Women can lead in the military

When NPR reported this week that women were allowed opportunities to serve in combat leadership positions for the first time, I had a rather common reaction: “Really, this is news?”

This deep into the 21st century and we are taking steps that feel like they should be decades old

Common sense is not so common. One senator, Rick Santorum, quickly reminded me of the contempt for women in the military when he insisted women in combat would somehow distract male soldiers.  For the longest time, I scoffed at that type of thinking.

Bullets, after all, are gender-neutral.

Which is why it was so disheartening to hear one of my co-workers say that women shouldn’t be serving in the first place because he felt “statistics” proved that they have a hard time getting anything done. He even insisted he had the research to show me. He learned it from his wife, who is also in the military and agrees with the verdict.

I found myself at a frustrating crossroads. Would my senses of political correctness and scientific correctness find themselves on a collision course? I wanted women to enjoy the same rights that men have for centuries, but how can they if women are somehow unequal to men in terms of strength and agility?

Shortly thereafter, I received a message from a woman who served as a military officer named Aimee Olson.

She admitted, “Women are not physically equal to men and that is a scientific fact,” but she went on to say, “Mentally, we got it. No problem.”

And that was the key. It’s not a mere matter of physical capability, but of will. Through will, women can compensate for these supposed biological differences. It is their mental capacity — brains, not brawns, perhaps — that put them in good positions to lead. Olsen also made key points on the importance of diversity in the military.

“This is a huge step forward for women in the military. We were banned from nearly everything but nursing in the armed forces for the longest time, and once we forced new doors open, we took the world by storm showing them we could do it, and do it well,” Olson said.

That made me realize I was only considering the scientific and political factors.  There is a philosophical one, too.  Our military can’t defend America’s freedoms, including diversity, if it does not have diversity of its own.

America cannot defend equality while abandoning it.

Forgive my sentimentality, but her words reminded me of “The New Colossus” sonnet engraved in the Statue of Liberty, which insists that no matter the circumstances, we are all part of the same melting pot. When any of us are held back, we are all held back.

As for the research that supposedly proves women’s inferiority in the military, I still haven’t seen it. At this point, I don’t think I need to.

 

Reach the columnist at crgavin@asu.edu or follow him at @coltongavin.

 

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