Gender Equality Has Weakened, Paralyzed the Military

By Jon Barrett III

Defense Watch, 6 February 2002

After years of social experimentation in the U.S. military, fueled by societal trends towards "gender" equality, a disturbing situation has emerged: The sexes are still unequal! How did this happen? Can we really be so inept at our attempts to level the playing field as to put in a decade of hard work to zero effect?

Proponents of feminism and equality will point to the ever-increasing numbers of females in the military and claim success, as if numbers tell the real story. Yet the evidence mounting from military sources supports the anecdotes from the sailors: women in ships is a recipe for disaster.

Statistically, women are fully integrated in the Navy and other services today. Currently, female promotion rates are equal to or better than those of men, and many women are now serving in high-ranking leadership positions in the Department of Defense and the services. Only recently, however, have women been serving in positions that are even remotely combat-related. The growing evidence is that this is not beneficial to combat units. So where are these "leaders" coming from? When I was commissioned, I was told that we were in training to be combat leaders. The mission of the military is, after all, combat. Yet the forces are looking more like corporations lately.

Equality as a measuring stick is certainly appropriate in the corporate world. When we work with computers, minds, ideas, and products, women certainly suffer no disadvantage. In the military environment, the arguments against female integration in combat units are all too well known, particularly the gap in physical strength between male and female personnel. It is now a proverbial question to ask, "Can this 120-pound slip of a girl carry me or my other 200-pound buddies out of a firefight?"

When the military has to set different, lower standards for women, they have de facto declared the inadvisability of putting women into combat roles. And with different standards, what does that do to the ideal of being "equal" to men?

This is not to argue that women have no place at all in the military today. There are parts of the military that are administrative in nature, such as the Navy Supply Corps, and JAG, where physical differences are not so important. For years, women in the military honorably served in these positions and functioned well.

Retired Army Lt. Col. Robert R. Maginnis has written about the Navy's "tendency to ignore longstanding screening standards to accommodate the limited physical ability of women; even after significant training, the strength of women does not improve and they suffer up to three times as many back injuries as men. Navy policy also embraces pregnancy as an 'acceptable' readiness problem." Acceptable? Since when?

The rash of pregnancies that occurs immediately before ships with large female contingents go to sea is another fact of modern Navy life. Is it possible that they get pregnant purposefully in order to avoid their duty? Maginnis recently wrote, "At any given time, up to 18 percent of Navy women are pregnant and a study of two ships showed a pregnancy rate as high as one in three. That's nearly 8,423 women, or enough to crew almost two aircraft carriers."

"During Desert Storm, 1,145 women on ships needed to be reassigned because of pregnancies, at an average of 95 per month," he added. That sounds like they really don't want to be in combat units after all. Maginnis cited data about the USS Eisenhower, which was the test case, where pregnancies grew from five to 39 in just a couple of months. "In all, 13 percent of the female crew became pregnant." According to naval policy, the "sailor" had to leave her shipboard duties. This experience has been echoed throughout the fleet, and stories of women getting pregnant to avoid deployment remain common a decade after the Gulf War.

For those who argue that shipboard duty is not the same as ground combat, the issue of physical strength, especially for lifting, is vital in determining a sailor's chance for survival if his or her ship is hit. Ships are made of metal and everything in them is heavy. Strength can be the difference between life and death for other crewmembers. Civilian policemen and firemen are forced to live with these facts, also.

Another unfortunate byproduct of placing women in warships units is that sexual harassment claims are in danger of becoming a tool to unprincipled women. My own Navy Reserve unit recently had a case where charges were made in order to facilitate the transfer to a different unit of a male and female who were involved in a relationship. Why? It turned out the transfer would place them in a unit with a lower operational tempo and thus they could enjoy unrestrained access to each other. The career of an otherwise outstanding commander was damaged as a result.

One officer who is a friend has told me in no uncertain terms that he is so afraid of the possibility that sexual harassment charges could be leveled against him that he will only speak to female sailors in response to a greeting - "Good Morning Petty Officer," or to give a direct order. That is not equality - it is a paralyzed command.

Another unpleasant reality is that in the Navy today, with harassment you are guilty until proven innocent. No career can survive an accusation where there is a presumption of guilt and no way to respond. The fact is, the current climate admits of harassment based on how the woman feels, not on what the male actually did.

The current situation is shameful. With a war on against terrorism, the Pentagon leadership should keep in mind the actual mission of the U.S. military force. The military is intended to be a ready combat force capable of rapid deployment to trouble spots -- not a social laboratory. We are supposed to land anywhere - ready to fight - not serve as a job corps for "disadvantaged" females.