My first reaction to the lifting of the ban on military women in combat was similar to many others’: What a proud moment for our country!
My approval slowly transformed into confusion after revisiting an article I read last semester: “Women Warriors” by Christine Sylvester. My confusion then morphed into steady disillusion, as Sylvester’s writings led me to revisit the documentary “Invisible War” produced by Amy Ziering.
My confusion did not come from the lifting of the combat ban for women; it was prompted by why it had taken this long to accomplish such a feat and what it now means. In many ways, the lifting of the ban is an institutional technicality. Women have served in combat prior to it, but are just now being recognized for their efforts and are allowed to serve in “small frontline combat units.”
Sylvester discussed the presence of women in the military as it dispels the widespread notion of women being innately peaceful, and dissects the oppressive power of our patriarchal society that is constantly “waging war on women.” The U.S. military is undoubtedly one of the most symbolic institutions of patriarchy, and at its core, it serves as a vanguard to preserve that power system.
Watch the film “Invisible War,” and stand in awe wondering why our nation’s greatest system of defense before 2012 had been so inept and unwilling to craft an internal adjudication process to protect servicewomen from sexual assault and rape from within the ranks. More often than not, these attacks were perpetrated by the servicewomen’s commanding officers (who would clear themselves of charges with ease).
More befuddling is the media response to this decision. The U.S. Marine Corps Commandant publically expressed his skepticism about women in small combat units and questioned the general interest in doing so. Headlines such as “Men Must Now Help Women Succeed in the Military” and “How Men Can Ensure Women Survive Combat” fail to reflect the idea that this decision will promote gender equality.
In more ways than one, the recent decision by the Defense secretary to reverse the combat ban is a cause for shame rather than pride. It is an insight into the military’s inconsistent and outdated views on women and is an attempt to save face instead of promoting structural change to give women a shot at true equality within the ranks. For the sake of all servicemen and women in our military, I hope my skepticism is short lived and proven wrong.