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"Never, ever let anybody use your gender as an excuse."
April 25, 2013 6:55 PM   Subscribe

"Women get flustered under fire. They're too fragile, too emotional. They lack the ferocity required to take a life. They can't handle pain. They're a distraction, a threat to cohesion, a provocative tease to close-quartered men. These are the sort of myths you hear from people who oppose the U.S. military's evolving new rules about women in combat. But for women who have already been in combat, who have earned medals fighting alongside men, the war stories they tell don't sound a thing like myths"

Multi-page link to the article.

Additional Feature
* Women of the 101st Airborne Division:
"As part of Nathaniel Penn's "Natural Born Killers"—an oral history documenting the experiences of American female soldiers on the field that marks the official lifting of the U.S. military ban on women in combat roles—in the May issue of GQ, we spoke to a group of female servicewomen currently stationed in Fort Campbell, K.Y. as they prepare for deployment to Afghanistan this spring. These soldiers were assigned to the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division roughly a year ago as part the Women in The Service Review program. The program first introduced women to historically male-held roles in combat arms battalions—an experiment, in part, to make sure that they could handle it. Mission accomplished. Here, five of them talk to us about past deployments, navigating expectations, and their changing roles in the Army."

Video
* "Natural Born Killers: Battle Tested"
* "Natural Born Killers: Battle Ready, Women of the 101st Airborne"
posted by zarq (49 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
I don't understand, and I've never understood. I am consistently astounded that any living creature who does what the average human female does is thought of as any less badass than the average male. I'm convinced that it comes down to the fact that most men know that if given the chance, the average woman will make the average man look as weak as we actually are.
posted by nevercalm at 7:27 PM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


How odd. Recently I have been reading translations of Pindar. Almost all note that the rhythm and flow of his verse is untranslatable but that Rudyard Kipling is probably as close as you could come in English. So I have been reluctantly reading some Kipling. And just tonight I scanned the admittedly somewhat misogynist The Female of the Species that somehow seems to resonate with this post. Maybe...
posted by jim in austin at 7:40 PM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


nevercalm: I'm convinced that it comes down to the fact that most men know that if given the chance, the average woman will make the average man look as weak as we actually are.

Is this sort of statement really helping anything? Women and men are individuals with their own strengths and weaknesses unique to them. The "average" woman is not too different than the "average" man.
posted by spaltavian at 7:44 PM on April 25, 2013 [16 favorites]


The "average" woman is not too different than the "average" man.

Physically, that's just not true.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:53 PM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


A male soldier told me, "You can't fireman-carry me with a full combat load"—meaning I have my Kevlar on, my flak jacket, my weapon, and my gear. He was probably 190 to 200 pounds; your gear adds another fifty to eighty pounds. I picked him up and walked across the compound, which was probably fifty meters, and came back, and he was like, "But still—would you be able to do that with your adrenaline going?"

I'm going to go out on a limb and say yes, she'd be able to do that with her adrenaline going. Doofus.
posted by feckless at 8:05 PM on April 25, 2013 [35 favorites]



The "average" woman is not too different than the "average" man.

Physically, that's just not true.


Which is why, when you consider what the average woman is likely to encounter and deal with in the average life, women can be incredibly badassed just in order to survive, even though they are paid less and work more and harder. You don't need to send a woman to war to gauge her survival skills. Everyday life will suffice.
posted by caryatid at 8:06 PM on April 25, 2013 [10 favorites]


Physically, that's just not true.

False; there's far more that's the same than is different. We are, after all, the same species.
posted by JHarris at 8:06 PM on April 25, 2013 [7 favorites]


The "average" woman is not too different than the "average" man.

Physically, that's just not true.


Last I saw stats, the variation within each gender category was greater than the difference between the means. Perhaps women and men have changed dramatically since the mid-90s.
posted by eviemath at 8:06 PM on April 25, 2013 [26 favorites]


I would bet she had a bit of adrenaline going when she did the demo. Carrying that lunkhead saved him from getting decked.
posted by salishsea at 8:08 PM on April 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


Physically, that's just not true.

