NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Women in Combat

May 15, 2003

Following the example of Pfc. Jessica Lynch, proponents of women in combat have proclaimed that "the time is right to blast through the armored ceiling that keeps women second-class citizens in the military." An Orlando Sentinel columnist sees Lynch as conclusive evidence that "women can be as fierce as men."

These commentaries are generally ill informed and dishonest, says columnist Kate O'Beirne. In addition, she says, they ignore the realities of our modern military and the civilian workforce, as well as human nature itself.

  • Women have a clear preference for jobs that are safe: in 1995, the 10 occupations with the highest risk of death -- ranging from fisherman or logger to roofer or truck driver -- were less than 10 percent female, with most less than 5 percent.
  • Women today make up 15 percent of the military, and surveys indicate that only about 10 percent of them are interested in serving in combat.

Although proponents assert that they want to see women meet the same physical standards as men in the military, the armed forces -- under pressure to integrate the ranks -- have modified their training.

  • Since it was integrated, West Point developed a formula of "equivalent effort."
  • Scores on fitness tests throughout the military are now "gender-normed."
  • A 1985 Navy study found that large majorities of women were unable to perform any of the eight critical shipboard tasks that virtually all men could handle.

As Kingsley Browne points out, the exclusion of women is more parallel to the exclusion of older people from active service, based not on prejudice, but on group generalizations resting on biological fact: Even the most fit 35-year-old man is not eligible for enlistment.

Source: Kate O'Beirne, "An Army of Jessicas," National Review, May 19, 2003.


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