Should Women Serve in Military Combat Roles?

Kathryn C. Ryan

Should women serve in combat roles?

This is the second instalment in a series of online-only Roundtables. Roundtables aim to present a diverse array of high-quality student opinion on thought-provoking issues.

If you would like to submit an opinion for this week's Roundtable topic, "Drones have played a vital and necessary role in the war on terror. How far do you agree with this statement?" please e-mail your 200-300 word opinion to hpickerell@college.harvard.edu before Wednesday, February 13 at 6 p.m.

Diversification Is Not Always a Sign of Progress

To be frank, the arguments for keeping women from fighting in combat are sexist and stupid. The idea that women might hurt “unit cohesion” is objectifying, and the argument that women are too weak to fight has been proven false by female athlete after female athlete, not to mention by the women already serving in the army.

However, I still find myself uncomfortable with the prospect of actively supporting this decision for a few reasons. First, it does not address some of the fundamental, underlying issues that make equality within the military impossible. For instance, sexual assault happens in the U.S. military at overwhelming rates, and effective measures are not being taken to address this situation. Gender equality is entirely impossible if members of certain genders are living in fear of violence from members of other genders.

Secondly, no one should be fighting on the front lines. Let me be clear: I am not faulting soldiers for choosing to be soldiers. Many factors go into making such a decision, and joining the army is essentially the only option for some. I am instead faulting the U.S. military itself for existing, or at least existing in a capacity that involves sending people into combat.

The U.S. military is an inherently imperialistic entity. It does not exist, and has long not existed, for defense. The last war fought on U.S. soil against an invading army took place in 1812, and since then the U.S. has been dispatching its troops to every corner of the globe, fighting wars for selfish reasons that usually boil down to a hatred of communism or a desire for oil. Does a fight for equality within such an institution really have meaning?

Essentially, as long as we maintain a definition of progress that limits itself to diversification—which often consists of the diversification of oppressive institutions—we lose sight of the real benchmark of progress: the elimination of the institutions that cause oppression in the first place.

Reed E. McConnell ’15, a Crimson editorial writer, is an anthropology concentrator in Quincy House.

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