Daniel Chi / Asst. photo editor
In what might be the most important change to the military since the repealing of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta officially opened up combat roles, including fighting on the front line, to women Wednesday.
To the feminist notion of equality, it is nothing short of one giant leap, but the other concerns of troop stability, cooperation and functionality, have begun to seep.
Yet in a time when women up about 33 percent of the Supreme Court, 20 percent of the Senate and about 18 percent of the House of Representatives, according to their respective websites, – all of which are supposed to represent the population of the United States – our nation’s most patriotic icon, our military, has been thoroughly unrepresentative of women to the same degree. In a purely representative sense, the only question that needs to be asked is, why so late?
The most common argument would seem to be that women are physically less capable then men. Evidence? Sports are consistently separated by gender. The number of basketball players in the NBA who can’t dunk might be less than the number of players in the WNBA who can. The difference between the world’s fastest man and the world’s fastest woman is almost 1 second or about 10 percent. Such evidence would suggest that at peak capacity, men are more physically able than women.
But that is not the point. Like most things in the world, our abilities lie on a spectrum from novice to superb. Many women who were capable of serving in those combat roles were simply not even allowed to apply for combat roles, a point which is made even more ironic considering how Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth lost both of her legs after her plane went down while on a supply run – in a non-combat role. And now, more and more women are coming out saying something to the likes of, “Soldiers did not care I was a woman when the bullets were flying around.”
One female campus Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) member puts it like this: Allowing women into frontline combat was shied away from due to cultural taste earlier in American history … The (previous) restrictions do not stop them from having to face these challenges, but rather force them to face (combat situations) without the proper training that is given to their male counterparts and removes any chance of recognition or career advancement that they should have received from what they have done.
Rather than facing an immediate denial, women will be given a chance to compete for the roles on the front line, and the army will be trying to find the best, most physically and mentally capable people from a wider pool. But that is not to say there are not drawbacks. First and foremost, women in the combat roles could indeed change the culture of the military itself. Troops will have to adjust on both ends. When asked if we could expect “magical” troop cohesion when women joined the military, another ROTC member quite frankly said, “It will be disruptive.” And such a disruption could be bad for our national security in the short term.
The military is not only supposed to keep us safe but also ensure that people who want to fight for their country, and are physically capable of doing so, can. In that democratic sense, the military is an object of social change. Racial integration was once questioned but is now an afterthought because we as a country realized that mental barriers should not affect us. This is no different.
In the long run, the costs seem more and more pressing. Legal precedent shows that such an opening of roles could lead to women having to take part in the draft – something that could affect thousands of women at OSU. Perhaps in the future women will have to sign up for the selective service the same way men have to before they apply to college.
I hope the same pathways that have given many men national prominence allow for women to continue to close the gender disparity and produce more great leaders. I hope it gives rise to the first female defense secretary, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and even the first female president. The reality is that Duckworth was simply the tip of the iceberg – opening the combat roles to women makes that iceberg just that much bigger.