Feature

The Marines: When women pass the test

For the first time, three women completed the Marine Corps’ grueling combat training course.

By any measure, last Thursday was a historic day for the military, said Craig Whitlock in The Washington Post. For the first time, three women completed the Marine Corps’ grueling combat training course, an intensive, 59-day challenge of their physical and psychological strength and endurance. But while the women “carried the same rifles and lugged the same 85-pound packs on the same 12-mile hikes” as their male counterparts, they won’t be allowed to serve in an infantry unit for at least another two years. Instead, they’ll be assigned to staff and support jobs while the Pentagon studies the effects of integrating women into combat roles. This foot-dragging is frustrating women warriors, said David S. Cloud in the Los Angeles Times. When the military lifted the ban on women in combat in January, it was partly in recognition that many female soldiers already technically saw combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. But women are still being excluded from coveted combat roles that are crucial for advancement up the ranks.

The battlefield is no place for gender-based quotas, said Elaine Donnelly in The Washington Times. The Pentagon claims that training will be the same for men and women, but the Marines quietly introduced “gender-normed” scores to enable women to pass tests requiring upper-body strength. Women, for example, get the same score for five pull-ups that men get for 20. The Marines have admitted that “on average, women have 47 percent less lifting strength, 40 percent less muscle strength, and 20 percent less endurance capacity” than men. In close combat with a ruthless enemy, “women do not have an equal opportunity to survive,” and their relative weakness puts their comrades’ lives at risk—creating huge morale problems. “Generals who ignore these facts are dissembling shamelessly.”

What’s really keeping women out of the infantry “isn’t the weakness of women,” said William Saletan in Slate.com. “It’s the weakness of men.” Last year, 17 percent of male Marines said they’d leave the Corps if women were offered combat roles, saying they worried about female soldiers getting preferential treatment or falsely accusing them of sexual harassment. Just call them “the few, the proud, the insecure.” Granted, only a small percentage of women can pass the grueling standards for combat. But if they prove they can “hack it,” how can the military justify excluding them?

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