Women as soldiers – an update

Sometimes articles in the news raise questions about the changes occurring in our society.  Evolution in action, mostly without reflection or analysis.  This post looks at the changing role of women in combat.  While not unique in history, it is unusual.  All I have are questions.  If you have answers or references, please post them in the comments!




  1. The articles
  2. Background about women killed in our wars
  3. Implications for our military
  4. Implications for our society
  5. For more information


(1)  The articles

(a)  “G.I. Jane Breaks the Combat Barrier”, Lizette Alvarez, New York Times, 15 August 2009

(b)  “Living and Fighting Alongside Men, and Fitting In“, Steven Lee Myers, New York Times, 16 August 2009

(c)  And my favorite:  “The Feminist Hawks”, Virginia Heffernan, New York Times Magazine, 19 August 2009 – In their special issue “Saving the World’s Women”.  Opening:

“Consider the feminist-hawk position — the one that advocates the use of force to liberate Muslim women from persecution and burkas. This position has become an integral part of the ideological Web. Feminist-hawk arguments may even be considered an artifact of the Web, just the way the revolutionary arguments of 18th-century America can be seen as an artifact of pamphlets”

(2)  Background information:  relative casualities among women and men

I cannot find a precise measures of women’s service in US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The best is a this from the August 15 article above:

Of the two million Americans who have fought in these wars since 2001, more than 220,000 of them, or 11%, have been women.

Men still make up the vast majority of the 5,000 war deaths since 2001; nearly 4,000 have been killed by enemy action But 121 women have also died, 66 killed in combat. The rest died in nonhostile action, which includes accidents, illness, suicide and friendly fire. And 620 women have been wounded.

Icasualties gives the total killed in Iraq and Afghanistan as 5,129.  Women represent 2.4% of the casualties and 11% of the troops.  If these numbers are accurate, men are 5.1 times more likely to be killed than women.  Including mercs, tens of thousands — mostly men — probably raises the ratio even higher.  This ratio might have changed during the past 8 years, as the role of women has changed.  If so, has the ratio increased or decreased?

Women’s fraction of the total wounded is even smaller.  I don’t have data for Afghanistan, but 620 women wounded in both wars is only 2% of the 31,156 total wounded in Iraq.

(3)  Implications for our military

I have no idea.   It does seem odd that the “women are as tough as men articles alternate with “women are harassed and raped by men” articles.  While not inherently contradictory themes, they reflect different visions of what women are.

For more on this see:

For deeper analysis of this see:

  • “The Great Illusion: Women in the Military”, Martin van Creveld, Millennium – Journal of International Studies, 2000; 29 (subscription only here; free Scribd PDF here)
  • “`Shooting’ at the Wrong Target: A Response to Van Creveld”, Bethke Elshtain, Millennium – Journal of International Studies, 2000 #29 (subscription only here; free Scribd PDF here)
  • The Real Revolution in Military Affairs (it’s not what you think), FM site, 14 November 2005

For a very non-consensus analysis:

(4)  Implications for our society

These articles go beyond reporting.  They are agitprop, of a kind dominating academic, the media, and schools for the past 50 years.  The slow pressure that can over generations change a society beyond recognition.

What effects can we expect in the future?  Big ones, but difficult to foresee.  I have one guess:  more domestic violence in our future.  Generations  of boys raised with stories about warrior women, with frequent depiction in movies and TV of women hitting men — casually, on the least provocation.  The men afterwards looking stupid, cowering before feminist rage.

The prohibition on men hitting women — often ignored, of course — rested on a very different view of gender roles.  Our new gender roles hardly seem conducive to the old rules.

(5)  For more information

Some posts about women on the FM site:

  1. The Real Revolution in Military Affairs (it’s not what you think), 14 November 2005
  2. Women dominating the ranks of college graduates – What’s the effect on America?, 7 July 2009
  3. A better answer to “why women outperform men in college?”, 8 July 2009

For the full list see the FM Reference Page Women and gender issues.



