A guest blog article by Brian H. (student, world citizen)
The battle of the sexes has been a war that humans have fought for a long time and continue to fight in daily life. There is income inequality, the fight to restrict a woman’s right to choose, the backlash against the expanded role of women in the workplace, and many more issues women face today. There is one issue that is rarely touched upon, and that is the role of women in the United States’ Military. Women may be biologically different from men, but the differences between the two are often used as reason to prevent women from having a front line role in combat. The debate over women’s roles in the military is based on outdated and ill-considered evidence used to wrongly place women behind the men in an honorable role.
Many men argue passionately against women being brought to the front lines of battle. They feel that it is wrong for women, the more “frail” of the two sexes, to be subjected to the physical intensity of combat because women elsewhere want to argue for gender equality. These protests, however, are often societal assumptions that are difficult to defend. “An issue is a public matter: some value cherished by publics is felt to be threatened. Often there is a debate about what that value really is and what it is that really threatens it. This debate is often without focus if only because it is the very nature of an issue . . . that it cannot be very well defined in terms of the immediate and everyday environments of ordinary people” (Mills 5). It is true that women are biologically different from men, but there are women who would be more than capable to take on those responsibilities (just as there are men who would be less than able to take on the roles expected of “men”). The group of women who would not be initially prepared to fight on the battlefield may outnumber the women who would be ready, but society’s willingness to over-generalize evidence for simplicity’s sake completely ruins the opportunity for those who are ready and only waiting for an opportunity to participate.
In G.I. Jane (1997), Jordan O’Neil is given the opportunity to participate in the training course for the Navy Seals-like “Combined Reconnaissance Team”. A senator with a political agenda handpicked O’Neil from all of the possible candidates because O’Neil looks more feminine than the other candidates. O’Neil struggles at first, but does not give up and soon begins to succeed while many other men drop out. The nation becomes enthralled with the mysterious “G.I. Jane” being discussed in the press, but soon, the senator’s political agenda forces her to sabotage O’Neil’s training (through lesbian-accusations in the press during the reign of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy). Despite the setback, O’Neil manages to get back into training and successfully completes a real-life rescue operation to become an official member of the CRT. Portrayals of sexual harassment and glass ceilings are accurate in this film; however, the fact that O’Neil had to become more manly in order to start succeeding and gain the respect of others still illustrates the fact that women are seen as beneath men in the military and that they have to become more like men in order to finally become “accepted” in the organization. Yes, O’Neil made progress for women everywhere by successfully completing the program, but the progress is limited if it is still a “man’s game” the women have to learn to play.
The issue of women having to overcome men’s expectations in order to be accepted in equal military roles is, in fact, more of an issue than the common “biological differences” debate. Yes, women may be different than men, but they should not have to become the epitome of masculinity in a woman’s body in order to finally become an accepted part of the military. This idea only serves to further limit society as a whole. In the presence of this harmful ideological mandate, it is unconsciously accepted that being a woman is lesser than being a man.
Mills, C. Wright. 2000 (1959). The Sociological Imagination: 40th Anniversary Edition. Oxford University Press.