Women in the Military



In our society the culture of the female warrior has only recently, since the Second World War, become a mainstay – though women have been fighting alongside men for thousands of years. Many people, however, still continue to debate whether or not females have a positive or negative influence over the male population of the military. It is still believed that women do not and will not meet the physical standards of the military, have different mentalities than men, and the effects of opposite sexes on the battlefield have not yet been determined. The entire twentieth (20th) century was about becoming more equal and each person having the same rights and opportunities. During a time of mandatory equal opportunity employment (EOE) and civil rights movements were women left behind in the military or does the military not follow the same doctrines that the government places on the civilians?

Women have been fighting on the front lines of wars since 1760 BC (Salmonson 85). However, women had to disguise themselves as men for many years to fight in these wars. Women never received the credit or benefits they deserved for their courage and bravery for fighting. During the 4th century (BC) a Chinese statesman, Shang Yang, wrote that the government should divide the members of the military into three categories. These categories would be: strong men, strong women, and the weak and old of both sexes. Yang recommends that the strong men serve on the front lines while the strong women defend the forts and build traps. He continues by explaining that the weak and elderly of both sexes should control the supply lines. Yang also recommends that the groups not intermingle. He believed that fraternization between these groups would be detrimental to morale. Notice Yang believes that strong women are not equal to strong men. In 271 BC, a group of Gothic women were captured by Roman guards. These women were found to be dressed as men and were forced to walk through Rome wearing signs that read: Amazons. The Amazons were a mythical nation of female warriors who were deemed “killers of men” (Weinbaum).

During the medieval era, and the eras before, women joined the military and fought in battles under assumed names and dressed as men. While this happened in the years before the medieval era as well, it is not expected to have been as common. In 1782, Deborah Sampson, disguised herself as a man and served in the American Army during the American Revolutionary War. She became the first woman to join the American Army, fight in a combat position, and receive a military pension (Deborah Sampson).

In 1790, after the war between Sweden and Russia, several Swedish soldiers were found to be women disguised as men. During the 19th century an all female military regiment was rigorously trained and equipped with weapons in the Kigdom of Dahomey. This group was later named the Dahomey Amazons. In 1861, Mary Walker, a doctor in the Union Army served at Manassas and three later major battles. Walker was captured and held as Prisoner Of War until the end of the Civil War. She was the first and (currently) last woman to receive the United States’ Congressional Medal of Honor. By the end of the Civil War there were over five hundred fully paid jobs for women in the United States military – mainly consisting of nursing occupations. (Wilson).

While women in America were still fighting to be included in their country’s wars, the Balkan Wars opened many doors for women. In 1912, Rayna Kasabova was the first women to fly as an observer on combat missions in the history of military aviation. While some nations began to allow women to enter combat positions, such as the Swedish Women’s Voluntary Defense Service (founded in 1924), women in other countries continued disguising themselves as men to fight. (Blanton).

In 1917, Loretta Walsh became the first woman to join the United States Navy and the first woman to serve in any branch of the armed forces in a non-nursing occupation (The Navy Then and Now). Opha Johnson was the first of 305 women to join the United States Marines in 1918 (Women in the Marine Corps). However, she was not sent to France like her male colleagues to fight in the First World War. Women at this time were still banned from serving in a combat position or in a war zone. (Wilson).

During the Second World War women began taking up jobs that men were leaving behind to fight the war. In the Allied countries more women began joining the military as nurses serving on the front lines. Many American women in the military saw war on the front lines as nurses as well. In 1943, a bill was signed making the Women’s Army Corps a sect of the regular Army. However, these women would still not be assigned to combat units. In the United Kingdom more women were recruited into non-combat occupations in the military to allow more men to go to war. Women who were selected for the United Kingdom’s Special Operations Executive (SOE) were used as agents and radio operators in Nazi occupied Europe. This would be the only “combat” position available to women in the United Kingdom military. (Wilson).

In Poland the women served as couriers and medics. The Third Reich had similar roles for women in the military as the Allied forces, contrary to popular belief. In 1948, the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act was passed, allowing women to serve directly in the United States military. (Ney-Krwawicz).

After the ending of the Korean conflict women began serving in the South Korean military. President Johnson signed Public Law 90-130 in 1967. This law removed grade restrictions and strength limitations on women in the United States military. And, in 1976, the United States Air Force Academy, United States Coast Guard Academy, United States Military Academy, and the United States Naval Academy all became co-educational. By 1987, Canada had opened up all military occupations to women, including combat occupations. However, women were still restricted from submarine duty.

Australia became the first country to allow women to hold positions on military submarines in 1998 – Canada followed in 2002. While it seemed that the integration of women into military roles around the globe was moving gracefully, in 2003, a sexual assault scandal arose at the United States Air Force Academy. Currently, women can not serve in any “in-direct fire” occupation in the United States military; however, many women have fought and lost their lives in the Iraq conflict. The presence of women continues to grow in militaries around the world.

Currently no law prohibits the inclusion of women in the United States to serve in combat positions of the military. The law only specifies that women may not serve on ships and aircraft engaged in combat missions. However, no law restricts the military from authorizing its own exclusions on combat units other than ships and aircraft. Nor has any law defined what a “combat mission” is – this has been left to the discretion of the Department of Defense (DOD) and the individual services. How the individual services and DOD define a combat mission determines which jobs are closed to women. All the services have, in fact, placed certain restrictions on some of their units, thus restricting females from some units. (Facts About Women).

Despite the fact that the majority of women do not meet the same physical requirements or endurance requirements as men, all experts agree that there are some women, although a very small number, who do meet the physical strength and endurance requirements to be soldiers (Army Times). There is no evidence suggesting that the gravitational forces sustained in combat aviation are too strenuous for women.

