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Research shows that in the last decade combat has given women greater responsibilities and the possibility of exerting greater leverage in decision making and increasing their military participation. El-Bushra states that a research project carried out by the Agency for Co-operation and Research Development (ACORD), that combined oral testimony with more conventional research methods, concluded that women were not largely involved in combat (253).  McSally holds that women have voluntarily served to defend America since the birth of nation (150). They are often driven by necessity or fight for equal opportunity, but always limited by law and policy grounded in acceptance of gender roles and norms (McSally 150).

Writing women into military history and specifically into combat is no easy accomplishment. Skaine says that this is because women in general were written fully into history only within the last 45 years (1). Also military history chronicles only some of the culturally accepted roles. The Persian Gulf War brought women’s military roles into extensive public scrutiny. Skaine says, “the mass media brought home the reality of women’s participation in the armed forces” (2). Even in direct combat, women had already been serving, and some of the men who served with women looked the other way, allowing them to take on an unofficial combatant role (El-Bushra 254). Military women expected to lead their troops in battle when the rear became a front.

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Currently women constitute 14% of the total active military, and more than 255,000 have deployed to combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. McSally says that despite their excellent service and performance in combat, women are still restricted from serving in more than 200,000 military positions exclusively because of their sex (151). At the same time, studies show that women also continue to be exempted from the selective service system, for which their male counterparts are required to be registered by law. According to McSally it can be suggested that these continued inconsistencies between sexes in the area of national defence are incongruent with democratic tenets (151).

Previously, the U.S. women’s military corps fought for the right to defend their country by serving in our armed forces with full military rank and benefits. The fight still continues today for American military women who want to serve in combat support positions and in frontline combat units (Monahan and Rosemary 52). According to Monahan and Rosemary, women today make up more than fifteen percent of the U.S. armed forces and serve alongside men in almost every capacity (54). These women faced a lot of battles and besides that fought to rally their comrades (El-Bushra 256).  Their tales of bravery and resilience, of indignities tolerated, of prejudices overcome, of the blood they shed and the friends they lost, and the challenges they still face in the twenty-first century (Monahan and Rosemary 56)    

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Background Information

The United States military in practice is governed by the undemocratic stratification of rank, while theoretically adopting the western liberal democratic theory of equality of all citizens and mobility is based on merit, (Monahan and Rosemary, 59). They also noted that the masculine composition of the US military is unwilling to incorporate different visions. This arrangement gave a way to disagreement between the United States military operational needs, which depend upon the extended participation women, and the military patriarchal foundation, which denies that women have a place in combats.

Fenner and DeYoung noted that the debate about women further incorporation into the military services should be based on whether women should serve in even more non-traditional roles than they currently do (3). Despite many years of successfully integrated basic training in all of the services except the Marine Corps, which has continued isolation, recent sexual harassment and misconduct assertions at follow on occupational specialty schools have received sharp arguments over women integration in this type of training (Fenner and DeYoung 3). It is usually argued that the integration of women into non-traditional roles has harm and will continue to damage military readiness and effectiveness and thereby the national security in the 21st century.

Between the 1970s and the 1990s, women achieved a number of proceeds in military rights, including the right to access military academies and their compulsory incorporation into all branches of the armed forces (Monahan and Rosemary 75). Nevertheless, women are still affected by being barred from military planning procedures, and from many combat allotments, thus preserving a masculine core of combat from which women are not included. According to Monahan and Rosemary (75) Women compose 11.3% of the nearly 2 million U.S. active duty, National Guard troops and reservists sent to Iraq and Afghanistan.

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Although women have gained more placements in involvement to the United States Armed Forces combat participation; the system that does not provide any individual protections for these soldiers. Monahan and Rosemary continue to say, “the military men usually pressure military women to prove themselves and at the time female soldiers are subject to questioning of their sexuality because their presence in military institution goes against gender boundaries” (78).   

To counter these effects, Silva (938) suggests that women must assume conventionally non-feminine behaviours and characteristics while still holding on to their identities as women. She continues to say that the challenge is uncertain because the definitions of traditional femininity stand in direct opposition to the values of military culture. Silva (938) also states that military allows women’s presence only to the extent that it can ensure the reproduction of traditional cultural notions of women as nurturers and men as warriors. Silva (938) further says that women are affected by combat exclusion policies which differentiate between men’s work and women’s work. It has been debated that women’s increasing presence in military does not change the institutions fundamentally gendered structure which is at its core coercive, hierarchical and patriarchal (Silva, 940). Indeed, Silva (956) says that the increasing presence of women in combat helps legitimize the institution by giving it an egalitarian façade thus reducing the effects.

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Another effect is that most of the military jobs remain closed to women, whereby such positions are considered as specialties or likely to engage enemy forces in direct combat (Fenner and DeYoung 3). Those restricted occupations include infantry, armour, field artillery, special operation forces and special operation aircraft.  Fenner and DeYoung further indicated that several other specialty areas are closed because of other considerations, for example, the submariner community alleges that privacy issues and the cost of refit vessels for separate berthing demand the exclusion of women (3).

