Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day Meditation - Men and Women in Combat

Remember the film G.I. Jane back in 1997, with Demi Moore? It's the fictional story of the first woman to undergo training in U.S. Navy Special Warfare Group. The SEAL/CRT (Combined Reconnaissance Team) course depicted in the film is offered at Coronado Naval Amphibious Base in California.

This program is considered by some to be the toughest "special forces" training in the military.
To make the grade, Jordan has to survive a grueling selection program in which 60 percent of all candidates wash out, most in the first most grueling week ("hell week"). The enigmatic Command Master Chief John James Urgayle (Viggo Mortensen) runs the brutal training program that involves 20-hour days of tasks designed to wear down recruits' physical and mental strength including pushing giant ship fenders up beach dunes, working through obstacle courses, and hauling landing rafts. After getting a 30 second time allowance in an obstacle course, O'Neil asks to be held to the same standards as the male trainees. Eight weeks into the program, she suffers a vicious beating from the Master Chief during SERE training, during which he tries to convince the other trainees that the presence of a woman will make them more vulnerable in combat. O'Neil fights back and wins his respect and that of the other trainees.
Remember, this is fiction - no woman has ever been admitted to this program as far as I know, and in general, women are not required to serve combat roles in the military (they can, however, volunteer). One of the rationals given in the film is the lack of strength in female soldiers, which Moore's character is determined to disprove - and does.
The traditionalist Center for Military Readiness stated that “Female soldiers [are], on average, shorter and smaller than men, with 45-50% less upper body strength and 25-30% less aerobic capacity, which is essential for endurance”.[5] However, an article in the Army Times July 29, 1996, states that some women do possess the physical attributes suitable to become combat soldiers.[6] (Wikipedia)
Conservative writer Phyllis Schlafly, writing for the American Heritage Foundation, argues that women should not be trained for combat because it's unfair to the men that women can opt out of combat duty in wartime simply by getting pregnant.
The proposal to repeal the combat exclusion laws is based on the feminist ideology that there is not any difference between men and women - that men and women are fungibles in all occupations, even in the most demanding, vicious and dangerous occupation called military combat. So, how does the military deal with the problem that women get pregnant and men do not? When a servicewoman gets pregnant, she is given the-option of resigning immediately (i.e., escaping from the remainder of her term of enlistment) or having limited duty during pregnancy, receiving full medical benefits, receiving paid maternity leave ranging from six weeks to a couple of months, and promising to accept deployment then to anywhere in the world.
This is little more than the male equivalent of seeking a section 8, or shooting himself in the foot, or any number of others men have tried to escape active duty in wartime. Both sexes possess an instinct toward self-preservation - or simply a moral opposition to kill another person - that may come out when sent into battle.

Another aspect of this is that the US military is an all-volunteer force, and many people join simply to get an education. Then when our government enters into a war they have to make a decision - fight or go home (by any means possible). In the past, men could get out by coming out of the closet, just as women could get pregnant. Both sexes had a way out, but this may no longer be true when "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is officially repealed.

Military Deaths by Sex

The reality remains that most combat deaths are men, even with women serving more active roles in the military - especially in the most recent "wars" where there are no front lines.

The following stats come from American War and Military Operations Casualties: Lists and Statistics (2009).

Since 1980 (as of July 25, 2009, incl. Persian Gulf War)
Female Deaths: 2,495
Male Deaths: 43,648

Persian Gulf War
Female Deaths: 15
Male Deaths: 368

Prior to 1980:

Korean War
Female Deaths: 2
Male Deaths: 36,572

Vietnam War
Female Deaths: 8
Male Deaths: 58,217

Self-Inflicted Deaths (Suicides) 1980-2008: 6,270

Clearly, military deaths are overwhelmingly male. However, women has long thought themselves capable of performing combat roles, but to a large extent, men have adamantly refused to allow women into any military roles beyond nursing and support staff. Combat has been seen - and protected - as a uniquely masculine role.
According to Dunivin (1994), the armed forces are characterized by a combat, masculine-warrior (or CMW) paradigm. With combat as the primary function of the military, all activities and structures are organized around combat activities. According to former Marine Corps Commandant, Robert H. Barrow, combat is the process of capturing, killing, and destroying the enemy (Dunbar, 1992). In addition to combat, a second component of military culture is the masculine-warrior image. This image reflects a view of soldiering as a masculine role in which masculine norms, values, and lifestyles are valued. Dunivin postulates that "combat arms provide men the opportunity to demonstrate their masculinity, and the warrior's role is one way to prove one's manhood" (1994, p. 536). In this masculine, androcentric culture, women are regarded as outsiders. (Rooks, 2000)
Despite this overwhelming being the situation, many men have argued that women are getting a pass and that men have been getting the shaft when it comes to military service.

