Women at War
Posted on April 10, 2003 Posted by John Scalzi
I’m wondering if this is the war in which we get rid of the polite fiction that women aren’t capable of serving in forward combat positions in the military. The first point to make is that in a war like this one, every position inside Iraq could reasonably have been assumed to be a “front” position — if you’ll recall, there were those couple of weeks in which Iraqi irregulars were whacking at supply convoys as they sped by, and while I’m not a military expert, I’d be guessing that no matter wherever you are, when the enemy is trying to kill you, where you are has suddenly become a front for you.
The second point is that this war has had prominent examples of women serving and fighting with equal facility as the men. In the comment thread of the post I made about the Marine reservist shocked to find out that Marines kill people, someone called Stephen Funk a “pussy” for his position. I deleted the reference, not only because it’s a rather pedestrian insult, but because inasmuch as American and British women are pulling their weight out there in Iraq, so the insult literally makes no sense. If “fighting like a girl” means blasting the hell out of advancing Iraqis until your ammo runs out, as Pfc Lynch so famously did, we should all fight like girls.
I’m sexist enough to note that I’d personally have a vague, rather irrational preference that women not be placed in direct combat positions, but I’ll note that my reasoning here has nothing to do with what I understand are the official reasons against it, which is a presumed male superiority in size and strength or whatever. I speak from personal experience that this presumption is just plain wrong. My wife is three inches taller than I am and demonstrably stronger as well; the idea that I am fit for combat duty while she is not is entirely stupid.
My reasons come down to two mostly indefensible positions — one, the desire not to see women shot up like Swiss cheese in combat (which is entirely sexist, and considering how many women are civilian casualties of combat, really tremendously futile), and two, men are more expendable since they don’t actually, you know, grow babies. One of the big stories prior to the war was how so many soldiers were storing their sperm so that if they were killed (or just had their sexual organs blasted off, I suppose), they could still father children. A woman, by contrast, can’t just leave her uterus frozen in a lab somewhere to be defrosted and used, should she not make it back home alive (she could leave behind her eggs, but from what I understand extracting eggs is neither as simple or easy as, ahem, extracting male gametes in quantity).
This is a wholly irrational position because in a nation of some 280 million, whose population is not in decline and is unlikely to decline any time in the next century, the placement of women in military combat positions is not at all likely to impede the production of future little citizens to any significant degree (and, of course, looking at women solely in reproductive terms is a fine way to get a punch in the eye). But as I said, I don’t claim for this to make any sort of rational sense; nevertheless, when someone says “Women in Combat,” some weird part of my brain says “but they’re more reproductively useful! Send a man!” I can’t explain it. But there it is.
My indefensible leanings aside, if women want to be on the front lines, I don’t see at this late point any reasonable rationale against it. Again, at this point in time, it’s merely a polite fiction that they don’t fight on the line, and the thing about polite fictions is that they are inevitably condescending to someone, and in this case, it’s to women in uniform. Personally, I wouldn’t want to condescend to a woman in uniform; I’m pretty sure she could kick my ass. Obviously, this makes my larger point.
Whatever Everyone Else is Saying