Opponents of women in combat say physical qualifications alone do not make women be able to serve in combat. Skaine states that a combat soldier must have a desire and a certain frame of mind. Those who oppose women in combat also argue whether women can do what is necessary with the enemy. In 1993, Mariner noted that commanders must give women equal access to a level playing field on which each competitor either succeeds or fails, based on individual merits (Skaine 21).  Skaine says that some reasons for the exclusion of women from combat are very real concerns (21).

Women have served legally in temporary combat positions. On may 12 1993, the Navy had 158 women on temporary duty in 20 combatants. Skaine indicated that in the Gulf War some women were employed in positions which exposed them to direct combat (25). However, Skaine was keen to note that these women did not get the promotions or pay commensurate after what they did. To some extent it was argued that these women got the same pay as men in similar positions and they had a chance for promotion within non-combatant units (Skaine 25). Skaine also argues that these women could not attain their full potential because in the long run, they were not allowed to enter another career track. On the other hand, men who serve in non-combatant units are allowed, if qualified, to enter the combatant units (Skaine 25). Women in non-combatant units may get the same pay but not the same opportunity.

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Mary Whitely former captain in the Army Transportation Corps agrees that women have been and are in combat. However, she notes there are ground rules that change all the time. Skaine says that the rules include gender requirements for certain jobs in the Field Artillery (FA) and Air Defence Artillery (ADA) which have changed several times in the past 15 years (27). As a result, this causes women to lose opportunities to serve in positions which may later help them to progress in their career.

In 1991, President George Bush appointed the US Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces (Skaine 27). Skaine further says, “In 1992 the Commission said the definition of combat was the key to understanding women in combat” (27).  As a result, women have been allowed in more combat positions today. This is further attributed to the Gulf War, the Presidential Commission, the repeal of the combat exclusion laws, series of congressional hearings from 1990 to 1994, the election of President Clinton and efforts of countless individuals (Skaine 27). 

Furthermore, Fenner and DeYoung argues that opponents of women’s integration into combat to genuine debate is not about further widening of women’s military contribution, but about overturning the gains attained by women, the military and the nation (5). The opponents further argue that as women have over the time demonstrated their capability in ever-wider military spheres, notions against their further inclusion have devolved from assertions that women do not have the physical strength for most military specialties to assertions, and that they do not have the emotional strength to progress in crisis.  Fenner and DeYoung also say that the opponents also argue that women do not have an intellect to overcome challenges in battle and that their sexuality and vulnerability would destroy men essential battlefield bonds (7). It is viewed that all these factors can undermine mission effectiveness by diverting men’s attention from accomplishing the mission to helping and protecting their female peers.

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In 1994, the new rule on risk has replaced the Defence Department’s long-standing Risk Rule which was designed to limit the exposure of women in noncombat units to front-line combat on land, sea, and in the air (Skaine 28). Skaine noted that both provisions represent a significant departure from previous policy. In 1994, Edwin Dorn, Under Secretary of Defence, Personnel and Readiness, said that withdrawing the Risk Rule policy allows the assignment of women to serve in careers fields that are otherwise open, to all ground units apart from units below the brigade level, whose primary mission is to engage in direct ground combat (Skaine 28).

Study groups suggest Navy units and platforms to be reviewed in light of the changed combat definition to ensure that women are not prohibited from permanent assignment to units, vessels and aircraft during military operations. Skaine established that if certain platforms are not open to women, decommissioning ships to achieve the force reduction would result in decreased opportunities for women to serve at sea.  Fenner and DeYoung further asserted that women have proven that they are physically capable enough to do the tasks to which they have been assigned (7). In addition, historical evidence shows that physical requirements for most military specialties are not based on any real measure of the specific strengths required to do a particular job (Fenner and DeYoung 7).

The main cause of these claims is on the basis that women are generally viewed as physically, emotionally and psychologically unfit for combat. However, Fenner and DeYoung noted that women have shown by their performance that they are generally strong enough for most jobs, and are emotionally stable enough to cope with wartime stresses (7). Women have proven that they are more than smart enough for military deployment work, can be accepted as credible leaders and not only do not damage unit solidity but often improve its self-esteem. Fenner and DeYoung further indicated that women have been found to have exceeded expectations of their physical capabilities, finding work-around for heavy tasks, or teaming with their co-workers to complete their assignments to the best possible effect (7).

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Research shows that physical requirements for most military specialties are not found on any valid measure of the specific strengths required to do a specific job, and that military has over the time changed standards for a whole variety of reasons, the least of which are political. Blair says that their issue of equality in the military can inadvertently be counterproductive for women if it does not challenge patriarchal norms and does not allow women to be themselves (95). A former woman soldier in America noted that opportunities to join combat and support units does not imply into equality for women or an appreciation of what women traditionally have to offer (Blair 95).

Blair argues that women entrance into military does not completely remove barriers that women face (96). Such barriers include sexual harassment in the military, which has become a serious issue, as women enter into more military domains in mixed gender units. The sexual harassment seriously affects women’s self esteem and confidence, and thus strips their professional achievement in the combat (Blair 95).

