Across hundreds of years and almost everywhere in the world, women have always played a vital role in the military. From Joan of Arc to female nurses to female battalions against German forces in World War II, women have always found a way around social norms and laws to fight for their countries and beliefs. However, despite the obvious equality women should have when being considered for military positions in the 21st century, the effects of a gender-segregated military system in America still remain.
Ever since the Revolutionary War, women have played a vital role in the American military. Many women were nurses or seamstresses, while some even disguised themselves and fought with the American soldiers. This trend of nursing and secret fighting continued through the Civil War and Spanish-American War, leading to the creation of the Nurse Corps in 1901. The Women’s Army Corps was created during World War II, providing vital relief to soldiers on the front lines. Further integration of women into the military brings us to where we are today, with about 1.4 million women serving in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard.
In early 2015, the Pentagon announced that it would be opening all military positions currently reserved solely for men to women as well by 2016 including positions like Navy Seals, Army Rangers, Green Berets, and Marine Corps Infantry. This amounts to about 220,000 jobs that were previously cut off from half of the population. The Army Rangers have already seen their first female members succeed; Captain Kristin Griest and Lieutenant Shaye Haver joined their ranks in August of 2015. Other programs, like the Navy Seals, will theoretically be able to have women by early 2018.
This change doesn’t mean that the rigorous standards set up to get into these programs will be made easier based on gender; all women will have to meet the exact same requirements as their male counterparts. A 2011 study by the Pentagon confirmed that having gender neutral screening processes is the most effective way to create an equal system, even if it doesn’t lead to equal representation. This system makes sense, as we don’t want to jeopardize the effectiveness of the most exclusive branches of our military just to fill some quota.
Why did it take so long for women to be allowed into these positions? Despite civil rights laws banning employment discrimination against a person for his or her gender, some of the most honorable positions of the military had remained closed to half the population until the removal of bans against women in 2015. The only real reasons for this inequality are the long-standing ideas about traditional gender roles that dictate women’s inability to do traditionally masculine jobs.
All over the internet and even in mainstream media, the bias against women in military positions is apparent. Though not famous for its socially liberal standpoints, Breitbart News released an article in 2016 claiming that “sending chicks into combat” hurts the overall effectiveness of the military. As another example, in September 2014, Fox News host Eric Bolling joked about a female pilot who had just led a successful air strike in Syria saying that “after bombing [her target] she couldn’t park [her plane],” and calling her “boobs on the ground.”
Not only is the blatant sexism against the thousands of women who put their lives at risk to serve this country appalling, but it’s very representative of the reasons many were hesitant to allow women into the military in the first place. Claims that women would distract the men in their units or hinder bonding between military members have prevented them from being able to serve their countries, regardless of skill.
Thankfully, we are taking steps in the right direction. Women are currently officially allowed in all positions, and they are being integrated in all branches of the military. However, the social and cultural problems still do exist. Women are still discriminated against in the media, and they often do not receive the same respect as their male counterparts. Also, despite this new equality, women still are not mandated to sign up for the draft, unlike their male counterparts.
The sooner we are able to integrate women into all branches of the military, the better. Personally, I come from a military family. Both of my grandfathers served, one as an Admiral on a submarine. My father also served on a submarine, the USS Parche, as a Lieutenant. I remember thinking as a kid, before women were allowed to serve on submarines, that I couldn’t be like my dad when I grew up. Hopefully the new policies in position to promote gender equality in the military will inspire young women, rather than hindering their dreams.