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Women in Combat Roles: Argument Against


The debate as to whether women should serve in military combat units or roles has been ongoing and still continues. Those who believe that they should be allowed to participate in combat units argue from the gender equality perspective. However, this line of reasoning ignores the fact that there are biological disparities between men and women. These differences affect the physical as well as emotional abilities of the two sexes. This paper presents a discussion on why women should not serve in combat roles.

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The debate on whether or not women should be engaged in military combat units or roles has been ongoing for quite a long time now. However, the course of this debate was changed when the Defense Secretary, Leon Panetta, lifted the ban stopping women from participating in combat roles at the beginning of 2013. The Defense Secretary’s action has been met with jubilation for a section of the public but with confusion by another section. It is, therefore, important to look at this issue critically.

Gender equality

Proponents of women’s participation in combat roles have their arguments founded on the gender equality ideology. These people believe that men and women are equal (Pavlik, 2013). As such, they should be offered equal opportunities to participate in all activities, even in those that have traditionally been associated with men. According to Simons (2014), these people believe that including women in units that engage in direct ground combat is in the best interest of the nation. However, this belief does not take into consideration the emotional frailty as well as the physical limitations of women (Pavlik, 2013).

Physical constraints of women

Physical constraints as a factor that limits women’s participation in combat are best expressed by Katie Petronio, a Marine captain. Petronio wrote that after engaging in active combat in Afghanistan for five months, she had muscle atrophy that made her always trip and her “legs to buckle with the slightest grade change” (Baker, McCormack, & Strachan, 2013, para. 2). Petronio concluded that she could not “endure the physical demands of the infantrymen” (para. 2), whom she worked with (Baker et al., 2013).

Assigning women to combat units, according to Pavlik (2013), is likely to make the combat units less effective due to the physical limitations of women. This view is also shared by Roberson, a former Marine Corp, who also argues that women struggle to meet the physical demands needed to serve in combat roles (Roberson, 2013). Generally, there exist biological differences in men’s and women’s bodies. For example, men generally have more “muscle mass and upper body strength” (para. 5) than women (Pavlik, 2013). Gelberg, Hines, Lee, McGuire, Washington et al. (2010) and Murray, Stuart, Ursano, and Wright (2002) also found that women in the military were more likely to suffer injuries in combat or during their entire military service, some of which lead to disability.

Emotional frailty of women

Women, compared to men, are less emotionally suited for experiences associated with military combat. Erickson, King, King, Sharkansky, and Wolfe’s (2001), Gelberg et al. (2010), and Murray et al.’s (2002) found that veteran women compared to veteran men had worse overall health and were more likely to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD is an anxiety disorder that develops after having witnessed or experienced a traumatic event and often leads to other mental illnesses such as depression, substance abuse, memory problems, and so on.

Clegg, Culhane, Daigh, Kane, and Metraux (2013) also found PTSD to be pervasive among women veterans deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is supported by McDonough and Shaheen (2013), who also noted that women veterans were also likely to suffer major depression as well as anxiety.

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There are quite a number of reasons why women should not be deployed in combat roles. Other than the physical and emotional reasons, there is also the possibility of becoming pregnant even before deployment. This affects the amount of time women undergo training and developing cohesion as well as trust in one another. Besides, this strains the combat unit.

Reference List

Baker, A. B., McCormack, J., & Strachan, O. (2013). Given Deborah, Jael, and Judith, why shouldn’t women serve in combat? Christianity Today. Web.

Clegg, L. X., Culhane, D. P., Daigh, J. D., Kane, V., & Metraux, S. (2013). Risk factors for becoming homeless among a cohort of veterans who served in the era of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. American Journal of Public Health, 103 (Suppl. 2), S255-261.

Erickson, D. J., King, D. W., King, L. A., Sharkansky, E. J., & Wolfe, J., (2001). Posttraumatic stress disorder and depression symptomatology in a sample of Gulf War veterans: a prospective analysis. Journal of Consultation and Clinical Psychology, 69, 41–49.

Gelberg, L., Hines, V., Lee, M., McGuire, J., Washington, D. L., & Yano, D. L. (2010). Risk factors for homelessness among women veterans. Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Undeserved, 21(1), 82-91.

McDonough, J. & Shaheen, G. (2013). National Summit on Women Veteran Homelessness: A leadership dialogue. Syracuse, New York: Institute for Veterans and Military Families.

Murray, K. M., Stuart, J. A., Ursano, R. J., & Wright, K. M. (2002). The Department of Defense’s Persian Gulf War registry year 2000: An examination of veterans’ health status. Military Medicine, 167, 121–128.

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Pavlik, M. (2013). From suffragette to soldier: Women in combat. The Tripple Helix Online. Web.

Roberson, S. (2013). Women should not serve in combat. The Telescope. Web.

Simons, A. (2014). Here’s why women in combat unit is a bad idea. War on the Rocks. Web.

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