Re: The Intergrated Military (was Re: Transgender Marriage)

From: Kimberly Dubbs (
Date: Fri Jan 18 2002 - 23:15:36 MST

As a long-time lurker with a rare few minutes to post, I can't stand by and
let my gender be, once again, completely slammed in another round of the
list's recurrent "standards slide" discussion.

I've had two experiences this year that made me ponder the "are women fit
to serve?" issue:

1) I ran the Marine Corps "Mud Run" at Camp Pendleton. (Basically a fairly
tough 10K with a smattering of standard "boot camp" obstacles.) Although I
consider myself only a "reasonably fit" woman who spends most of her time
driving a desk, (and I was less than three weeks recovered from abdominal
surgery), I decided to give it a try. While certainly the record shows
that the best times always belong to men, I was shocked at how many male
Marines I passed by. Yes, there were certainly many hard-bodies, but there
were also PLENTY of guys with nothing even close to my leg endurance OR
UPPER BODY STRENGTH! I actually had to boost one guy in the butt (Marine,
NOT civilian) to get him over an obstacle 'cause the lard bucket was
blocking my way.

Now perhaps this is all due to "lowered standards on behalf of women," but
I suspect it's more a management issue. I wouldn't be surprised to find
that data prior to integration show that a fair number of beer drinking,
chain smoking, chip-eating men slid by under the stated standard.
Certainly the men I know who served in WWII (and afterwards--when the
military could afford higher standards), weren't exactly pinnacles of
physical fitness--I've got pictures of my drinkin' smokin' Granddad and his
buds to prove it! All these "substandard" males were sort of ignored until
women joined and female physical fitness was an easy target for the
opposition. Except for the most elite units, I expect that the majority of
male soldiers do about the same, both emotionally and physically, as the
majority of their female counterparts--I heard plenty of wheezing and
whining from Marines of BOTH genders out on the 10K course. I'm skeptical
that the "psychologically and physically unfit" problem originated with the
introduction of women.

(To give credit where due, I also saw some awesome athletic
performances--again from Marines of both genders. There were men who could
vault over a six-feet fence like it wasn't there, and women who could
slither better than snakes under wire strung 6-inches above mud-pits. Both
seemed to do well on hills--men made better time when the surfaces were dry
and packed, but on the hill that was drenched by a fire hose, the women
climbed faster on the rough, slippery surface.)

2) I went to the Cu Chi tunnels in Vietnam. While I certainly felt
claustrophobic, I could pass through all the tunnels in the exhibit (both
kinds--those in their original condition, and those widened for
Westerners). My companion, (a military officer), however, needed to exit
at the first opportunity. He's in seriously good shape, but the downside
of all that muscle bulk is that it made navigating through small dark
spaces pretty terrifying. He was in no danger of getting stuck, but his
size made the situation very stressful. The guide, a former North
Vietnamese commander, said he was "glad they hadn't sent women" down as
"tunnel rats" during the war. He also commented that some of their booby
traps (those that would let their own soldiers pass) could likely have been
circumvented by Western females. So, it seems there's at least one "real
world combat" example where women could have served better than men.

Also interesting is the fact that the North Vietnamese are very proud of
their female soldiers. (I saw three memorials to women and females appear
prominently in the films and photo displays at several war museums.) They
regard women as excellent fighters, and this in a society that otherwise
looks down on women. The female soldiers probably weren't physically
strong, but apparently they were brave, determined, able to work alone,
stealthy, and well suited to sneaking through the jungle. In short, they
were very well equipped for modern guerilla warfare. The women also seemed
to have worked just fine next to men in very close quarters and under very
rough combat conditions. From what I gather, a lot of those "psychological
and sexual tension" issues disappear when everyone's in serious danger.
Perhaps the "issues" during the Gulf War were due to the fact that most
soldiers were bored and NOT under sustained dire threat. Maybe there was
too much slack time that allowed for fooling around and better military
management could eliminate the problem.

I don't intend any of these comments as arguments in favor of "lowered
standards" for women or as negations of the existence of "special
treatment" in certain circumstances for women. However, "special
treatment" exists for guys too in the form of "old boy's" networks that let
unqualified males slide by. Let's get rid of ALL of it. As a taxpayer
supporting the military, and as a citizen in need of protection, I'd like
to see standards set strictly on objective job requirements and I'd like to
see those standards applied equally to all men and women. If people are
needed for hand-to-hand combat, large fit men will probably serve best. If
people are needed to quietly crawl under bushes or fences or wiggle down
tunnels, maybe the job should go to some small, limber women. I don't want
to throw out potentially beneficial skill sets because our military can't
figure out how to accomplish what apparently was accomplished by the
winners of the Vietnam war. Men and women in Vietnam appear to have the
same biological desires and sexual tensions as Westerners, but they managed
to use everyone who could help them--no yowling around about "biology" or
"social custom" or "women detracting from men's performance." Perhaps we
have the luxury of saying women are simply too "problematic in service"
because we haven't faced enough of a threat to really take the matter
seriously--we haven't had to leverage absolutely every bit of available
talent. I hope we never confront such a formidable enemy; it sounds like
our social, sexual, and philosophical sensitivities might limit us to a
half-strength response.

As a final note...the equal and rational application of standards would
likely result in a great reduction in the number of women qualifying for
traditional combat, and a great reduction in the number of men meeting the
standards for submarine service and the ASTRONUAT PROGRAM. Aside from a
few jokes about Minsky's comment, and Spike's "legless woman" proposal, I
see numerous outraged postings about sloppy performance by women in jobs
they shouldn't hold, but I see scant outrage on the list about "standards
slide" when it comes to men. Why not? As forced taxpayers, we certainly
get stuck with the bill for both classes of substandard performance.
(Also, fixing the space program might be an easier first step than fixing
the military...)

Stir, Stir...

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