Women in Combat Roles in the US Army

The history of humankind is filled with wars, in which women often had to take the place of men not only in the production lines, but also in the field of battle. Although most militaries appreciated their help during dire times, they also refused to consider recruiting female soldiers as equals after. Numerous reasons are being offered, ranging from the assumed inability of women to perform tasks necessary as fighting units, to greater possibility of injury, to humanitarian and economic concerns (Harel-Shalev & Daphna-Tekoah, 2019). In the US, 50.8% of population is women, the majority of which are excluded from combat roles in the army (Tepe et al., 2016). This essay sustains that it is possible to tap into that massive pool of potential recruits to serve on the front lines, but only if the existing structure of the military departs from its deep-seated patriarchal model.

The State of the Issue in the US Military

The US military has more women serving in its ranks than any other nation. Nevertheless, their performance in combat roles has been received with much criticism and pushback from the traditionalists of the military. In 1994, they succeeded in banning women from all combat roles ((Harel-Shalev & Daphna-Tekoah, 2019). However, that position was revised after the 2001 plane bombings. Some real progress was achieved after 2013, when the ban on women serving in combat was removed (Harel-Shalev & Daphna-Tekoah, 2019). Nevertheless, the number of women incorporated into the fighting force grew slowly. Women graduating from ranger schools, serving in the position of riflemen, machine gunners, or mortar operators, or performing in other active combat duties, are still few and far between. There is significant political opposition to the trend, exemplified by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford of the Marine Corps, who did not support the decision to open up all combat positions in the corps to be available to women (Harel-Shalev & Daphna-Tekoah, 2019).

Main Arguments Against Women in Combat Roles

The main arguments utilized to justify barring women from engaging in combat roles in the US military are as follows (Laurence et al., 2016):

  • Due to physiological differences, women are not capable of performing to the same standards as men. That includes strength, durability, accuracy, and other important metrics.
  • Disciplinarian – mixed units have poorer discipline and male soldiers tend to become motivated to protect female soldiers in combat, despite the tactical disadvantages.
  • Social – women are more likely to be mistreated by the enemy (including sexual assault), than men.
  • Economic – on average, women require more time and maintenance to be trained and perform in the field.

These arguments are frequently expressed by US military general staff, command

staff, newspapers, and regular citizens. They serve as gatekeepers for women, barring them from combat roles.

Are Women Weaker than Men?

Most of the arguments presented above are not supported by evidence. While it is true

that testosterone and estrogen have different effects on how muscle mass is formed and accumulated, the results, for the sake of performing strength-related tasks, are relatively equal (Tepe et al., 2016). While testosterone influences muscle and bone mass in men, estrogen increases density in muscles and bones, allowing for, potentially, similar levels of performance while appearing to be leaner (Tepe et al., 2016). Accuracy and other performance metrics can be achieved through higher standards of training. As it stands, the US military has, in many roles, subpar standards for women when compared to men.

How Do Women Affect Discipline?

Poor discipline in mixed units comes from the existing societal norms and relations towards men and women. Due to social constructions present in our society, men see women as potential mates first, and as fellow soldiers second (Harel-Shalev & Daphna-Tekoah, 2019). Until this paradigm is changed, discipline is going to suffer from unwanted sexual advances, changes of priorities, and other poor performance-related issues in the combat zone. A quick solution to the problem would be to create male-only and female-only combat units. However, these solutions are not exhaustive, especially in the light of other genders and sexualities struggling to achieve parity when joining the military force (Harel-Shalev & Daphna-Tekoah, 2019). The appropriate long-term solution would be internalizing and accepting diversity within ranks, slowly changing the dominant cultural paradigm.

Social Dangers of Serving in the Front Lines

Social dangers serve as the strongest argument against women serving in combat roles. In a battlefield where most combatants on both sides are men, women are in a much greater danger of being sexually assaulted (Harel-Shalev & Daphna-Tekoah, 2019). At the same time, barring access to combat roles would not be in the spirit of egalitarianism, as it would suggest that lives of men are less valuable than lives of women. The military is a dangerous career, and people who voluntary accept the risks in order to serve their people and country should not be prevented from doing so.

Examination of the Economic Side of the Issue

Finally, economic reasons are cited to explain why recruiting women is inefficient. It is claimed that, due to the fact that an average male is stronger than an average woman, it requires less time and resources to train one into a soldier when compared to a woman (Tepe et al., 2016). Therefore, it is said, recruiting men is more efficient. While it is true that, due to the existing social stereotypes and paradigms, most women tend to bygone physical exercise, thus being, on average, weaker than men, the assumed financial losses due to training can be compensated for by the overall quality of the recruits (Tepe et al., 2016). Allowing women into combat roles would increase the potential recruitment pool by two times, and stern initial requirements would make sure that only those who are truly committed to service would get in. As a result, lackluster male recruits that were taken in based on their gender and a shortage of better recruits alone, would be replaced by physically-capable, talented, and highly-motivated women (Laurence et al., 2016). While training them may be more costly in the short-term, their performance in the field would more than make up for it.


As it is possible to see from the analysis provided above, the majority of arguments against women in combat role stem from misinformation or from clashing with the dominant social paradigm. The existing views of men on women is that they are weaker, inherently less competent, and are supposed to be competed for and protected from danger. So long these views prevail in the society, they will affect the military, and prevent women from being trained into effective soldiers and used in combat roles. However, social conventions and paradigms work both ways. If women are allowed to participate in combat roles, they will eventually popularize the notion and prove to the society that they are just as capable of fighting for their country as men are. It would be a gradual change, but it will be for the benefit of the country and the world, and ensure that the US military has its best and most dedicated talent serving in combat roles.


Harel-Shalev, A., & Daphna-Tekoah, S. (2019). Breaking the binaries in security studies: A gendered analysis of women in combat. Oxford University Press.

Laurence, J. H., Milavec, B. L., Rohall, D. E., Ender, M. G., & Matthews, M. D. (2016). Predictors of support for women in military roles: Military status, gender, and political ideology. Military Psychology, 28(6), 488-497.

Tepe, V., Yarnell, A., Nindl, B. C., Van Arsdale, S., & Deuster, P. A. (2016). Women in combat: summary of findings and a way ahead. Military Medicine, 181(1), 109-118.

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