More than 238,000 US military jobs are currently off limits to women. How can this be in 2012, when so many women have served honorably in our armed forces? Because American military women are still officially excluded from direct ground combat positions, though that rule has been whittled away in recent years as women now fly attack aircraft and serve on combat ships. New sex discrimination lawsuits are now challenging the idea that women can be kept out of ground combat positions. The ACLU is representing Marine Captain Zoe Bedell and three female members of the Marines, the California Air National Guard and the Army Reserve, and the nonprofit Service Women’s Action Network. These plaintiffs contend that modern warfare means there are no more front lines or safe places, and that women currently serving in “support” positions essentially do the same jobs as male infantrymen, but without the training and possibility for promotion.
One hundred and fifty women have died in America’s recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and over 900 have been wounded.
As is so aggravatingly common in modern civil rights law, the United States lags behind other first world countries in granting equality. Women are allowed in “close combat roles,” defined as “engaging an enemy on the ground with individual or crew served weapons, while being exposed to hostile fire and to a high probability of direct physical contact with the hostile forces personnel” in Australia, Canada, Denmark, Eritrea, Finland, France, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, South Korea and Sweden, Australia.
You can tell it’s time for a change when a policy is based not on a factual argument – no one contends women are unfit for combat – but instead on outdated stereotypes. Some say that male soldiers would chivalrously put themselves in harm’s way to rescue a fallen female comrade. But leaving no one behind – male or female – is the soldier’s battle cry. Just ask Air Force Major Mary Jennings, a rescue helicopter pilot who was awarded a Purple Heart for rescuing three fellow troops while under fire.
There’s no question in my mind that sex discrimination in the military in all forms will eventually be banned. Those who oppose equality are always on the wrong side of history. Weak arguments about women’s proper roles must fall given the importance of properly training women who are in fact in combat zones already, and promoting those who deserve it.
The opinions expressed here represent my own and not necessarily those of Avvo.com.