Monday, June 24, 2013

Some Random Thoughts on Gender and Soldiering

My friends Jim and Lisa over at Ranger Against War have been conducting an on-going discussion of the recent rescinding of the 1994 DOD "Direct Ground Combat Definition and Assignment Rule".

They make some very good points about how we in the U.S. look at gender and roles and warfare. They also - and I may be advancing their position too far, here - posit that the DOD action is foolish in attempting to integrate men's and women's roles in the armed forces further than they already are.

First, let me say this; frankly, if no American ever had to be an infantryman again, ever, that'd be jake with me.

I spent too many a weary klick under a rucksack to have any romance left about the Fucking Queen of Fucking Battle. That royal bitch can bite me. And that was in peacetime. The lot of an infantryman in wartime is a misery I can't even really begin to imagine.

Second, I don't see any real mainstream impetus to make this a real issue. The usual flank elements on Left and Right are spun up, but I don't sense any sort of popular interest in or push for female infantrymen and tank crews anytime soon. The reality is that most women - hell, most sane people - don't want to be high-velocity projectile interceptors for a living.


Part of "citizenship" in the U.S. means being on the parapet of Ft. McHenry "when freemen shall stand between their loved home and the war's desolation!"

While I don't like the idea of fighting as a qualification for citizenship it has been an important element of citizenship in republics since Greek and Roman times, and very definitely since the advent of "the army as the school of the nation" that came with the First French Republic in 1789. By restricting a citizen from taking up arms to defend her country you make her less than a full citizen.

Full stop.

To me that puts the burden on the person who wants to defend the idea that women are by their gender unsuited for the highest risk of mortal hazard they seek; that to insist that a woman's military service should be limited to Combat Support and Combat Service Support MOSes - which have historically and organizationally been considered and treated as second-class citizens in the U.S. Army - you have to make the case that restricting her military "franchise" is justified by the benefits to her, you, and the nation.

(And let me add here that I see no really serious push from anyone to open the infantry MOSes to women. But without the 1994 memo the possibility is there and the possibility has brought jim, especially, out of defilade and bringing direct fire on the subject of female soldiering.)

Jim has a series of points to his argument about this over at the first link to RAW. Let me list them here and try and put down some of my own thoughts in return:

--Men and women are different, and possessed of different strengths
Agreed. With the caveat that this is always and in everywhere true. It is also true that individuals are different and possessed of different strengths. That is material to certain things; a 4'2" midget is unlikely to play center for the Portland Trailblazers. It is not quite as clear how this applies to military service. I have served, and worked, and played various sports with women who were mentally tougher and physically stronger than some men. I have had the same experience within the genders; some men are tougher than others. I will agree that the strongest men are stronger than the strongest women. Toughness is another matter; I have known many women who can outrun and outruck men their own age.
--In male's compartmentalized brains, there is also a place for "his" women. These women elicit a different response.

--There are some spaces and subjects which are the chosen domain of men (see, Fight Club for the idea.) In his life, the Army's Combat Arms was such an area -- their real-world "Outward Bound" in which men tested their limits against their fellows and the enemy, and lived the Jungian warrior archetype.

Basically these two points boil down to "My head gets messed up when I have to deal with girlie stuff". I agree here, too; us guys, living in the U.S. as it is today, often have this problem.

However, it's OUR problem. There's no reason that the women around us need to make it their problem, or shape their lives around our prejudices.

Add to that the whole "mens domain" argument has ALWAYS been used to keep the "other people" out, whether they were women, or black, or Asians, or whoever the men on the indside didn't want. It was the argument against letting women vote, it was the argument against letting women into the sorts of fraternities like the Chambers or Commerce and the Rotary and the Lake Snootibottom Golf and Country Club where the Boys backslapped and made deals. As a man I agree that it's fun to shut the door on the He-Man Woman Hater's Club and keep the girlies out.

As an adult I can't defend that as behavior really appropriate in an adult.
--We have no warrior princesses today, no Boudiccas, outside of Hollywood or cartoon versions of Zena the Warrior Princess and ilk. For most girls today, that image has been superseded by Snow White or Cinderella. For most women, their reality lies somewhere in between (They can bring home the bacon, serve it up to a man, all the while retaining their ineffable femininity.)
The Snow Whites and Cinderellas aren't going to volunteer to go to the Fort Benning School For Wayward Boys.


Let me tell you a little secret; I was on the trail as a reserve drill sergeant at FBNC. I ran part of the 11B POI. I watched guys I didn't trust to be in the Army, much less in the infantry, get pencil-whipped because Benning had numbers to meet and couldn't afford to wash them out and didn't want to recycle them. A typical U.S. Army infantryman isn't some sort of Spartan soldier all whipleather and steel. The best are outstanding. The average are actually damn good troops. The worst are total shitbags. My guess is that the "average" infantry Joe is about as good as the top 5 or 10% of the Mollies. And don't forget - this is in a society that has told it's women for 200+ years "you're a dainty thing, you're Snow White, you're Cinderella". Open the door to the gals who want to kick ass like crazy monkeys and who the hell knows what could happen?

And the reality is that only a tiny percentage of U.S. women would want to give the Infantry a shot. An even tinier percentage would be capable of passing the physical qualifications (assuming the the U.S. Army put it's boot down and insisted in a physical standard just to go to 11B OSUT. My fear that political pressure to "pass" the women would force the Army to let some slide is about as great as my fear that the Army would refuse to institute such a standard knowing how many male recruits couldn't meet it) to get in. And the tiny percentage that remained would be 99.99% free of the slightest taint of Snowhiteyness or Cinderelladom.

