol with a solid logistics line close to home than that of a full-projection expeditionary force like the United States military.
Even within the IDF (who require the women in mixed units meet the same standards as men), concerns have been rising that making those standards equal and subjecting women to harsher abuse- IDF Colonel Raz Sagi authored a book on the subject, citing that women in the IDF who are subjected to training and routine duty in combat units are more prone to devastating conditions such as hip stress fractures, ruptured discs and uterine prolapse among women, with the latter condition often making a woman incapable of childbirth.
“Statistically,” Colonel Sagi explained, “women are shorter, their bones are weaker, that is how they were born, it is nothing to get angry about.”
In the US Military, bone stress fractures are quite common among female troops, even at their lower standards of performance.
A study performed by the Journal of Military and Veteran’s Health showed that as military technology progresses and the face of warfare changes, the service member’s weight carried has become heavier with each generation. From ceramic body armor to having to carry more electronics, ammunition, and batteries for longer missions, the weight will not get lighter. If women are already (by physiological design) physically damaging themselves to a greater degree than men by bearing the current load while performing less arduous duties, how will the service member of the future react when his female counterparts have to be removed from the fight with a higher attrition rate due to -literally- crippling injuries?
While Secretary of Defense Ash Carter’s ball has already been set in motion to integrate women into combat units, the fact remains that it has been met with stiff resistance by both grunts on the ground and their leadership who did extensive testing on the subject, the issue is not one of opportunity- it is that of life and death in combat.
With all due respect to the authors of the original op-ed, the lack of cohesion is not as much the result of a flawed theory on stereotypes and equality as it is the medically-proven results that prompt such an expectation. Equality is a wonderful thing for society, but it does not -nor will it truly ever- exist on the battlefield.
By Andy Wolf
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