Warren Farrell - The Myth of Male Power - does not see it this way - he feels that men are unfairly required to serve in war, be employed in dangerous occupations, and are being kept in a "glass cellar." Here are a few quotes from his website for the book:
Are "Power," "Patriarchy," "Dominance," and "Sexism" actually code words for male disposability? P.67
• When not legally drafted, men feel psychologically drafted. P.106
• "Glass ceiling": the invisible barrier keeping women out of jobs with the most pay. "Glass cellar": the invisible barrier keeping men in jobs with the most hazards. P.107
• Understanding men requires understanding men's relationship to the Three Ws: Women, Work, and War. P.123
• Before men can vote, they have the obligation to protect that right; women receive the right to vote without the obligation to protect that right. P.123
• The psychological draft of boys begins before, and continues after, the legal draft of boys. P.123
• Indira Gandhi, Golda Meir, and Margaret Thatcher: when women led, it was still men left dead; equality was at the top--not at the bottom. P.125
• Wars will not end via female leaders but when men's lives are no more disposable than women's. p.126
• Increasing women's military combat options will be hailed as an advance in equality, but a true advance would require women to enter combat just as men are. P.127
• Equality involves equal options and equal obligations. P.127
• In Panama and Operation Desert Storm combined, men's risk of dying was three times greater than women's. P.130
• Women constitute 11.7% of the total military, but 12.6% of the officers. P.139
• Both sexes in the Persian Gulf received $110 per month extra combat pay--- equal pay despite unequal risks. P.130
• If a fetus has a "right to life," but eighteen years later has an "obligation to death," which sex is it? P.130
Some people - mostly feminists, have question his statistics in this and other areas, but I believe
he is not making this up. Sometimes, however, it is his interpretation that I disagree with, for example:
• What any other group would call powerlessness, men have been taught to call power. P.28
• Men civilized women by taking care of the killing for women. P.79
• When women complained they were being sexually harassed, the government radically expanded its protection of women by expanding its prosecution of men. P.121
• Men were left unprotected from premature death while women were protected from premature flirtation. P.121
• When we commit violence against an infant girl, we call it child abuse; when we commit violence against an infant boy, we call it circumcision. P.221
• Men commit suicide more often when they are unemployed or lose their life savings, so by killing himself, he is "killing the burden," making his suicide an act of love. P.171
There is a lot to like in Farrell's book, however, when he makes huge leaps in logic, such as those above, he plays the victim and privilege cards he so often chides feminists for using. In fact, his whole chapter on The Politics of Sex (p. 284), confuses sexual harassment with treating women as children. This may be true in about 5-10 percent of the cases - but men still harass women and it's widespread. I've seen judges refer to female lawyers as "Honey" while referring to male lawyers by their first name, and this happens often here in Tucson, so I'm sure it happens other places as well.

I'm not going to bother taking on all of these claims - but I will suggest that when men suicide to get out of debt, it is seldom an "act of love," maybe of fear, or despair, or guilt, but not love. Further, abusing a female child has no relation whatsoever to circumcising a male child - that statement is ludicrous. Circumcision is not necessary (although it does prevent HIV in men) and it does not intend harm or pain (anesthesia is quite common now, except in some religious cases), while abuse of a female child DOES intend pain and suffering. Statements such these - and others - make me question Farrell's agenda.

He is nowhere more wrong than when he talks about rape. Here is one gem: "Minimizing the role of sexual attraction in rape denies our responsibility for reinforcing men's addiction to female sexual beauty and then depriving men of what we've helped addict them to" (p. 311).

Blaming the victim is bullshit. Rape is an act of violence, not sexual desire. Here's more:
• Myth: Rape has nothing to do with sexual attraction—it’s an act of violence, "proven" by the fact that women of every age are raped.
• Being at the age of greatest sexual attraction makes the chances of being raped at least 8400% greater than being over fifty. (p. 311)
Rape is about violence and anger - and the reason more women at "the age of greatest sexual attraction" are raped so much more often is because these are the women rapists are angry at, afraid of, or feel shamed or rejected by - not their grandmothers.