But as much as this is a charming image, in my opinion the difference between it and the sort of tough country gals and urban gang girls who would actually take a whack at Benning is pretty huge.
Basically what I get out of the bulk of jim's argument - and I should add that he makes a hell of a lot more cogent and sensible (and savory - someone in his comment section has already basically classified a large proportion of military females as whores who fuck their fellow troopers for extra TDY pay; looking at the images of women in that guy's mind must be like lifting up a mossy rock - ugh) points than I've read elsewehre - is that a hell of a lot of the argument over keeping the girls out of the male-only MOSes comes down to "the girls will have to just accept this because the boys can't get over the way they feel about the girls."

But we HAVE gotten over a lot of the way "we" feel about "the girls". We don't consider them property anymore, most of us don't consider them a life-support system for either a womb or a vagina anymore, we've let them do a lot of the sorts of civilian jobs that men do.

We've gotten over the notion that black people can be slaves. We've gotten over the idea that people with mental illness are possessed by the Devil.

Why CAN'T we get over the "girlie" stuff?

Here's the thing; I have had issues with female soldiers in my past.

Many of them went back to the fact that men, both in the women's civilian pasts as well as men who were their military equals and their superiors, had expected them to "retain their ineffable femininity" while changing the tires on a deuce-and-a-half or repairing electronic equipment or packing parachutes. They had learned - largely through the men in their lives - that they could play the "girlie card" and get out of some of the hardest, dirtiest work.

Not because they couldn't. But because - no fools they - they didn't want to do it and knew that if they played the men right they could "...elicit a different response."

This was bad for the women. And it was bad for the men, too, because in doing what the women got them to do they developed a sort of big-brotherly contempt (at best) or snarlingly misogynistic (at worst) contempt for the women's abilities to do hard, dirty work.

I think that both men and women would be a LOT better off if the default position for us guys was a little less studly and for the women a little less poofy. I mean, you should be able to be as studly and poofy as you and whoever you're dealing with enjoy. But I think some hardcore in women, and some recognition that women CAN be hardcore, would be good for us both.

Again - I DO understand the difficulties, I DO understand the arguments against this. But - given the reality that the only women capable of making the grade as 11-bush are going to be the hardest of the hardcore - I'm not sure that those arguments trump the political reality that if you can tell her she "...can't do that because you're a girl" then how is she your political, military, and social equal?

I'm not saying a woman should have to be a fighting soldier if she doesn't want to be.

Hell, I don't think anyone should have to be a fighting soldier. The food sucks, the pay is shit, and the working conditions would embarrass a Tijuana maquiladora.

But given the connection between soldiering and citizenship in a republic...shouldn't we have to make a hell of a massive case against giving the woman or women who want to take it, that chance?


Syrbal/Labrys said...

" They had learned - largely through the men in their lives - that they could play the "girlie card" and get out of some of the hardest, dirtiest work."

Yeah, and I can tell you that from 1974 thru 1979 those women gave me a massive pain in my ass. I felt their behavior degraded all of us trying to meet standards that didn't include perfect nails.

I think every citizen should do public/military service of some kind. I think those with physicality and aptitude should have the opportunity to volunteer for combat arms jobs...regardless of gender or sexual orientation. And if their comrades in arms can't get "over it"...maybe they are the ones that need to move the hell ON.

FDChief said...

Yep; me, too. Some of the girly girls in the combat support hospital I was wardmaster in thought I was the meanest ol' bastard sergeant in the U.S. Army because I expected them to work hard and soldier like everyone else.

I guess when it comes down to it I don't believe in "protecting someone". Give them the straight dope, let them choose, make the standards unyielding, and if they can hack it and want it, let 'em go at it. "Protecting" people makes them little beings that you are bigger and better than; like I said, the guys that let the gals get away with the "girlie card" ended up sneering and looking down on the very women they were "helping".

Didn't do them, or the women, good in the long run. But to my mind it's not an argument for keeping the women out - it's an argument for forcing BOTH men and women to meet the Army standard and the, you're right - if they can't (or if the men can't deal with the women who can) then they need to pack their rucks.

Leon said...

Gender roles change over time, we should get used to it.

In ancient times, the only role for the wife of the elite was to run the household. Should we start a movement to ban women from the upper class from having a career other than "housewife/estate manager"?

FDChief said...

I think the thing is, Leon, that there are both men and women who love those old roles, who feel safe inside them, and who are angry at the notion that they might pass away.

This opens a whole scary possibility that some women might not want to live inside those old roles, and that their example might mean the old roles themselves might change. So I understand how those people feel.

Likewise I understand the people who say "battle is a man's world"; that's how it always has been, no different from the old days when much of life was a white man's world and the notion of "other" kinds of people coming in and changing it seemed horrible to the people who liked it that way.

But the whole "this is a boy thing and you can't get girl cooties on it" is the lamest excuse I've ever heard for not opening all careers to all talents in what is supposed to be a republic. Seems to me that to be fair anyone who thinks they can succeed at it should be able to give it a whack, and the people who say "well, I can't concentrate on soldiering if there's a woman next to me" should get the fuck over themselves.

Mind you, doesn't mean that there has to BE any females who can hack it. If the U.S. Army opened FBNC to all comers and set up a tough physical standard just to get in as wel as a tough standard to pass out and no woman was able to cut it (provided that the testing was honest and fair...) then, fine. That's that.

But I still think they deserve the chance if they want it.