28 January 2013, 12:24

Arguments that women aren't strong enough for combat positions ‘are always wrong’ - interview

Arguments that women aren't strong enough for combat positions ‘are always wrong’ - interview
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Women will now be able to fight on the frontlines. That’s going to be happening in the next couple of years. Voice of Russia spoke to Lory Manning, retired navy captain and Director of the Women in the Military Project in the Women’s Research and Education Institute. Women already work in the military in many capacities, including going into war zones, but critics have questioned the decision to allow women on the front lines based on the fact that they might not be physically able to compete with men.

I know this is a big deal on the legal side, but haven’t we seen many women on the frontlines? Many come back losing limbs, just like men do. What’s different this time?

Well, the difference is that the policy that women can be employed by the military has been ignored by especially the Army and the Marine Court for the past 10 years. They’ve been just attaching women to combat units without proper training and sending them out there. What this does – it changes the policy so that the rules that tell women what they can and what they can’t do in the military now match the practices of how they’re actually being employed.

What do you think of some of the reaction from various groups that say that women shouldn’t be out there, that we shouldn’t have men and women fighting alongside each other? Again, I’m not a military person and, to my understanding, that’s already happening.

It’s been happening for years and years now. The same arguments were raised back in 1976 when we opened the military academies to women. Women started flying in military planes, when we opened navy ships and combat aircrafts to women in these very early 90s, all these arguments were raised. And also the same arguments were raised with respect to whether or not gay should serve in the military. Back in 40s the discussion was whether African-Americans should be allowed to serve. The people, that raised those objections, have at least until today always been wrong.

That’s true. Would you look at the armed services – it’s always been, since 1940s, the forefront of integrating. Why is it taking so long to integrate women properly into the armed services?

Initially, the military wasn’t the forefront with women. Some of the things that women did in the U.S. military during WWII were groundbreaking. Back in the 50s and 60s the military was one of the few employers where you got actually paid equal to men. They had been in the forefront of it. And through the fight for equal rights in the 70s, that’s where the academies were open, so that the military could stay in the forefront. But after the Equal Rights Amendment faded, social conservatives who had fought it, turned their sides on women in the military, because women in combat was one of the key arguments that was made to keep the Equal Rights Amendment becoming the part of our Constitution. With that sudden pressure on women in the military, the military became less interested, I think, in opening new things for women.

Correct me if I’m wrong, we have no female Navy SEALs, right?

No, at the moment we have women in Special Forces, but what we have had over the past years is a number of women who have operated with Navy SEALs and other special forces in Afghanistan, because it’s necessary to have cultural contact, particularly with Afghani women. So even if they’re not SEAL’s, they’re operating with them. It raises a concern for me that they’re out there without the training these guys have. It’s unfair to them – to send them out there without making them SEALs.

Some have argued that women have to change standards, especially the physical standards, if indeed a woman wants to become a Navy SEAL or other professional. Is that the case?

No. We’ve integrated women in board navy ships, we’ve integrated them in the combat aircrafts. We’ve integrated them into all kinds of staff in the ground forces – informally, over Iraq and Afghanistan. They have to meet the same criteria of men. They always have. Physical fitness testing is a separate kettle of fish and it’s not only various by gender, it’s also various by age. The guy who’s 35 doesn’t have to run as fast as the guy who’s 19. We can look at that kind testing and say that that needs to change too, but the standards we’re talking about now are called “occupational standards”. If you want to be a helicopter pilot, your leg bones have to be of certain length, your seating height has to be of certain length. That applies to men and women. For occupational standards, everybody needs to meet the same criteria and as ground combat occupation opens, that has to stay the same for both men and women. What we have to look at – I ran the navy physical fitness standard for a couple of years. I found out, when I started asked where do these standards come from, that a lot of them are pulled out of mid-air. What we have to do is make sure the single standard that men and women have to meet isn’t pulled out of mid-air, that it actually measures what they need to do to successfully job requirements.

I listened to the conservative radio talk show yesterday. I heard the argument from the host himself, and he had a current or former marine on the air with him. He asked, “Would you trust a woman be able to pick you up? She really can’t do that as men could.”

That was one of the arguments used against letting women serve in the crews of combat navy ships – that when men had to be carried and rescued, women couldn’t do it. During the attack in Yemen a number of years ago, it had a male-female crew and a person that was awarded medal for rescuing other crew members was a woman. She rescued the two men who had been knocked unconscious. She first pulled one of them out, up to the surface, then went back and rescued the other guy. On the battlefield you don’t put the guy on your shoulder – it’d make him a target, but you drag him. And women can do this!

And the Israeli Army has women on the frontlines for many decades.

Actually they haven’t. They had women on the frontlines before 1947-48, they were part of the Gorilla Force in British Palestine. But the Israeli Constitution of 1948 made a compromise for the Orthodox Jewish members of the country versus some of the most secular ones, who said that they wouldn’t have women in combat. Women nowadays do serve in combat navy ships and do do some ground combat stuff in Israel, but it’s not everything.

We should be thankful that this country is moving in the direction of equality in the armed services, where women will be treated equally with men and given the same responsibilities and, hopefully, the same awards.

American Edition of the Voice of Russia

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