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!
- The articles
- Background about women killed in our wars
- Implications for our military
- Implications for our society
- 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:
- 28 Articles: a guide to a successful insurgency against America, 7 May 2007 — About harassment and rape of women soldiers.
- “The Plight of Women Soldiers“, Helen Benedict, The Nation, 5 May 2009 — A more recent discussion.
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:
- Men, Women & War: Do Women Belong in the Front Line?, Martin van Creveld (2002)
(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:
- The Real Revolution in Military Affairs (it’s not what you think), 14 November 2005
- Women dominating the ranks of college graduates – What’s the effect on America?, 7 July 2009
- 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.