16 thoughts on “Women as soldiers – an update”

  1. I would expect Major Scarlet to weigh in on this one – with his love of soldiers, a man amongst men, and such. Because I fully expect him to mirror the military’s general position of being against it, especially women in combat (which I would agree with & is my take on the subject).

    With the exception of dire national circumstances, or guerrilla wars of liberation (both having a shortage of manpower) war has traditionally remained an exclusively male affair for good reason. An effective fighting force needs to maintain both a strict hierarchy of authority, and yet keep its soldiers highly motivated, within their place in that hierarchy. There is really no place within such a structure for men to be competing for something – other – than the prescribed objective. Such as women.

    Women need to be kept in abeyance, or in the abstract, and as anybody with military experience will tell you, are often used as a kind of removed, yet universal motivator, or something to fight your way out of and toward, as perhaps a reward of stalwart manhood.

    Having women within the combat unit, not only diminishes the notion of idealized motivator, but also offers tangible examples physically at hand to which the men, from a huge variety of cultural contexts with many different attitudes toward women, will at the least create distractions if not eventually conflicts within the ranks.

    Combat units often (and must be trained to) operate in the field for weeks (or much longer) at a time where there is no opportunity for privacy, facilities of any kind, or protection or relief from the elements. Soldiers, mostly 20 somethings – get bored, tired, frustrated, homesick, depressed, frightened, irritated, and horny – even before any shots are fired. And share those burdens in a mutual but singular commradery that (hopes to or expects to) elevate their task toward a mutually understood sense of honor, after the shots are fired. An exclusive fraternity grounded in mutual exposure to the worst that both man and nature can deal out.

    This is not to say that women aren’t capable of meeting the challenge, as if they are capable of meeting the same PE standard requirements as men, then they surely can adapt as well as men, to the task of killing other human beings on command. And if they would be willing to also sacrifice all modes of femininity, personal hygiene, appearance, privacy, changing clothes, peeing, and shitting in front of men, while suffering all manner of sexist voyeurism, or harassment, while repressing their own natural sexual inclinations, then they could probably become as the men, almost literally.

    Which would just ruin the whole goddamn thing.

  2. I’ve asked this question countless times over the last three decades and I’ve never recieved a good answer: what does the widespread employment of women in military roles do to enhance military capability?
    Fabius Maximus replies; Martin van Creveld explains this in his article. For cultural and demographic reasons, finding sufficient numbers of men for the military in western nations has become difficult. Recruiting women was the response.

  3. (response to #3)

    As I understand it, the big question for recruiting women comes down to whether or not the increased manpower that can be achieved by widening the recruitment pool offsets the efficiency hits incurred by the changes to the armed forces’ culture and methodologies in dealing with the female recruits.

    Pro-female-soldier groups envision a large body of ready-to-kill women eager to prove their martial prowess, with very little assimilation required.

    Anti-female-soldier groups envision a small number of insufficiently aggressive women who will require copious amounts of additional training in order to reach the same minimum standards of the men, while wrecking all the army’s institutions and cultural norms.

    Reality, as usual, is somewhere in the middle. (This is leaving out any ‘ethical/moral’ considerations, as to whether women should be ALLOWED to fight at all; its hard to argue that one logically one way or the other).
    Fabius Maximus replies: The point of this article was not well stated. We’re conduction the experiment, and so beyond the stage of making guesses based on general principles. We should be collecting data based on the actual results from the field.

  4. I understand that widespread recruitment of women is viewed as a solution to poor recruiting results… but I also note that as the recruitment of women becomes first widespread and then the norm, recruitment of men slows even more. One can see this in combat support and combat service support roles which is where the vast majority of women are employed. The majority of our recruiting efforts is aimed at filling CS and CSS slots.

    We’ve slowly increased the employment of women in the military and likewise expanded their job opportunities since the mid-1970’s but we still haven’t gained anything from it that I can tell. To the contrary we see less and less interest by young men with the exception of a few who wish to be in combat arms which of course has almost no women.

