Women – Your Infantry Needs You!

Emily explores the need for women on the frontline
A military policewoman from the Army's 284th Military Police Company mans an M-60 machine gun mounted atop an M-998 high-mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicle (HMMWV) as other members of her company search for unexploded ordnance. U.S. and coalition troops are in Zakhu as part of Operation Provide Comfort, a multinational effort to aid Kurdish refugees in northern Iraq and southern Turkey.

Since the 21st December 2018, women who were not currently in the army have now been allowed to apply for the infantry, and training will begin in April 2019. This is a further development to the decision made by David Cameron in 2016 which allowed women already in the army to become members of the infantry. In my eyes, this is certainly a positive, progressive and egalitarian move, but others disagree.

When the lift on the ban was first announced, former SAS commander Colonel Tim Collins said that, ‘the infantry is no place for a woman’ and the move would ‘drag our infantry to below the required standard’ because they are ‘physically weaker than men.’ I can almost see the logic of this argument, as men and women are genetically different, and men are often more prone to gaining muscle mass than women.

“Isn’t it more about the mentality of the person and how far they are willing to push themselves?”

However, this logic only goes so far; female bodybuilders have certainly proved that the Y chromosome isn’t the only way of gaining super-human strength. In the end, isn’t it more about the mentality of the person and how far they are willing to push themselves, rather than their genetic predisposition?

In 2019 I do not think it is fair to tar every woman with the “weaker than a man” brush. I find the ‘infantry is no place for a woman’ phrase especially problematic, as it appears to be harking back to former times of ‘the workplace is no place for a woman’ or even ‘driving a car is no activity for a woman’. We have already demolished these previous restrictions on women, so I don’t see why our place in the army should be any different.

Another argument against women in the infantry is that they would be too distracting for men. In 2002, then Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon, disputed the lift on the ban due to men’s innate need to protect women, or simply because of sexual attraction. This opinion I see no logic in. The idea that women should alter their presence, behaviour, or attire to try and quell men’s uncontrollable sexual urges is bred within our society and it is particularly ludicrous that this is even being mentioned in the perilous context of war.

“Once again told that you cannot do something because it is too sexually difficult for the man”

I have friends who were told to lower their skirts or even wear a different coloured bra at school because male students and even teachers (grown men in a position of trust) found it too distracting. Why is our society still supporting the idea that women need to change themselves for men, rather than address the fundamental issue that men need to view women differently? This kind of behaviour annoyed me at school; I cannot imagine how women in the army feel. If you are a female member of the army you would have already worked ridiculously hard to prove yourself physically and mentally equal to your male counterparts. Yet, to be once again told that you cannot do something because it is too sexually difficult for the man of the situation must be enraging.

Thankfully, these voices against women in the infantry appear to have been silenced. The official army website states that it ‘is hoped that opening all roles to women will increase the quality and quantity of soldiers. Indeed, it is only right and fair that people who can meet the standards are given the opportunity to do so.’ Furthermore, ‘standards will not be lowered’, which will hopefully prove those who believe women to be physically inferior to men wrong. Allowing women into the infantry is certainly a step in the right direction for gender equality, and I hope that the army have set an example for other industries to follow.

Emily Casey

Featured image courtesy of Expert Infantry via Flickr. No changes were made to this image. Image license found here.

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