Women Are Already on the Front Lines. Now They Get Official Recognition For It

After years of debate, all jobs in combat units are now open to women. Defense secretary Ashton Carter announced the decision on Thursday, saying: “There will be no exceptions.”

“[A]s long as they qualify and meet the standards, women will now be able to contribute to our mission in ways they could not before.” Considering womenhave long been serving and dying on the front lines despite a ban that kept them from career advancement, the move is long overdue.

The decision comes after a 2012 lawsuit the American Civil Liberties Union filed on behalf of four servicewomen and the Service Women’s Action Network and a 2013 recommendation from former defense secretary Leon Panetta and the Joint Chiefs that lifted the 1994 ban on women in combat. Now that lifted ban will finally be implemented, freeing up thousands of jobs that women were previously barred from having.

Vania Leveille, senior legislative counsel at the ACLU, applauded the decision in a statement, noting that “no individual who wants to serve her or his country should be forbidden from competing for or serving in any military capacity solely because of gender.”

“Instead, every soldier, sailor, airman and marine should be judged on individual merit and ability.”

The fight for women on the front lines has been a tricky one for feminists who want to support workplace equality for women but disagree with militarism. But the reasons that have kept women from combat positions for so long are so seeped in sexism it’s near impossible not to throw your support behind women in uniform.

In 2012, for example, Rick Santorum expressed reservations about women in combat roles because of “emotions”, and David Frum argued in 2013 that women “react to threat very differently” because of hormones. Organizations like the Center for Military Readiness – which also opposes LGBT Americans serving – have argued that women in combat roles will mean a lessening of standards and that women simply aren’t physically up to the task. CMR president Elaine Donnelly says that women “do not have an equal opportunity to survive”.

Perhaps the most misguided of all reasons not to let women serve in combat positions, though, is that they might get raped. Sexual assault in the military is already a huge problem without keeping women from certain jobs, and the idea that women shouldn’t be allowed in spaces where rape is a risk seems an awfully slippery slope. College rape rates are high too; should women be banned from higher education?

This decision, while opening up job opportunities for women and perhaps putting some of the more nefarious sexism around women in the military behind us, is not a cure-all. Congresswoman Jackie Speier, for example, released a statement in support but noted that “we must also ensure that we provide adequate military healthcare and equipment, as well as a modern military justice system that deals fairly with crimes like military sexual assault.” There’s no doubt that there’s work still to be done.

But at the very least, this decision is recognition of the ways that women already serve our country and carves a pathway for them to continue to do so, but with legitimate recognition. 

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