    I realize I’m making a case for causation by noting correlation. I’d happily accept any correction.

  5. Agitprop indeed. These articles are so disjointed from, and contradicted by, my own experience as to be utterly risible. If true, even in the slightest fashion, then my experience over a lifetime of knowing, loving, and raising women stands completely controverted. Literally, who should I believe, them or my lying eyes?

  6. Throughout the animal kingdom , the general rule is males fight males to keep their females , and females fight to protect their young . Male fighing is often ritualised . I would have thought this was in our DNA . Interesting that when there was a debate here , on a gunman who separated the man from the women , ( then shot the women ) the man was accused of cowardice. I remarked that the man would surely have expected he would get the bad stuff and the women be ok . FM did not think that was to be expected at all , so my DNA must be way out of date.
    In addition to comment #1 ( s*** in front of men ? noooooh !)there are other disadvantages. Women get pregnant .
    Women also bitch . There is no Band of Sisters . No , Captain , I will not drive that tank with Virginia on the gun . She is a fat , lying , minging cow . Its not fair and I’m leaving .

  7. Comment #5: “I understand that widespread recruitment of women is viewed as a solution to poor recruiting results… but I also note that as the recruitment of women becomes first widespread and then the norm, recruitment of men slows even more.”

    Interesting line of thought—but not necessarily a powerful objection. After all, if the trend is as you see it, then our infantry will be all-female in the not-so-distant future. As van Creveld noted, the prestige of a profession declines as it becomes known as a “women’s job”, so the Army of the future will not only be held in low regard, but also compensated accordingly—the new, all-female Army will be much cheaper than its all-male equivalent. This is a benefit not to be taken lightly in our difficult economic times.

    One of the chief objections that’s been raised against the notion of female soldiers is that women allegedly lack aggressiveness; thus, it could be argued that an all-female force might suffer from an excess of passivity: how do you get your platoon of women to charge the machine guns? However, this argument has been vitiated by modern U.S. Army tactical doctrine: once contact with the enemy is made, one huddles under cover and calls for fire support. Women can do that.
    Reductio ad absurdum: it’s not just for logic any more.

  8. What can you say except that it’s a new f******g world and you can’t pretend that the old rules and assumptions apply. It’s certainly not just the woman issue — here I sit, a retired O-5 proud as hell of my USAF command pilot wings, in a state of mild amazement that the most critical combat missions involving USAF aircraft are flown today by guys sitting in trailers using joysticks and computers. And the Air Force senior leadership can’t seem to get a handle on training or qualification or career path issues for these guys. “I am old, I am old, I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled…”

  9. The Canadian military is fully integrated. They have allowed women in all job categories (including combat arms) for a number of years now. Indeed, Canadian women have fought (and died) in Afghanistan. To my knowledge, integration is not an issue with the Canadian military.
    FM: For more details, see “Women in the Canadian military“, CBC, 30 May 2006.

  10. from FM re: Implications for the future

    I have one guess: more domestic violence in our future. Generations of boys raised with stories about warrior women, with frequent depiction in movies and TV of women hitting men — casually, on the least provocation. The men afterwards looking stupid, cowering before feminist rage.

    Anything’s possible, but I’ve seen little to no evidence of anything like this occurring in the past sixty years or so that women have slowly been increasing their presence in the armed forces. What do you think is different about this new phase?

    Focussing on the past ten years of media depictions of violence between men and women, I cannot think of many depictions of women beating up men. There’s the occasional movie like “Thelma and Louise”, but that movie’s a complex portrait and there haven’t been many more like it. Overall, I’d say our visual media seems more prone to semi-pornographic depictions of male violence against women than of depictions of casual violence by women, against men.
    Fabius Maximus replies: I kept track for a while of movies with women casually hitting men. After year I lost it, by then quite long. Two I recall are The Dukes of Hazard movie (Daisy Duke hitting a customer) and Hermione hitting Malfoy in Harry Potter 3.

