On the front lines of equality

Rachel Westrate | Student Life

On Thursday, Jan. 24, the Pentagon officially lifted the military’s ban on women serving in combat. This opens up more than 200,000 jobs that were previously unavailable to women, including serving on front lines and in special operation units such as the Navy SEALs. We continue to strive for total gender equality in the United States, and government support of gender-neutral programs represents significant steps toward achieving this goal. Raising the ban against women in combat is, I believe, an important step toward demonstrating that the U.S. is truly a land of equal opportunities. However, citizens should not lose sight of what equal opportunity actually means.

Our military’s first and foremost responsibility is to protect and maintain the safety of our country, and it should carry out this duty with the utmost care. That means employing the people who are most capable of doing the job regardless of their gender, race or sexual orientation. The lifting of this ban means that women have the opportunity to participate in the same activities as men, but not necessarily the faculty to do so. Women desiring to occupy combat positions should, and supposedly will, have to perform on an equal level with the men, despite the biologically-proven differences in physical capabilities between the genders. According to a New York Times article, General Robert Cone, head of the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command, is “committed to ‘gender-neutral’ physical tests;” however, we already see that in some branches of the military, women are held to less rigorous standards than their male counterparts. For example, men ages 17-21 entering the Army are required to complete a 2-mile run in less than 15 minutes and 54 seconds, whereas women in the same age group have three additional minutes in which to complete the run. I hope that these differences in standards do not spread to the selection process for filling direct combat positions. Although this may ultimately limit the number of women who will fill these positions, it is simply a measure to ensure and maintain our military’s prowess. If we as a country are so keen on gender equality, I believe that women should have the same opportunities as men and be held to the same standards. After all, that’s what equality means.

Another important act that must be made in the name of equality, the goal of this particular action, is the requirement of women to register for the selective service. Men aged 18-25 are, by law, required to register for the selective service in the event of a draft. Women of the same age and standing are exempt from registration. If women want to be equal and to serve in the same positions as men, then I believe they must be equal on all levels. Although being drafted and serving on the front lines of war can be an intimidating notion, at the very least, for most young women, I support gender equality and believe that in order to equate our society fully, women must accept the same responsibilities as their male counterparts.

If we are going to continue to stress the importance of a gender-neutral society, we must be willing and able to embrace all the consequences that conviction engenders, not simply those that may be the most convenient for us. So let our freedoms be protected equally under the law—let us be a country committed to the equality of opportunity, so long as we are committed to everything that notion entails.