The topic of women in combat has always been a touchy one. Many feel that while women should be allowed in the military, they do not belong in jobs that place them on the front line. Others believe that women are just as capable as men and should be given the opportunity to take on any role within the military.
Currently, women are not allowed to serve in combat related military occupational specialties, or MOS, and are not allowed to be a part of a combat unit below the brigade level, regardless of their MOS. Well, times are a changin’. According to a recent article in Army Times:
“The Army will start placing women in as many as 14,000 combat-related jobs by opening up six military occupational specialties and placing women in 37 battalions across nine brigade combat teams.
On May 14, the Army will begin implementing the new Defense Department policy.”
While this is good news and progress for the role of women in the military, I am sure there are also many who view this with much trepidation. Stereotypes placed on female soldiers are a large part of what causes the anxiety over this decision.
There are many stereotypes that are given to the military community, from the belief that those in the military are more likely to be unfaithful in marriage to the fear that those suffering from PTSD are violent and unstable. Many of these are erroneously given from the civilian sectors, but there are also some stereotype sets propetuated within the military community itself.
And that includes the one placed on female servicemembers.
Opinions, stereotypes and beliefs are all built upon prior knowledge and experience. They are a large part of what makes up how we react and behave toward something.
And that is why when the Army announced that certain combat roles would be opened to women many people, and dare I say many of us wives, became a little nervous.
My personal views on this topic come from multiple sources, one being my own personality as a woman. There are some who think that women are not strong enough to perform in a combat situation. While I know that personally, I am not, nor ever will be, meant for the military for this reason, that is certainly not true for many of those brave women who join the military. While I will never know what my reactions would be in a combat situation, I can only imagine myself freezing and not being able to perform my job. But I know that about myself and I also am smart enough to know that there are some amazing women who would be able to rise to the occasion and be just as good in a combat situation as any man.
Personal experience also plays a big part in how we react to adding women to groups that have previously been male only. My family’s own personal experience with this has, I’m sure, led to my negative feelings on the change.
A prior unit that my husband deployed with that had both male and female soldiers experienced many instances of downrange infidelity and inappropriate conduct which became distracting to their mission (none of which involved my husband). Once my husband was assigned to the cavalry, a role that is male-only, these distractions did not exist and the troop was very effective in their mission.
Again, I am smart enough to know that this example is not typical of all male/female units, but this is the only experience I have had and all that I know. This is also how the stereotypes form – one negative experience gives future experiences a bad rap.
The biggest fear of allowing women into combat positions that many have is also the biggest stereotype – the potential for distractions and temptation to our men.
We fear that the close relationship they will have to form in stressful combat operations will interfere with our own relationships with our spouses. We fear that an attraction will form or ,that when deployed, far away from home and from us, the temptation for straying will be greater.
I am not too proud to say that those thoughts have crossed my mind, but I am also quick to redirect and question my thinking.
Why is this workplace relationship any different from male/female working relationships in the civilian workplace? Why do female servicemembers get such a bad rap and a negative stereotype, when we know that these same relationships and temptations can, and do, occur everyday in offices and businesses? And why is the blame for these inappropriate behaviors placed specifically on the female servicemembers when we all know it takes two to tango?
I think partly it goes back to the fact that people find military life, including military relationships, really interesting — so we are talked about and scrutinized more than those in the civilian world. Our relationships and issues are discussed and broadcast in a grander scale than our civilian counterparts, when in fact the same things happen out there.
People want to know how this one percent lives and what our lives are like, so when instances of poor choices on female (and male!) soldiers happen, those stories are passed around and discussed in greater detail than you would find in the civilian world.
Soldiers naturally tend to form close relationships with other soldiers, especially when placed in a combat situation where their lives depend on those relationships. I think that relationship for many spouses is where the fear and stereotype comes from. It is an intimate relationship, and for our husbands to have that relationship with another woman can be a bit scary.
They also share experiences and stories with each other, especially things about a deployment, that typically our spouses do not share or discuss with us. Even if that bond is not a romantic one, it could be hard to accept that our husband has formed it with another woman.
Personally, I think there is a bit of jealousy involved in my case as well, helping to form my view on the topic of women in combat roles. I admit, these women intimidate me. They are braver than I am and they are willing to place themselves in harm’s way in order to serve their country, whereas I am not. They are selfless and honorable.
But instead of giving them the credit and thanks they deserve, they are instead often given a bad rap and unfairly stereotyped. As spouses, and a community, we need to give these brave women the benefit of the doubt, support them, and let them do their jobs. And by doing this we can go along way to ensuring the safety and effectiveness of all of our Soldiers.
What are your thoughts on opening combat-related jobs to more women? How does personal experience affect your opinion on this?