In addition, Blair discusses the fact that women continue to be trained separately from their male counterparts (96). This separation legitimizes women’s occupation of the positions that reflect traditional domains. Research shows that the personal success of female soldiers does not go away with the gendered structures, both formal and informal, that continue to characterize the imposition of sexual difference in the military and society at large (Browder 214).  Browder also articulates that if women were held to a certain level of physical fitness, we could have much different expectations from them (216). In military zones, women would no longer be viewed as victims, portrayed as fragile creatures in need of men’s care and protection (Browder 216).

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Henningfeld determined that there are many issues of exceptional concern to military women such as: lack of health care services, uniforms that do not fit well, and equipment premeditated specifically for them (254). These situations have negative impact upon their drive and their wellbeing. Henningfeld continues to say that while health care and family policy affect both military women and wives, they also affected by sexual harassment in the workplace and women’s military career development.

Since it is easier to enforce sanctions on actions rather than on attitudes, the military has the power to coerce effectively its member’s actions. Henningfeld says that not tackling the root cause of sexual harassment against women, the military has evaded addressing the considerable question of bigotry (98). Such situation leaves military women especially vulnerable to sexual harassment and different prospect on the job (Henningfeld 100). 

The first time women legitimately serve in combat in the new legal frontier may be afraid of getting tagged as women, rather than soldiers, sailors or marines. Skaine says, “One of the major effects is concerns about feminization of the military and approval of women in military because some scholars argue that women do not have war story tradition” (13). In support of women to serve in the military, letters of praise for women who served in the marines during Desert Storm and Shield make it clear that they worked and lived side by side with their male counterparts. Skaine says that such women held key billets, and shared in the harsh living conditions. Most of these women were performing under the classification law allowed, but like their predecessors they were realistically speaking in combat (13).      











Evidence of Expert Testimony

Women can prove their worthiness for any Military Occupational Specialty (MOS). Holmstedt noted in the morning of May 26, 2005 that Cunningham had already spent a week and half in the remote desert region near the Syrian border for Operation Matador. Holmstedt also noted that Cunningham was sent there to search Iraqi women but the area was too dangerous, so she was sent to AL Qaim. During the operation, Cunningham and the other marines cleaned out the insurgent haven and killed more than 125 militants and wounded many others.

 Cunningham often wondered why she had to do the same training as the male Marines when she was prohibited from serving in combat. As she prepared to head to Haditha into a direct combat zone, she heard on television that the House Republicans retreated from a sweeping ban on women in combat support and service units, and instead approved legislation backing the Pentagon’s policy barring women from direct ground combat. Acknowledging they were doing something that not many women got to do or wanted to do, drew Kispetik, Blais and Cunningham closer (Holmstedt 8). 

Cunningham gradually got used to barging into homes, rummaging through their belongings of strangers, and guarding women and children. If there were no women and children, the female Marines participated in the house search. During his term in office, President George Bush selected the US Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces (Skaine 27). The commission brought about significant developments in women participation in combat operations. As a result today, women like Cunningham have been allowed to  more combat positions in operations such the Gulf War, Desert Strom and Shield. The tremendous changes are further attributed to the Gulf War, the Presidential Commission and the abolishment of the combat exclusion laws (Skaine 27).

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Objections and Alternative Explanations

Apart from being seen as potential competitors to military men, women are viewed as weak and, therefore, a threat to national defence. Some of these notions considered as positive assertions actually represent negative implications about women (McSally 154). It is assumed that the existence of women in military brings about the solidity by uniting white and non-white men. Women in the military contribute to men’s self-esteem by serving as the target of sexist humour. All these perceptions serve to signify the belief that men’s contribution to the military is justifiable while women’s contribution to the military is debatable. 

Appropriate standards should be chosen to train those women who can meet the standards of serving in combats (McSally 152). Women are not handicapped psychologically, physically and morally and, therefore, can never be military misfits (Fenner and DeYoung 175). There is no connection between military service and citizenship. As a result, such arguments are myths or ideological and abstract desire of feminists’ advocacy (Fenner and DeYoung 175). It should be noted that the logical extension of arguments against expanding opportunities for military women based on the fact that women would not serve in the military at all.

It should be noted that if we want to reassure the continuation of our nation, women have to know how to guard themselves and our nation. Peace is not realized without strength and in a military context this means readiness. Women when trained stand ready to preserve our nation and peace, and by increasing their own ability to endure, they increase their children’s chances for endurance. A soldier is a soldier, and it is the common characteristics of being a soldier first that surpasses the differences of gender and unites highly aggressive people to serve under a common purpose. Participation based upon individual ability also insures the strongest possible national defence.

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Since the military is about individual commands, it is possible for women who are affected in combats despite issues revolving around sexual harassment, their physical and emotional sentiments and other views. This means that women just like men should have the opportunity to acquire the required experience in order to put them in competitive combat positions in the future. Since a gender-neutral meritocracy may be difficult to attain, the initial step should be to encourage a shared common identity and purpose.

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