At War on the Rocks, Anna Simons looks at the ongoing controversy in the United States over allowing women to serve in front-line combat roles:
Earlier this year, I spoke with a roomful of field grade officers about the debate and controversy over women in combat. The officers knew my position. What was next to impossible for me to discern, however, was where most of them are when it comes to this topic — which is the challenge with trying to have an open debate about it. The topic is just too politically charged for opponents to feel they can speak openly or honestly.
Officers who balk at the idea of women serving in ground infantry units or on Special Forces Operational Detachments Alpha (ODAs) won’t publicly say so, let alone publicly explain why. They worry about retaliation that could hurt their careers. In contrast, those who have no reservations — usually because they won’t be the ones who have to deal with the fallout from integration at the small unit level — slough off the challenge as just another minor problem or “ankle biter.”
There is more to this dichotomy than just officers’ career concerns, however. As one member of the audience put it, even if special operations forces and Marine Corps brass are prepared to go to Capitol Hill armed with irrefutable logic and unimpeachable facts against integrating women into ground combat units, they will still come across as chauvinists. For any male who opposes full integration, the chauvinist charge is impossible to escape.
I am sure there is something to this; and if I were a male, the chauvinism charge might mortally wound me as well. Maybe knowing in advance that this is how I would be branded would cause me to fight only on grounds of proponents’ choosing. For example, I could use standards and measurable data — as if there is some scientific way to determine what the right ratios and formulae are to prevent anything untoward happening when young men and women are put together in the field for indeterminate lengths of time.