The announcement by the Obama administration at the end of 2015 that all combat roles in the military will be open to women is indeed a victory for women. This opens 220,000 jobs previously closed to women. While I wish we lived in a world without war where we did not need a military, that is not the world we are in, and I am happy that the women who want combat roles and military careers are now able to have access to them. Women in the military have long felt that the official restrictions on them having combat roles were unfair. While they have been allowed to serve in combat zones, until now they were not allowed to officially hold the combat positions required for career advancement. This change is part of a long march to inclusion by the military, starting in 1948 with racial integration and continuing in 2011 with lifting the ban on gays in the military. Why do I say that this change wins a battle but not the war? Mariette Kalinowski, a former Marine, writes in the New York Times that while the “brass ceiling” is cracked, it is not gone because the military culture of hypermasculinity has not yet changed. She notes that the system is still stacked against women because of attitudes and beliefs by the older male leaders in charge. Dave Philipps of the New York Times cites Lt. Col. Kate Germano who agrees that the Marines, who are still 93 percent male, in particular “have a climate of non-inclusivity and justify it by talking about combat effectiveness, but a lot of it is based on emotion and not fact.” Elliot Ackerman further supports this position by noting that “the focus by the Marine Corps on physical fitness avoids the real barrier to integration—the hypermasculine culture at its heart.”
What Are the Benefits of Integrating Women in the Military?
- Dave Philipps points out that not only did a recent Marine Corps study find that there is no detriment to the morale in mixed-gender combat groups, but gender-integrated groups excelled at complex decision making.
- Philipps also reports the same study found that while women scored lower on many physical tasks, they scored higher on mental resilience and had fewer mental health problems.
- Kalinowski suggests that a benefit of gender integration in the military, which must include a change in the culture, could be a reduced risk of sexual harassment and assault. She posits that because discrimination and rape are tools of dominance and control, removing the source of the control by changing from a hypermasculine to a gender-inclusive culture will cause the source of the motivation to keep the status quo in place to disappear. In addition, she suggests this change could result in a lower incidence of sexual violence in the larger society.