A study concluded that, when a woman is correctly trained, she can be as tough as any man. The report was issued by the US Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine and led by senior analyst Everett Harman. “You don’t need testosterone to get strong,” Harman explained. Through regular jogging, weight training, and other rigorous exercise, more that seventy-five percent of the forty-one women studied were able to prepare themselves to successfully perform tasks that males in the military perform.

Before this study less than twenty-five percent of these women were capable of performing the tasks. None of the women had a previous routine of strenuous physical activity. The women included lawyers, mothers, students, and bartenders. Many recently had had children and believed the training would help them get back in shape. Almost concurrently with this test, the Ministry of Defense in Great Britain conducted the same type of study. The Sunday Times of London reported that “by using new methods of physical training, women can be built up to the same levels of physical fitness as men of the same size and build.” The British article also notes that “contrary to the view of many traditionalists, the operational performance of groups improves greatly if both sexes are involved.”

Some believe that the government should uphold the ideology of equality between the genders. So long as a volunteer or an enlistee is qualified for a position, their gender should be of no consideration. Critics point out that women can not meet the performance targets set for their positions. However, in the United States Army, for instance, position performance targets are frequently adjusted for the position holder’s age and their position. Case in point: A forty year-old senior non-commissioned officer will tackle a much easier set of goals and targets than his twenty-year-old subordinate. Even if both men are deployed in an active-duty combat role. In any case, the modern high technology battlefield increasingly means that technical expertise and decision-making skills are more valuable than simple brute strength. (Patterson).

Women and men have fought and worked together side by side for years. At one time it was even thought forbidden for women to work outside the house or in, at one time, male dominated jobs (such as steel factories). Now in almost every civilian workforce women can be seen performing the same job as a man. Very few, if any one, will claim that having a women work with, above, or below them cripples the work environment. They will quite possibly declare that it enhances the environment. Allowing a mixed gendered military force keeps the military strong. The all-volunteer force is severely troubled by falling retention and recruitment rates. Permitting all jobs to be open to all recruits guarantees more willing recruits. Not only do some believe it will help military readiness, but they believe it will keep the United States Congress from reinstating a military draft. Without the possibility of active combat duty, many patriotic women will decide against enlisting, as they will be regarded as “second-class soldiers.” And, because combat duty is generally considered necessary for any promotion to a senior officer rank or position, denying female personnel the chance to serve in combat roles and experience combat deployments ensures that very few will ever reach the highest reaches of the military. (Patterson).

Women continue to fight for equality in the United States military. They have been given some rights while denied others – though no law authorized by the legislative branch of the United States has been enforced over the military or Department of Defense to limit the appearance of women in uniform. Since the Second World War, women have been playing major roles in the military. Their positions have grown from nursing to aviation and maintenance. Currently women fight alongside men in Iraq, but are not considered equal – in that they are supposedly not “allowed” or not “suppose” to be in such situations. Women may not gain the right to enlist as infantry-women for quite sometime still. And though the twentieth (20th) century was about becoming more equal and each person having the same rights and opportunities, women of the twenty-first century will have to continue those battles before being truly recognized on the battlefields of our military. During a time of mandatory equal opportunity employment (EOE) and civil rights movements women may have been left behind in their military roles.

Written for a Rhetoric and Argumentation course. This is primarily a research paper.

References and Citations

Blanton, DeAnne. “Women Soldiers of the Civil War.” Prologue Magazine. Vol. 25, No. 1. 1993. 02 Feb 2008 .

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2008-09 Edition, Job Opportunities in the Armed Forces, on the Internet at 02 Feb 17. .

“Deborah Sampson; How She Served as a Soldier in the Revolution — Her Sex Unknown to the Army.” The New York Times 08 Oct 1898.

Donegan, C. (1996, April 26). New military culture. CQ Researcher, 6, 361-384. Retrieved February 17, 2008, from CQ Public Affairs Collection, .

“Facts About Women in the Military, 1980-1990.” Feminism and Women’s Studies. 19 Jan 2005. 19 Feb 2008 .

Griffin, R. D. (1992, September 25). Women in the military. CQ Researcher, 2, 833-856. Retrieved February 17, 2008, from CQ Researcher Online, .

Ney-Krwawicz, Marek. “Women Soldiers of the Polish Home Army.” Article 1218 Feb 2008 .

Patterson, Drew. “Women in Combat.” International Debate Education Association 24 July 2006 18 Feb 2008 .

Reed, Fred. “Women In Combat.” Fred Columns. 18 Feb 2008 .

Salmonson, Jessica Amanda (1991). The Encyclopedia of Amazons. Paragon House, p.85.

Schlafly, Phyllis. “Women Should Not Serve in Military Combat.” Point Of View 2003 19 Feb 2008 .

Shang, Yang. English Translation by Jan Julius Lodewijk Duyvendak (2002). The Book of Lord Shang: A Classic of the Chinese School of Law. The Lawbook Exchange, Ltd., p.250-252.

“The United States Navy: Then and Now.” The Navy Then and Now. 17 Aug 2004. Systems Information Resources. 18 Feb 2008 .

Weinbaum, Batya (1999). Islands of Women and Amazons: Representations and Realities. University of Texas Press, p.59.

Willens, Jake. “Combat Roles Considered.” Women in the Military 07 Aug 1996 19 Feb 2008 .

Wilson, Barbara A. “Military Women Veterans.” American Women in Uniform, Veterans Too!. 2008. 18 Feb 2008 .

Image citation: County College of Morris. “WeCanDoItPoster%5B1%5D.jpg.” We Can Dot It Poster. Rosie the Riveter 1 Nov. 2007. 5 May 2009 County College of Morris

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