When the word “veteran” comes up in conversation, the image that comes to mind is usually the heart wrenching vision of a man who has seen combat and come back alive: a hero.
When the word “veteran” comes up in conversation, the image that comes to mind is usually the heart wrenching vision of a man who has seen combat and come back alive: a hero. And while this is the case in some situations, and I greatly appreciate those men who have served in active duty and risked their lives to defend the U.S., many fail to realize that millions of women put their lives on the line as well.
Women are still currently barred from 38 percent of military jobs, including infantry, tank and amphibious vehicle operation, and artillery. While performing their duties, women face the dangers of war as well as being at risk for sexual harassment.
If women have been serving in the armed forces for over a century, why are they still not allowed to serve in all of the positions that are available to men in our armed forces?
“The differences between the sexes seem to erode cohesion,” said Army medic Mike Turner. “There’s not a lot of consequence in other jobs, but when you’re smashing down doors, working and depending on your buddy, you can’t let anything get in the way. The women serving also face lower standards than men.”
Currently, the Department of Defense and the U.S. Coast Guard report that almost 1.5 million women are currently serving in active duty, with an additional 500,000 in the National Guard Reserve. Women compose over 14.5 percent of our total arm.
One of the major arguments against women serving in infantry positions is that they lack the same physical strength of their male counterparts. This is an incredibly sexist position, as women have been athletes, bodybuilders and worked in the same jobs as men for a long, long time. This seemingly biological argument is only drawn from gender constructions and stereotypes of females as “weak.”
In 1995, a study by the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine decided to put a group of civilian women to the army infantry test. Before training, fewer than 25 percent of the women were able to complete the duties required of men. After the training, over 75 percent of the women were able to meet the same standards—and these were a group of civilians—lawyers, mothers and students who had no previous physical exercise regimen.
Women are also said to fold under the pressure of combat situations more easily than men. This argument also has no real scientific basis, as women are once again being judged not on individual merit, but on what many consider to be inherent gender traits. Men and women both cry, they both get upset, they both get stressed out—one is not more likely to break down than the other.
Currently, the Israeli Army, which requires a compulsory term of service for its eligible citizens, has begun to allow women back into combat positions after such positions were unavailable during their War of Independence in 1948. In 2001, women were reintroduced into infantry positions. There are currently women in the world serving in the infantry, and, contrary to popular belief, the world has yet to implode on itself or fizzle into dust.
Many feel that it is dangerous or irresponsible to let women serve in infantry positions, but if they are receiving the same rigorous training as men in the armed forces, there should be no real difference in performance, as they would have to meet the same physical and mental standards as anyone else currently serving.
One of the problems female veterans have faced is a rising homelessness rate. The Department of Veteran Affairs reports that the number of homeless female veterans has doubled in 10 years. Because veteran’s clinics are few and far between, many face the challenge of physically getting to a place where they can be helped.
Groups formed to assist veterans are also awkward territory for female veterans, as they are not considered “true” veterans, even though women are able to pilot combat planes and serve on combat ships. The groups, mostly composed of men, sometimes deny women a safe space—especially if they have been victims of sexual harassment while in active duty.
Currently, the Portland State Women’s Resource Center has teamed with the Women Veterans Outreach Action Team in order to provide priceless services to women who have served our country.
Still, regardless of gender, all of our soldiers should be properly trained to handle the situations that arise in war. Stereotypes and gender expectations shouldn’t stand in the way of someone’s military career, and women who would choose to serve in the infantry should be allowed to get the credit they deserve for protecting our country. ?