It just not false either. It's probabilistic. That is the funny thing about distributions.
posted by srboisvert at 8:11 PM on April 25, 2013 [21 favorites]


... most men know that if given the chance, the average woman will make the average man look as weak as we actually are.

Blech. It's like we just manage to climb out of one stinky pool of stereotypes and gender essentialism, start to wipe the grossness off, and then jump right into a new, slightly different one.
posted by benito.strauss at 8:19 PM on April 25, 2013 [15 favorites]


That GQ piece captures a wide variety of experiences and opinions. Incredible stories; awful stories.
posted by scratch at 8:24 PM on April 25, 2013


The funny thing about having an all-volunteer military is that you don't get "average" men and women; you get a huge amount of selection bias right out of the gate, before you even get to the training that the various branches use to prepare people for different roles. So the characteristics of the "average man" or "average woman" doesn't really matter.

It might be that depending on where you set the bar for various physical characteristics, you get a ratio of women and men that's not 50:50, but it's not going to be 0:100 (unless the bar was so high that you'd only be looking at, say, Olympic-level athletes, of which there aren't enough for the US military anyway).

But as long as they keep different PT standards for men versus women, there's always going to be an excuse — and it will be one with some validity, on a general if not an individual basis — for keeping women out of some roles. The easy solution, to me, is to set the PT standards by MOS rather than by gender. If you want to be an 11B, you have to score (say) a 275+, and it doesn't matter what you've got under your gear. That might result in more men than women, or it might not, but at least there would be a valid, objective reason for whatever the results were.

To establish the initial standards for each MOS you could do exactly what they did when they came up with the APFT scoring system in the first place (and what I assume the other services did for their tests; I'm only familiar with the Army's): you'd just have a sample of people from each MOS take the test, and set the passing score at some percentile, e.g. 90% or 95% or whatever. On the current test, that's how they originally established the "passing" score for various sex/age tranches, but there's no reason that it needs to be broken down that way versus something more functional.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:33 PM on April 25, 2013 [20 favorites]


These are inspiring, eye-opening, and terrifying stories. All the same, I can't help but think the world would be a better place if neither gender "felt nothing" after killing a fellow human being. Or, more to the point, it would be a far greater victory for women everywhere if neither gender were sent to war in the first place.
posted by The White Hat at 8:40 PM on April 25, 2013 [8 favorites]


Kadin2048 has already made half of the point I wanted to make, however gender psychology matters too.

If you're psychologically unsuited to being in the army (beyond a certain point of ability to "fake it"), they will not take you. If you're aware and agree that you're psychologically unsuited, you probably won't even try to join. People who don't take orders don't join armies. People who don't like hard physical exercise don't join. People who are emotionally unsuited to seeing or inflicting violence don't join. People who despise nationalism don't join as often (there is some "self-defense" aspect to that, though).

It doesn't surprise me in the least that women who join any nation's army prove quite capable of fulfilling the physical and psychological requirements to stay in it, ie that typical female soldiers are more or less just as competent at the work a soldier does, as typical male soldiers. If they weren't, and weren't deeply self-deluded, they would not have joined at all.

However, if total war broke out and any nation with a mixed-gender army pretty much had to draft every adult or child capable of holding a rifle (or a spear, even), it strikes me as frankly stupid to argue that the female draftees would be even close to as competent, on the average, as the male draftees, or that either would even approach the competence of the volunteer soldiers at the beginning of the war. As time went by and the war dragged on without prospect of relief, many draftees would find themselves becoming desensitized to violence, more inclined to take (and give) orders, physically fitter, etc, but there would still be many more men than women among these partisans.

My argument is that necessity forces competence, but can only force to the limits of capacity, and the average man has greater capacity to develop soldiering skills, than the average woman. However, the lower limit to be an effective soldier is well below being the best soldier that a given individual can possibly be.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 8:52 PM on April 25, 2013


most men know that if given the chance, the average woman will make the average man look as weak as we actually are.

