Women in the Military

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Women now comprise 14 percent of the active-duty Armed Forces of the United States. That figure is up from 1.6 percent 25 years ago (Christian Science Monitor 1998:20). In 1948, President Truman signed the Women's Armed Services Integration Act which formalized the role of women in the military. Under the law, each branch of the service was allowed to appoint one woman Colonel (Byfield, 1998:02). Now, there are numerous women who serve as Generals and Admirals. They comprise all components of the forces including serving in combat units and aboard ships. It is hard to measure whether their integration into the services has been a success or a hindrance. Generally, when looking at the issue, one should consider the effect of the integration on defense readiness, unit cohesion and morale.

The contributions of women to defense readiness are in a number of areas. Women occupy diverse positions in the armed forces. A large percentage of women work in the areas of health care, administration, personnel, and supply. In fact 44 % of all women in the military serve in the health care field (Rabkin, 1999). More and more women are entering nontraditional fields such as aviation, surface warfare, air traffic control and field artillery (Rabkin, 1999). From 1992 to 1998, for example, the number of marine flight officers and pilots increased from 0 to 62 (Rabkin, 1999). Similarly, the number of enlisted army women in field artillery increased from 32 to 122 during the period 1992 to 1998 (Rabkin1999).

Basic training for women has been an ongoing issue for the military in terms of physical readiness. Military experts think that softening the training for women fails to transform them into physically fit, skilled soldiers who are supposed to be prepared for the demands of duty. They also think that accommodating women undermines the warrior spirit that draws young men to the military.

The dropout rate for women is higher than for men. This can be attributed to the demands of physical readiness and coed training. Women fail to fulfill their commitments to serve in the military in all branches of the military. Leading the dropout rates are white women with an average rate of 43%, followed by black women at 33% and Hispanic women with 31% (Park, 1999:08).

The possibility of women becoming prisoners of war is evident. One case in point is that of Melissa Rathbun-Nealy a military trained truck driver.

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During the Gulf War, she was stationed in Dhahran. The Iraqis captured her and held her for 33 days before she was released on March 4, 1991 (Nantais, 1999:181). With the assault on Kuwait and subsequent attacks and rapes of the women by Iraqis, Rathbun-Nealy's capture was in the words of an American official, "the ultimate nightmare"(Nantais, 1999:181).

Women cannot serve aboard some ships, such as submarines. This presents a problem since there are no separate quarters for women. All facilities are shared by men. It would be too costly for the navy to redesign or modify existing submarines. The Marine Corps and Army limits positions to women where direct ground combat may be involved. The Air Force is the most gender neutral service and has no constraints to assigning women to various units and positions (Rabkin, 1999).

An analysis of why women should not be assigned to submarines can also point out many reasons why women should not be assigned to combat units and combat ships. The assigning of 144 female midshipmen (ROTC) to submarines during part of summer 1999 has started a new round of controversy. Many Submariners have recently spoken out against the practice of putting women on submarines (Donnelly, 1999:01). One of the concerns they raised was "Hot Bunks." That is, on a submarine, a bunk is shared by two or three sailors on a rotational basis. This would give a different meaning to unit cohesion. Setting aside bunks for women would be a blow to the morale for men. Also, the inherent loneliness on a submarine that is underwater for months at a time can lead to sexual problems aboard ship and marital problems at home (Donnelly, 1999:01). On Swedish subs, men and women change clothes and shower together (Donnelly, 1999:01). I suspect that many U.S. sailor's wives would not be as accommodating as Swedish wives and would vehemently oppose such a policy.

Women in combat would create an undue burden with the men in that men would feel responsible for "their" women in an enemy attack (Seifert, 1992:59). Men would not accept such treatment of his own dependents by the enemy. Men feel more vulnerable and protective towards women. This creates a feeling of added responsibility with men and a threat to his male potency. If he is unable to protect the women in his unit, it would make him feel like a failure.

