The issue of women’s serving in combat has always been a controversial one because it is closely connected with gender stereotypes and employment discrimination. Throughout the history of the United States, many women took part in wars but their roles were restricted to the ones of nurses or soldiers without a future rank promotion. Still, in their desire to fight, seek adventures or make money, a relatively large quantity of young women pretended to be men and enlisted in the troops, like Sarah Rosetta Wakeman did (Cook 1995).
It is important to note that the 20th century saw gradual changes in the public relation towards female soldiers and their roles in the army (Cook 1995). Finally, in 2015, all the bans for women taking particular combat roles were lifted (Kamarck 2016). The purpose of this paper is to discuss the influence of this decision on the military and female soldiers as well as to analyze the difficulties and barriers that women in combat face nowadays.
The opening of all the combat services in the USA, including the Navy, Marine Corps infantry, and others, for both sexes, might be regarded as a historically transforming event. It has changed the military drastically; the US army of today little resembles the armed forces of the past. It is important to note that Defense Secretary A. Carter regards the step as an important tool for ensuring the power of the army (Kamarck 2016). Women’s full integration in the armed forces can provide them with a greater number of talents that are crucial for the military forces and the whole country (Kamarck 2016). Hence, including women in the army has changed the military by making it more powerful and intensifying its fighting capacities.
Speaking about the social impact of the lifting of bans for taking particular army positions for women, it is an effective tool for breaking gender stereotypes and employment discrimination. It is important to note that the dominance of traditional women’s roles that involve doing household chores like cooking or washing and bringing up children might be harmful to a female (Friedan 2010).
In fact, all women should be completely free to choose an occupation without any restrictions, public pressure or imposed opinions on what is right for a woman and what is not. The full integration of women in the armed forces is of great importance, in this regard, because this decision allows an expansion of women’s businesses, thus giving females more freedom. Earlier, a young woman who decided to connect her life with a military service that was traditionally regarded as a men’s business faced a large number of social problems including public disapproval. Nowadays, the number of such difficulties has been reduced greatly because female soldiers are equal to male ones according to the law.
In spite of the fact that impressive achievements have been made in the social perception of females in combat, some problems and barriers of women in the army still exist. Some traditional issues that have always accompanied females at war belong to such problems. According to Biank (2014), “servicewomen have long confronted problems of hazing, trying to belong to an old-boys’ club, sexual harassment, dating, marriage problems, pregnancy, separation from children” (3). Today, the context for all these matters has changed to a high extent because women form a part of the military (Biank 2014). However, women still face a number of problems while serving in combat that might prevent them from building a successful career in the army.
Despite females being allowed to join any troops and take all positions in the USA army, the barriers to promotion and achievement have not all been lifted. The limiting factor is that the military standards and conditions have not been adapted for female soldiers yet, which might make it difficult for women to serve successfully and thus, get a promotion. In fact, their needs and problems differ from those of men serving in combat although it does not question women’s physical abilities, stamina, or courage (Norman 2010).
Speaking about deployment which has lately become a more common-place practice required by the political situation, such special needs and issues include increased standards for personal hygiene (Biank 2014). The lack of relatively well-equipped latrines might negatively affect the health of female soldiers. Relieving themselves in the field is connected with more difficulties for women than for men, and sometimes, this results in women avoiding drinking water or contracting an infection.
One more matter of concern is periods and gynecological issues for tampons and sanitary napkins might be scarce under the field conditions. Environment (for example, excessive heat or cold), lack of privacy, shower facilities of improper quality even worsen the situation (Biank 2014). Moreover, in case of having a genital infection, female soldiers might be embarrassed to turn to a health care provider and therefore, do nothing about the health issue because such specialists are often men.
Another reason for embarrassment is that the procedure of making an appointment involves not just a female and a doctor, but several people that are to be informed about the intimate problem (Biank 2014). The above mentioned matters belong to physiological ones that the army has to deal with if it employs women. The ways to tackle the described problems are being worked on. For example, implementing devices that make the procedure of urinating or periods easier for female soldiers but it will take time to eliminate the issues completely.
Pregnancy of women who serve in the army might be seen not only as a physiological problem of female soldiers but also as having an effect on men. In fact, because of the rule that a pregnant woman should be sent home as soon as possible, many males accuse them of avoiding the danger of war and military service on purpose (Kamarck 2016). The source of the prejudice is that women are not perceived as equal; military men just look down on them.
Furthermore, pregnancy is also connected with cases of sexual assault that are more common in garrisons than in camps under the field conditions where there is a lack of privacy and alcohol. Speaking about psychological matters concerning women at war, they mostly arise in the field of family relationships. Long-lasting separation from partners and children that is a part of soldiers’ work does not correspond with a traditional perception of women as primary caretakers. Of course, every child needs his or her mother around but the origin of the issue might be traditional gender roles and stereotypes that should be changed to address the needs of the modern world.
To sum up, women received the rights in the army that are equal to the ones of men not long ago although, throughout American history, females had been taking part in wars successfully. The formal barriers to the promotion of females have been lifted, and women are allowed to take all the military positions and serve in any troops. However, such a barrier that prevents female soldiers from building a career in the army still exists. It is the standards of the USA military that are mostly orienteered on men and do not address women’s needs. Special problems that should be paid attention to are the increased hygiene standards in the field, further changes in the social perception of female soldiers, and others. Ways to tackle the issues are worked on but it will take time to change the situation fully.
Biank, Tanya. 2014. Undaunted: The real story of America’s servicewomen in today’s military. New York: Penguin Group.
Cook, Lauren. 1995. An Uncommon Soldier: The Civil War Letters of Sarah Rosetta Wakeman, Alias Private Lyons Wakeman, 153rd Regiment, New York State Volunteers, 1862-1864. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Friedan, Betty. 2010. The Feminine Mystique. London: Penguin Books.
Kamarck, Kristy. 2016. “Women in combat: Issues for Congress”. Congressional Research Service Washington United States. No. CRS-7-5700, R42075.
Norman, Elizabeth. 2010. Women at War: The Story of Fifty Military Nurses Who Served in Vietnam. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.