In Iraq, Female Soldiers Prove Old Assumptions Wrong

The New York Times series “Women at Arms” explores the expanding role of women in the military and the extent to which, especially in Iraq, women have become indispensible in all types of operations, showing along the way that they are up to all the same challenges as men.

The article “GI Jane Quietly Breaks the Combat Barrier” introduced the series. Through interviews and review of statistics, the article tells the story of female soldiers in Iraq who have taken on increasingly dangerous jobs because they were needed there. The women have excelled in those jobs. As the article explains:

Women are barred from joining combat branches like the infantry, armor, Special Forces and most field artillery units and from doing support jobs while living with those smaller units. Women can lead some male troops into combat as officers, but they cannot serve with them in battle.

Yet, over and over, in Iraq and Afghanistan, Army commanders have resorted to bureaucratic trickery when they needed more soldiers for crucial jobs, like bomb disposal and intelligence. On paper, for instance, women have been “attached” to a combat unit rather than “assigned.”

Even some staunch feminists have long been inclined to accept military restrictions on female soldiers’ careers. Whether this is because of the widely held, deeply ingrained beliefs that women are simply not suited for war the way men are, or because their pacifism informs their opposition to any sort of combat, the New York Times articles make it clear that women can and do excel at any army job.

Another article, “Living and Fighting Amongst Men, and Fitting In,” addresses – and allays – the other concern about women in the military, namely that their presence would be too much of a disruption for the fighting men. The article quotes Brigadier General Heidi V. Brown, who says, “There was a lot of debate over where women should be. Here we are six years later, and you don’t hear about it. You shouldn’t hear about it.”

Both articles are fascinating and worth reading in full, and we eagerly await the next installment. Their message is strong and unmistakable: there is no reason to restrict the role of women in the military.

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  1. Pingback: Senate Defense Bill Would Allow Women in Combat | Women's Law Project Blog

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