The morale of military personnel is affected with the unplanned loss of female sailors aboard ships. This imposes great strain on fellow shipmates. During Operation Desert Storm, for example, enlisted women sailors were almost four times as nondeployable as men, due primarily to pregnancy or child care problems (Donnelly, 1999:01). Moreover, during a recent deployment of the Theodore Roosevelt, an aircraft carrier, 45 of 300 women did not deploy or complete the cruise because of impending childbirth. Eleven of the 45 were flown off the ship while underway (Donnelly, 1999:01). Furthermore, a 1998 study found that 4 out of 10 pregnancies among enlisted women on sea duty ended due to abortion or miscarriage (Donnelly, 1999:01). The other services experience the same problems. The effects of having coed working conditions further places a strain on morale. Women are subjected to all types of sexual innuendos by men. These men see their comments as a joke, women view them as harassment. This brings to light the confusion and anxiety about what constitutes sexual harassment.

The threat of sexual harassment charges and the confusion of what constitutes sexual harassment has appeared to hurt morale. According to one study done by the Army, soldiers' assessment of sexual harassment was correlated with a poor leadership climate, lower acceptance of women, and lower combat readiness (Christian Science Monitor, 1998:20). A poor perception of leadership in a particular unit would correlate with perceptions that sexual harassment was a problem. Similarly, the longer the time the unit was in the field, the worse the perception of sexual harassment as a problem was (Christian Science Monitor, 1998:20).

It seems that articles on sexual harassment in the military have now replaced stories of heroism and achievement. This shift in focus has undoubtedly contributed to the declining recruitment of all the armed services. A great example of such a story appeared in the March 31, 2000 edition of the Corpus Christi Caller Times (Myers, 2000:01). The article details a complaint made by the Army's highest ranking female officer, Lt. General Claudia Kennedy against another General for an incident that allegedly happened in 1996. The story made the front page.

Similarly, Maj. Gene Mckinney, once the Army's top enlisted man, was taken to a court-martial for 18 counts of sexual harassment. In March 1998, he was cleared of all the sexual misconduct and sexual impropriety charges but convicted of an obstruction of justice charge (Howard, 1998:04). That particular story stayed in the news for months. The reporting of the story probably had a serious negative impact on recruiting, not to mention on the morale of active duty personnel.

Women should be in the military. Their service is greatly valued in fields such as health care and administration. When it comes to combat and serving on combat vessels and submarines, women should not be allowed to serve. Generally speaking, women do not want to fight (Byfield, 1998:02). As to male soldiers' feelings about serving beside women in combat, one Canadian soldier said "he just couldn't understand why any woman would want to be in a combat position, especially when they weren't very good at it."(Byfield, 1998:02). With respect to sexual harassment, there is a correlation to a higher perception of sexual harassment problems when women are in units out in the field (Peace Research Abstracts Journal, 1999:687). One would assume therefore, that when women are assigned to noncombat roles such as in the health care field, that there is a lesser perception of sexual harassment problems.

Allowing women in the military has not been a social experiment gone awry. Allowing some women to serve in combat positions and on combat vessels has been a mistake and should be halted.


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Nantais, Cynthia. "Women in the United States Military: Protectors or Protected? The Case of Prisoner of War." Journal of Gender Studies. 8:2 (1999):181-92. Academic Search Elite. EBSCOhost. William F. White Library, Corpus Christi, TX., 15 Mar.2000 <http://ehostvgw2.epnet.com>.

Park, Scott. "White Women Lead Military in Dropping Out." Human Events. 55:12 (1999): 8. Academic Search Elite. EBSCOhost. William F. White Library, Corpus Christi, TX., 15 Mar.2000 <http://ehostvgw2.epnet.com>.

Rabkin, Norman. "Gender Issues - Trends in the Occupational Distribution of Military Women." FDCH Government Account Reports. (1999) Academic Search Elite. EBSCOhost. William F. White Library, Corpus Christi, TX., 15 Mar.2000 <http://ehostvgw2.epnet.com>.

Myers, Steven. "General Files Sex Complaint." Corpus Christi Caller Times. 31 Mar. 2000: A1

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