Nancy Pelosi called it the “selfie of the year”: the group snapshot of the first four women to make it through Marine infantry training.
“Fearless,” as Pelosi describes them. “Badasses,” as onlookers have labeled them. Here is an acerbic quote from an article on Gawker:
These women have now definitively proven what fatuous Congressional oldsters for so long prevented other women from demonstrating: the ability to hump 90 pounds of gear over rough terrain for days; an aptitude for killing people with grenades, radioed-in air and artillery strikes, bare hands, and the M249 Light Machine Gun, which is not all that light; and a general comfort with serving at the tip of the spear, being first-in-last-out, and all the other man-meat-inspired metaphors for combat infantry service.
Private First Class Harlee “Rambo” Bradford, who is spotted in the middle of the group photo, has been quoted as saying she likes “blowing shit up.” How admirable. Maybe she ought to buy a chemistry set or get into pyrotechnics in the private sector where no politicized statutes have to be crafted in order to accommodate gender disparities so that women can blow shit up alongside the guys.
The accomplishment of having survived marine infantry training as a female, considering the inherent biological disadvantages, is no doubt remarkable and earns these women a nod of achievement and perseverance. Perhaps even a round of well-deserved applause. Nevertheless, exploiting that triumph as proof that women can compete with men under the conditions of total war is a misstep that skips over many other hurdles that go unheeded by a general population which collectively believes that placing women in combat roles is making progress toward rectifying historical wrongs. Polls asking the question of whether or not women should be allowed to serve in combat roles have consistently ticked upward toward majority approval. Even worse, polls conducted during 2013 asking the question of whether women should be drafted are starting to show a resounding “yes” on the part of respondents who believe this represents genuine equal opportunity.
Military brass, according to media reports, insist that the standards are not being lowered to get women into combat roles, yet an article published by Business Insider notes the following:
The military services are struggling to figure out how to move women into battlefront jobs, including infantry, armor and elite commando positions. They are devising updated physical and mental standards – equal for men and women – for thousands of combat jobs and they have until Jan. 1, 2016, to open as many jobs as possible to women, and to explain why if they decide to keep some closed.
If standards don’t change, what exactly is the struggle? Only a tiny percentage of women who aspire to go into battle will ever be capable of making it through infantry training and moving on to combat duty. Those will be the extreme outliers whose size and genetics may allow them to be on par with men in the short term.
According to media reports, our so-called Rambo, Private First Class Harlee Bradford, incurred a stress fracture from her two months of infantry training. When you read about what that training entails, a smallish female body will endure far more than a stress fracture or two over time. Jessie Jane Duff, who retired from the Marine Corps, noted in her January 2013 article in Time magazine that the physical demands of infantry, even outside of wartime, cannot be met by perseverance and mental toughness alone. Women who train for combat roles have much higher rates of disability, and therefore attrition, while physically superior men also exhibit numerous physical strains from infantry training and duty.
Muscle atrophy, hip displacement, and arthritis in knees and joints are common ailments. Spinal compression occurs from long periods of heavy combat loads.
This is the hard reality of how extended field time and intense physical standards take their toll. Women’s bodies simply aren’t designed for the fatigue of field operations with heavy field gear and weapons on less muscular body frames.
In a fascinating article in the Marine Corps Gazette, Captain Katie Petronio asks all the right questions, including the following:
In the end, my main concern is not whether women are capable of conducting combat operations, as we have already proven that we can hold our own in some very difficult combat situations; instead, my main concern is a question of longevity. Can women endure the physical and physiological rigors of sustained combat operations, and are we willing to accept the attrition and medical issues that go along with integration?”