    “sixty years or so that women have slowly been increasing their presence in the armed forces.”

    Women have moved into the combat arms only in the past decade, so the “past 60 years” is irrelevant. This, and changes in the movies, is largely a phenomenon of the past decade or so, and the first children raised in this world in another decade.

  11. Since the sexually-integrated AVF is now several decades along, there has been plenty of writing and scholarship on it. Stephanie Guttman,a reporter, wrote “The Kinder, Gentler Military” during the Clinton years – it has a lot of material on the Tailhook scandal, DACOWITS, and more. Veteran Brian Mitchell penned “Women in the Military,” which is very much opposed to the gender-related changes in the modern armed forces. Kingsley Browne, a professor and anthropologist/biologist, wrote “Co-Ed Combat” – IMO an exceptionally through examination of the issue, bolstered by some high-quality science and research studies. Browne echoes Van Creveld’s concern that as women comprise more of the armed forces, and the military is therefore perceived as more feminized, young heterosexual men – the demographic base of the military – are less-inclined to serve.

    Ael, I have done some exploration of the CF (Canadian Forces) as I was considering moving there to join, as their age cutoff is high enough to permit men my age (40s) to join. They do not prohibit women in combat arms, but neither do they dilute their standards to favor females as we do here with so-called “gender norming” of the PFT. In practice (I don’t know the precise numbers), women still make up a small percentage of infantry, armor and artillery personnel.

    In closing, we still haven’t really had a completely valid proof of concept of female integration of the services, IMO, because we have not fought a a large-scale war against a peer opponent. Iraq and Afghanistan were supposed to be low-intensity wars, that would not strain our capabilities, but they have proven much tougher on the personnel system than forcast by military planners.
    Fabius Maximus replies: As you note, there has been much analysis of the women in the military — but not yet of women in combat. And your last point goes the heart of the question, as van Creveld stated it. Of course, as nukes spread we might never have a conventional war against a peer opponent.

  12. FM: “Of course, as nukes spread we might never have a conventional war against a peer opponent.

    Precisely. And that is why the Army is no longer important as far as Washington is concerned. After all, the worst that can happen is that we lose a string of insignificant wars. No one in Washington believes that having a first-rate Army is a matter of life or death for our nation, because our wars don’t really matter. Ergo, it does not matter to them who is in the Army, just as long as there are enough (still warm) bodies to keep up the public pretense that our wars really matter at all. Consequently, the Army as a showcase for gender equality is just fine with them.

    I suspect that the Washingtonian lotus eaters don’t think the Air Force is important, either—except in its role as provider of Congressional pork. And the Navy? It’s important because whenever things look bad, we send an aircraft carrier taskforce to keep up appearances. But none of this is serious.
    The problem is that reality tends to deviate from comfortable predictions; I would wager a substantial sum that we will need a good military within the next 20 years. Not a large one, in the World War sense of “large”, but an aggressive, quick, and competent one. Judging from history, those are good odds. I also think that our odds of having such a competent force are just about nil.

  13. What’s with the stars? Did I miss the announcement of this innovation? I love it…the best part is I can vote myself up! (I just did.) Just the thing when I need to raise my self esteem.

    Hmm. But that’s cheating. I’ll vote myself down again.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Another innovation from WordPress. Should be useful in the long threads!

  14. I respectfully suggest that the Canadian experience in Afghanistan tells you everything you need to know about women, in the military, in combat.

    It is practical, but in a volunteer army, relatively few women will elect to join the combat arms. Of the exceptional women who do join, the majority will elect to be officers.
    Fabius Maximus replies: I believe we need more detail to support your first sentence. How many Canadian troops are there? What fraction are women? What’s the relative ratio of casualties? For a more meaningful analysis, some analysis of relative performance during and after combat. Including rates of after-action disability, including post-traumatic combat stress. Stories about a few women’s heroism tells us nothing.

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