So I was reading the New York Times, and I stumbled upon this, an article by Catherine Ross comparing women’s service in the IDF to women’s service in the US army. Sound familiar? (If not, see Shira and my post on the issue at The Fbomb)
I guess I’d call this somewhat of a follow-up post to our previous post, then. And I’d like to start off by pointing out that the article neglects to mention that although women can serve in almost any position they wish in the IDF, most Israeli women still choose not to serve in combat. But I digress.
Some basic facts that the author mentions: women make up only 14% of soldiers in the US army, are not allowed to hold a combat arms M.O.S. (Military Occupation Specialty) and, according to official policy, are not allowed to serve in ground combat units at the battalion level and below.
I found the author’s perspective very interesting, mainly because she herself served in the military and unofficially served as a combat soldier. Not only was she treated by her male peers as an equal, but she managed to share a living quarters with them and still maintain a relationship of mutual respect. And while she acknowledges the physical constraints that her body has in comparison to some males and the limits they impose on her capability as a soldier, she brings up the fact that because women are not expected to uphold the same standard of fitness as men (they have different scales on the Army Fitness Test), women are not allowed to prove themselves equally capable.
According to a New York Times article, many women, like Catherine, have circumvented the law and proven themselves to be capable soldiers, especially with the new opportunities and needs for fighters that have developed because of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars:
[T]he Iraq insurgency obliterated conventional battle lines. The fight was on every base and street corner, and as the conflict grew longer and more complicated, the all-volunteer military required more soldiers and a different approach to fighting. Commanders were forced to stretch gender boundaries, or in a few cases, erase them altogether.
When push comes to shove, women have been able to be vital in combat units. And on that note, I’m still not sure why women in Israel choose not to serve in combat units, but the fact that they are allowed to is a big step—one that I believe the US should emulate. Although, as we mentioned in our earlier post, there is still sexual assault in the IDF, it is much more abundant in the US army: one in seven versus one in three women. And perhaps a part of this is the fact that women serving in the US army is still seen as somewhat of a novelty. If women are not allowed to serve in combat units, then even though they can still serve in many different and important positions, they will still be treated as a different type of soldier than men. Women need opportunities to prove that they should be treated with respect in the army, and the only way to give them those opportunities is by allowing them the same opportunities as men and holding them to an equal standard.