January 30, 2013

Sending reinforcements: women in combat deserve recognition

By Rae Hodge–

Women have been fighting in combat for years, but will now finally have the chance to be recognized.

The good ol days are here again. As voices rise in opposition to Leon Panetta’s recent decision to allow women to openly serve in combat roles, all the old arguments against women being in direct combat come fluttering down from our collective memory like so many bats from the attic. These arguments haven’t seen much use in the past few years; they’re in near-perfect condition after their storage. In fact, it’s as though the last 50 or so years never happened at all.

Reading the arguments is like slipping a record onto the turntable and re-living the good old days when women knew their place, men did the heavy lifting, and all was right in heaven and on earth. All the greatest hits are breathed back to life in the hands of the newest players: religious opponents cite Biblical passages about the appropriate role of women in relation to men; would-be psychologists use outdated data to pronounce women unprepared for the mental rigors of combat; tee-totalers number the average differences in physical performances between the sexes; all while a chorus of neo-con women plead a case for sexism in their complicity with male military dictates, shaming female soldiers for ruining all the fun.

I guess, despite articles and documentaries from the New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post, National Public Radio and the Public Broadcast Service, no one heard the news: U.S. women have already been serving in combat positions for many years without training, recognition, proper compensation or psychological after care.

*Record scraaaaaatch*

Arguing that all women should be restricted from combat is just as pitifully behind the times as arguing that all women should be stay-at-home mothers. It’s almost impossible to take these arguments seriously when they’re built entirely on moot points. If these arguments should be taken seriously at all, it should be because of the willful ignorance and flippant disregard they display for the tremendous sacrifices made on their behalf by female soldiers.

Women soldiers are leading convoys in Afghanistan, raiding encampments in Iraq, and serving multiple tours of duty all over the globe with honor and distinction. They’re engaging enemies in firefights, hauling the limp bodies of wounded male soldiers out of red zones, operating heavy weaponry and daily enduring unending physical and psychological trial. To claim that they endanger the lives of male soldiers ignores and insults the work they’ve done to save our sons.
By lifting the paper-only ban on women in combat, Panetta has not inserted some lone corset-wearing, 90-pound Barbie doll into a boys club; he has started a process of ensuring that the many women who endanger their lives for our freedom on a daily basis are allowed the proper training to prepare them, and the proper medals that they’ve risked their lives and earned. Those opposed to this preparation and compensation don’t get to tie a yellow ribbon around any of their arguments: supporting the troops means supporting all of the troops, not just the ones that live in their imaginary Arlington of hetero-masculine war heroes.

Worst of all are the writers and pundits who banter on at length and feign concern for the delicate condition of women, the frail sex. All the precious chivalric sentiments of those who pretend to place women’s lives on a pedestal (far above the deadly reaches of muddy male combat) wither feebly in the face of the flat truths: Where is the pedestal when women attempt to escape rising sexual assault rates in their non-combat military positions?Where is that pedestal when women require elevation in rank and pay?

Serving the United States of America in armed combat is either an honor or it’s not. If it is an honor, then no one in this country has a right to take that honor away from women.

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Photo: courtesy of Flickr/expertinfantry

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