Physically, that's just not true.

well done so far y'all SYKE
posted by nathancaswell at 8:56 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sergeant Kayla Williams
military intelligence, Army
Women weren't assigned to combat-arms units, but we were "attached" to them as needed. I ended up going on combat patrols with the infantry. Because I was female and because this was Rumsfeld's "You go to war with the army you have" phase, I did not have plates for my flak vest. If women aren't in combat and if you only have so many plates to go around, why would you give them to the women?

Jesus Christ.
posted by rtha at 9:05 PM on April 25, 2013 [23 favorites]


However, if total war broke out and any nation with a mixed-gender army pretty much had to draft every adult or child capable of holding a rifle (or a spear, even), it strikes me as frankly stupid to argue that the female draftees would be even close to as competent, on the average, as the male draftees, or that either would even approach the competence of the volunteer soldiers at the beginning of the war.

You might want to clarify on mean/median/mode re: "on the average", because... dude, have you seen what the lower rungs on the ladder of male fitness look like vs. female? When men let themselves go they tend to really let go all the way, y'know?

In seriousness, Kadin has it. Soldiering is something that can largely be broken down into objective requirements - post these and let self-selection & the testing process sort the applicants regardless of gender/orientation/preferred interpretation of "that's where I'm a viking!"
posted by Ryvar at 9:09 PM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Brigadier General (Ret.)Rhonda Cornum, M.D.
flight surgeon, Army
There are some [jobs] I think it's very unlikely that many women will want, or be able, to do. I mean, if it really does require you to be able to hump 135 pounds for so many miles at such and such a speed, then I think there's going to be very few women who can do that. But the fact that there aren't very many doesn't mean we should have a law against it.

(emph. mine)
posted by rtha at 9:11 PM on April 25, 2013 [17 favorites]


This sounds all too related to this Ask Metafilter question.

If I had a daughter, or ever had to advise any female about joining the military, hoo boy would I ever have to say no, even if otherwise it sounds up her alley. Damn, wtf is with these guys in these women's examples?!?! "Born in a barn" or "raised by wolves" doesn't even begin to cover it....
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:17 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


4. Keep Your Mouth Shut

Panel guts bill easing veterans sexual assault claims
posted by homunculus at 9:52 PM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Women get flustered under fire. They're too fragile, too emotional. They lack the ferocity required to take a life. They can't handle pain. They're a distraction, a threat to cohesion, a provocative tease to close-quartered men."

This is so ridiculous is reminds me of Chris Morris's sketch about gays in the navy.
posted by everydayanewday at 10:01 PM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


During WWII, the US built a lot of fighter planes which got sent to Europe. Many of them were sent in ships, of course, but shipping was always busy, and of course planes can transprt themselves.

Fighters didn't have the range for one-way trips across the north Atlantic, of course but there was an indirect route that worked. So fighter planes would fly south to Brazil, then across the ocean to Africa, and then north to Morocco. The whole trip was hazardous, but the hop across the ocean was particularly so. Planes would fly in groups, accompanied by a bomber. The bomber had a navigator, who made sure everyone made it across before the fighters ran out of fuel.

Once the fighters reached Morocco, the transport pilots would turn them over to others, to distribute to units who needed them.

And now we get to the point: a lot of those transport pilots were women. It's true that they weren't being shot at when doing this, but it wasn't all that safe an assignment. It takes a lot of guts to fly a fighter plane 2000 miles over open ocean, even with a bomber for guidance.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:13 PM on April 25, 2013 [6 favorites]


... it strikes me as frankly stupid to argue that the female draftees would be even close to as competent, on the average, as the male draftees ...

It strikes me a stupid to group by gender before taking averages. We should do it by religion. No by race. Wait, how about by GPA.

Maybe just not do it at all.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:28 PM on April 25, 2013 [6 favorites]


I think Bill Hicks as always, has a grain of truth here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Np6_b-72H3E
posted by roboton666 at 10:42 PM on April 25, 2013


if total war broke out and any nation with a mixed-gender army pretty much had to draft every adult or child capable of holding a rifle (or a spear, even), it strikes me as frankly stupid to argue that the female draftees would be even close to as competent

Well, I think we've solved that problem: if 'total war' broke out now, it would all be over in a few hours, with our part in it capably handled by probably a few hundred people. Fewer, if you only consider the ones who actually get to push the buttons.

And once you step away from truly apocalyptic war where everyone needs to actually be a infantry soldier, and if you look at how modern universal-draft countries and their associated armies actually work, there's a huge ratio of support personnel to actual trigger-pullers. So it wouldn't be especially difficult to just let people sort themselves into suitable roles, with some amount of physical and psychological fitness testing, without regard to gender.

The bottom line is that if you take pretty much any militarily useful personal characteristic: strength, speed, ability to make decisions under pressure, length of your trigger finger... whatever you want to pick, and if you were to somehow measure them and plot them with different curves for men and women, even on the characteristics with a really strong gender correlation (e.g. height), you'll have massively overlapping curves. Using gender as a selection heuristic isn't just bad because it excludes competent women, it's bad because it includes men who have no business at all in that role.

So even a really trivial selection system, if it has any connection to reality at all, is likely to be better than using gender as a proxy. That's just as true for psychological factors as physical ones.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:16 PM on April 25, 2013 [30 favorites]


I was sure I had come across this link on the blue but have failed to turn it up. So, for anyone interested, women carrying men quite possibly in situations where they do not have adrenaline coursing through them.
posted by Athanassiel at 11:35 PM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


yes yes what we want is for different gender positions to be at each others' throats and to give dudes a reason to feel like nature screwed them, because that will not end in disaster at all

for fuck's own sake
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 11:38 PM on April 25, 2013


BTW, here is a bit more on cpt. Cambell's damaged A-10 which she skillfully brought back to base and landed. And here are more pictures of the damage. Some impressive piloting was going on there.
posted by Harald74 at 11:46 PM on April 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


In a few years, every soldier is going to be running around in an exoskeleton that lets any wearer pick up and carry 500 pounds at running speed like a giant horrible insect from hell. And the same guys will be saying, "Women can't maneuver a damned exskel properly."
posted by pracowity at 12:41 AM on April 26, 2013 [11 favorites]


And the same guys will be saying, "Women can't maneuver a damned exskel properly."

Ellen. Ripley.
posted by mikurski at 1:07 AM on April 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


... Was a fictional character.

(Please let's not confuse movies with reality?)
posted by cstross at 1:53 AM on April 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


In the middle of something, so I'll make a quick point here about the South Asian experience.

Traditional Indian armies, but not the British Indian army, usually used to have at least a few women-only, zenana battalions that used to protect the royal zenana. In the Deccan, they were always reputed to be among the most brave, courageous, vicious, effective, and highly respected fighting forces in combat; the thinking used to go that women soldiers were primed to think, with adequate reason obviously, that they had a lot more to lose than the men if the zenana fell, and so were more determined to win than others.

The royal women warriors - people like Rani Laxmi Bai, Razia Sultana or Rani Rudramma Devi - were the ones with literary narratives and therefore more well-known than the rest, but most medieval wars from the region have tales of shaurya ("valour") from these battalions. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the last war on the sub-continent involving these women battalions is the First War of Indian Independence, the so-called Sepoy Mutiny of 1857.

Unless I've missed some recent developments, the contemporary Indian Army still doesn't allow women in combat roles, although women are accepted into the army and are put in front-line positions, even in such crucial military responsibilities" as sharply marching to the Wagah border, stomping the ground, pointing your thumbs down and slamming the gate tight.
posted by the cydonian at 2:18 AM on April 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's a silly thing that women are forced to have to want this barrier to come down. Why would you want to be in combat? #fuckinghippiegetoutofhere
posted by converge at 4:52 AM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


... Was a fictional character.

(Please let's not confuse movies with reality?)


Who was cited in response to a fictional future setting...
posted by biffa at 5:06 AM on April 26, 2013 [8 favorites]


I'm a hippie too, converge, and that really doesn't mean that I like discrimination because it "favors" my gender. Wars are hell, but fuck, if qualified women want to fight in them they damn well should be able to.
posted by lydhre at 5:43 AM on April 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


... Was a fictional character.

(Please let's not confuse movies with reality?)

Who was cited in response to a fictional future setting...


But in Aliens the exoskeleton was of industrial design, not military, as long as we're picking nits that mean nothing here.
posted by mr. digits at 5:51 AM on April 26, 2013


And the same guys will be saying, "Women can't maneuver a damned exskel properly."

Friend of mine, a captain in Afghanistan, learned to drive stick shift in a badass military vehicle, all of her soldiers watching and rooting for her.
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:26 AM on April 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


The idea that women are unfit for combat is such a ridiculous stereotype. I have a sister in the military, and she's always been one of the toughest people I've ever known, despite the fact I was bigger than her at like, 12.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 6:29 AM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


The stories of the sexual assault and the complete helplessness of women from their commanding officers and fellow soldiers hurt my soul. :(
posted by jillithd at 6:52 AM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


You get a DUI, you're pretty much done—and that's across the forces. Why can't you do it with sexual assault?

Good point.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:06 AM on April 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


Anecdata: Today, I did a 12-mile ruck march as the final event of EIB testing. There was one female there. She finished before me (not by much, and she wasn't wearing a helmet or carrying a weapon, but still).

To me, the obvious answer seems to be that we should have MOS specific tests. That would ensure that people of any gender can hack it in their MOS before they get there.
posted by A Bad Catholic at 11:34 AM on April 26, 2013


You get a DUI, you're pretty much done—and that's across the forces. Why can't you do it with sexual assault?

Because even after being convicted at a court-martial, the commanding general / "convening authority" can "concluded that the entire body of evidence was insufficient to meet the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt” and overrule the verdict.
Air Force officer's sex assault sentence thrown out by commander despite jury's decision
Senators slam overturned sex assault conviction
Air Force General overturning sexual-assault conviction
Lt. Gen. Craig A. Franklin, commander of the Third Air Force in Europe, said in a six-page memo that he overruled the guilty verdict from an all-male jury because he had nagging doubts about the accuser’s credibility.

Franklin also said he had a hard time believing that the defendant, Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, could have committed “the egregious crime of sexually assaulting a sleeping woman” given that he was “a doting father and husband” who had been selected for promotion.
Hagel to open review of sexual assault case
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:22 PM on April 26, 2013


If women aren't in combat and if you only have so many plates to go around, why would you give them to the women?

Jesus Christ.


I actually don't think it was women specifically -- it was just that women were primarily in non-combat MOS classifications and there were a lot that didn't get full combat armor unless they bought it themselves. There was also, to be sure, something of an in-country learning curve. That said, sexism is a system of discrimination that results in more negative outcomes.
posted by dhartung at 4:11 PM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


All these years after a "where's the combat zone OH HERE IT IS" like Viet Nam and the lessons we allegedly learned there and there's no excuse for pretending that even people driving trucks are somehow exempt from suddenly finding themselves in combat. Well, there is an excuse, I guess: money.
posted by rtha at 5:35 PM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Is there a lot of evidence that women are on average less psychologically fit for war? I ask because it doesn't seem particularly intuitive to me-- maybe I just know a lot of hardasses.
posted by stoneandstar at 8:09 PM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think the more likely "problem" is that the public at large will be less psychologically able to deal with photos and stories of maimed, burned, and broken young women coming home than young men. And if this means we're less likely to send young men and women out to get maimed, burned, and broken, I'm all for it.
posted by Justinian at 1:27 AM on April 28, 2013 [1 favorite]




Why It's So Hard to Trust the Chain of Command in Military Sexual-Assault Cases because the head of the Air Force's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office was arrested and charged with sexual battery. Way to go, Lt. Col. Jeff Krusinski!
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:25 PM on May 7, 2013


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