From: Tom Cowper (email@example.com)
Date: Sun Jan 20 2002 - 10:31:36 MST
On 18 Jan 2002, at 22:15, Kimberly Dubbs wrote:
> 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.
Very good post Kimberly. I agree with you about the standards issue.
It's a non-issue. Women can be as fit or more fit than their male
counterparts. No question. I will say that there aren't a whole lot of
women that can AND are willing to endure the physical hardships associated
with infantry work. But certainly as the various adventure races have
shown the world in the last decade, there are women that have the strength
and endurance to compete in harsh environments on an equal basis with men.
> 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.
Great point. And very true.
> 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.)
It is said, though I've not seen the scientific data to back it up, that
because of physiological differences, women can actually be better
shooters than men.
> 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.
Undoubtedly there are lots of situations where some women are as well or
better suited than some 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.
It's problematic to equate or evaluate the NVA in 1968 with the US Army
today. No doubt many many NVA females served with distinction. And
perhaps some of the sexual tension issues didn't occur in NVA units or
occurred to a lesser extent, or maybe they overcame them altogether. We
don't know. But we need to keep in mind that the NVA did not win in
Vietnam due to their tactical superiority. Pitched battles between NVA
and US Army or Marine units in Vietnam were rarely won by the NVA, even
accounting for the technological superiority of the Americans. In
addition, the morale of US forces at the time was by many accounts a low
point in American military history, for a variety of reasons (none having
to do with men and women in the same combat units). In spite of the low
morale, atrocious leadership, and flawed overall strategy, US forces
routinely wreaked severe havoc on NVA units. They won primarily because
they were willing to sacrifice many many more of their people to achieve
victory than the American people were.
The other discontinuity between us and them, then and now, is that North
Vietnam was fighting for it's very survival as a nation. In the same way
that Israeli women fought along side the men during the 1948 War of
Independence, and Russian women served in large numbers during WWII,
Vietnamese women were desperately needed to fill out the ranks. Desperate
times require desperate measures. And in those times those not normally
afforded the "privilege" of serving in frontline combat do so gallantly
and fulfill some very specialized roles. But that might not be the best
justification for fully integrating front-line combat units in a modern
and well equipped army. We certainly don't know if the sexual tension
issues simply disappeared in these cases or if desperation and other
factors allowed them to prevail in spite of the ever-present and
disruptive issues associated with integration.
> 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.
> <some snippage>
> 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.
Like I said above, I think the issues are much more complex than "we just
have to get over it". And as I've said a couple of times, I'd like to see
us overcome the conservative religious mindsets and social/cultural
attitudes that would make fully integrated front-line combat units viable.
Amara suggested the Antarctic scientists as an example of successful
integration under trying circumstances. But scientists in a harsh
environment are not 18 year old privates in a harsh environment trying to
kill or be killed. We can wish that the average 18 year old from
heartland America would have the same maturity level and standard of
professionalism that the average 30 or 40-something scientist has, or that
the collegial atmosphere within a heated Antarctic science station was the
functional equivalent of a foxhole on a modern battlefield. But they are
not. And wishing it away or mandating that people just grow up and be
mature and act professionally doesn't reduce the turmoil caused by some
very fundamental physical and psychological and social realities. There's
no doubt in my mind that eventually, over time, as social norms change, as
the emphasis on religious dogma as a rule for living (hopefully)
diminishes, as technology advancements change the nature and frequency and
intensity of traditional frontline combat, men and women will be able to
achieve full equality on the battlefield...geeezuz what a thing to be
The question becomes, do we want to test the theory against the fate of
the nation when we don't have to?
> 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
And again, we are in complete agreement.
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