Women Can Never “Belong” in Combat

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The military is and must be predicated on the notion that everyone who trains together will deploy together. Otherwise, training with the same people day in and day out serves no practical purpose. Unforeseen absences due to illness or injury cannot help but affect a unit’s ability to perform its tasks as a unit. In hard-charging combat units, soldiers and Marines will often suffer with pain and forgo medical treatment precisely to avoid being released from duty. One distinction between pregnancy and an unforeseen illness or injury is that a pregnant woman cannot simply “suck it up”; pregnancy requires that a woman be removed from duty. In addition, pregnancy and problems associated with menstruation can hardly be considered random or accidental events that could happen to any soldier. No comparable, or separate but equal, set of “disabilities” renders males non-deployable. Consequently, it becomes virtually impossible to convince men that women’s gender will not render them a liability at some point. The concern will always lurk that women could be absent for prolonged, and thus potentially critical, periods of time. We see the effects of such expectations in, for instance, the corporate world, which—rightly or wrongly— has long presumed that women of child- bearing age are less dependable than men. The fact that women do avail themselves of maternity leave, surrender high-status positions after giving birth, or quit their careers entirely merely confirms many men’s suspicions that women’s priorities—and loyalties—will shift.

Comfort on teams comes from sameness. Everyone works the same, gets treated the same, treats everyone else the same. It is not only responsibilities that are divided up, but danger and reward as well.  Unfortunately, there is nothing quantifiable about human bonding, and as a result, the “glue” within units tends to be ignored.  No one talks in terms of units as the unit to measure or analyze, although it is units, not individuals, that are marshalled into battle, sent against the enemy, and expected to hold the line. Nevertheless, sound arguments can be made concerning the ineffable importance of bonding, cohesion, and morale to the performance of units, and indeed must be made if common sense is to prevail over ideology. Cohesion should be regarded as the most serious obstacle to gender integration precisely because no structure can guarantee it, though certain known factors will surely inhibit or disrupt it. Solidarity derives from complex organic processes. Perhaps the fact that most militaries have excluded females from combat is nothing more than a coincidence of universal proportions.  So far, no military anywhere has improved upon male bonding as the fundamental building block of unit cohesion. 

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