One thing Farrell says about rape is true, however, it is often about powerlessness, not power - rapists tend to feel powerless in their lives. On the other hand, rapists also tend to equate sexual arousal with violence, they tend to believe rape myths (the woman wanted it), and they are more likely to be sexually aggressive toward women when given the opportunity (Malamuth, 1983).

OK, I seemed to have veered off on a little rant there - back to the topic at hand.

Back to Women and Men in the Military

Here is some more from Farrell on men, women, and military service, from an interview with John Macchietto:
Women have equal rights to join the military but not equal obligations to register. And once in the military, women increasingly have equal rights to fight in combat positions, but do not have equal obligations to be in combat positions if needed.

The single biggest barrier to getting men to look within is that what any other group would call powerlessness, men have been taught to call power. We don't call "male-killing" sexism; we call it "glory." We don't call the one-million men who were killed or maimed in one battle in World War I (the Battle of the Somme) a holocaust, we call it "serving the country." We don't call those who selected only men to die "murderers." We call them "voters."
None of this has anything to do with feminism. However, there are some issues over which I find common ground. Eighteen year old boys are required to register for selective service if they want to go to college, women are not so required. Farrell argues that men who fail to register are criminals - but only 20 cases have ever been prosecuted since 1980, and 19 of those were men who sought arrest to publicize their refusal to register.

The reason women have not been given equal combat roles in the military is because men have not given them equal roles or equal status. There are reasons for that which have nothing to do with seeing men as disposable - that view makes victims of men, which it seems is part of Farrell's agenda - reasons that are based in the four million years of hominid evolution.
  • We need women to give birth - one man can impregnate hundreds or thousands of women, so in a sense, speaking in purely biological terms, men are more expendable.
  • Until the development of rifles and machine guns, most battle was conducted with hand-held weapons, making women (in general) a liability on the battle field. Men are simply stronger and faster.
  • In most cultures, men hunted while women gathered and then eventually planted foods. Since men already possessed skills of killing, they were naturally the warriors.
Most changes to these patterns are relatively recent in our evolution - within the last 200-400 years. But our ideals of masculinity have not changed (chivalry, the foundation of the "traditional male gender role," dates to as early as the 10th century), so neither have our ideas about who should serve as warrior.

Ideally, we would have evolved beyond the need for war, and for young men and women to die in war. But that shows no sign of happening any time soon.

In order for us to change how men and women (biological sex) serve in the military, we need to change how we define masculine and feminine roles (socio-cultural constructs). As long as we - as men - cling to traditional definitions of masculinity, things like military service, sacrificing one's life for country, and the archaic "combat, masculine-warrior" role will be seen as part of the (required) masculine gender role.

It is up to us to change this - we need not make ourselves victims, as Farrell unconsciously seems to be doing - and to do it we must be willing to look at the ways at which we are complicit in accepting this traditional role.

There are now many masculinities - we need not choose from manly or sissy. We have the option of exposing ourselves to other ways of being men, and growing our options of masculine expression.

When men no longer see killing each other as a way to solve global problems - we no longer need to mourn the loss of life in war that Memorial Day commemorates.

Dunivin, K. O. (1994). Military culture: Change and continuity. Armed Forces & Society, 20(4), 531-547.

Farrell, W. (2001). The Myth of Male Power. New York: Berkeley Trade.

Macchietto, J. (1993). Interview with Warren Farrell. Transitions: Journal of Men's Perspectives: Newsletter of The National Coalition of Free Men. September/October.

Malamuth, N. M. (1983). Factors associated with rape as predictors of laboratory aggression against women. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 45, 432-442.

Rooks, S.C. (2000). Looking at G.I. Jane through Lenses of Gender. American Communication Journal; Vol. 2, No. 1.

1 comment:

Manga Therapy said...

There is an argument on how that women helped to provide governments with available reinforcements to prevent any manpower shortages.

I do agree that traditional stereotypes have to be challenged to change people's perception. We human beings can evolve to something better.

I did an article on a manga series that's based on women in the combat field. I also looked at how it relates to the problems women face in the military. You can read it at: