Love is a Battlefield: Stark Intolerance Against Women in Military

Last Saturday, we had the honor of witnessing a milestone for our military and a victory for the LGBTQ community. Brenda Sue Fulton, a West Point graduate and her partner, Penelope Gnesin, were wed in the Cadet Chapel at West Point Military Academy, a first for the school. We can be proud to add this same-sex wedding ceremony to the growing list of victories and accomplishments for the LGBTQ community, and also to the list of improvements in the military’s views on “non-traditional” members.

Unfortunately, the same week that we witnessed this accomplishment, we were also witness to stark example of intolerance. The ACLU filed a suit against the military to remove the barriers keeping women from combat positions—as many as 238,000 blocked positions—and, therefore, higher leadership positions. According to the ACLU:

The ACLU has long fought for the rights of women service members. For decades, the ACLU has worked to end the combat exclusion policies that prevent women from serving alongside their fellow servicemen. The ACLU brought successful litigation to expand women’s opportunities for service in the Navy, and we lobbied Congress to remove restrictions on women’s combat service.

Is this really how you see us?

In recent years, the military has opened up many positions to women, including on submarines. But the combat exclusion policies still bar women from being assigned to serve in direct ground combat units below the brigade level, with few exceptions.  The experiences of the past decade, in two wars with no “front lines,” show that women are exposed to combat and have what it takes to perform under fire.

The arguments posed by the current military leadership attempt to justify denying these roles to women based on their physical and psychological qualifications, and for their practicality to the military industrial complex. Two prominent female (female!) journalists have spoken out against women holding combat roles based on these “qualifications”. In 2007, Karen Parker of the Washington Post unleashed a rant on NPR’s Talk of the Nation, arguing that women are weaker and more prone to injury, inherently passive, and more easily manipulated for enemy propaganda campaigns. I might just be able to subdue my estrogen levels long enough to muster up some aggression toward an argument like this.

Even more unsettling than this is the argument earlier this year posed by Fox News’ Liz Trotta—which is to say, on a typical day at Fox News—that women who want to go into combat roles are causing a lot of trouble and red tape for the military brass because, “(they) are now being raped too much.” Honestly, GOP, can we stop talking about rape as something women should expect and deal with for once?

Balk all they like about women’s perceived abilities on the battlefield, the fact of the matter is that women are exposed to combat situations, even though these are not situations they were necessarily “battling” in. A study by the National Center for PTSD reports that 75% of women in the military are exposed to some level of combat and combat aftermath, with 50.7% of those women identified as combat-support specialists. The study also found that, despite differences in their area of activity, women involved in combat and are just as susceptible to PTSD as men serving in traditional combat roles.

Women are being placed in the same situations as the men with whom they are serving. They are exposed to the same dangers and handle the stress in similar ways. That women should be on the battlefield and suffering many of the same burdens as men, but without the opportunity for recognition because of their rank and assignment is unacceptable. We’ve come far enough to see so much progress in our military’s views on their “non-traditional” members, when can we see the same progressive thought applied to our women on the battlefield?


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