Week in Review: The Rise of “G.I. Jane”

Lucy Blount ‘15

Over the course of the past few weeks,  the discussion of allowing women to serve in combative roles in the military has reached a high point as the Pentagon begins to make changes to previous regulations. News articles from the New York Times to US News and World Report show that today more Americans are comfortable with allowing women to serve in these roles than in previous years. Since this landmark decision is about to change the American military as we know it, it is important to take a look back at how far women have come and what still remains to be improved upon.

On January 30, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta lifted a ban established in 1994 that prohibited women from serving in combat. The New York Times reported this week, that the idea for lifting the ban came from the military itself. On January 9, 2013 a letter written by General Martin E. Dempsey, chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, claimed that the time has come to lift the ban. In part, this could be due to the fact that women have already started to assert themselves into these positions, even before the law allowed them to. In an article from US News, Paigh Bumgarner describes her time in the service during the early 2000’s. During this time, she fought alongside men and proved herself to be a worthy asset to the American military. It appears that the American public also agrees with the military. In a poll done by Pew Research, 66% of the American public supports a change in policy allowing women to serve in combat. Interestingly enough, this poll also asked the public whether this change in policy is drastic or not. It was found that people were split in their stance. 47% found that allowing women to serve in combat was not a drastic change, while another 47% felt it was. Clearly, this poll demonstrates that women have come along way in the military, even since the start of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Yet, even with all of these improvements, women still face select issues within the military that most men do not. Sexual harassment is still high in the military and many in opposition to this policy change feel that it is too difficult for women to handle the physical burdens of combat aside from merely fitting in. Through countless accounts of their own personal experiences, many women and their male colleagues have described a much different reality. Women have taken on roles as gunners atop tanks and many women now are setting their sights on leadership positions within the ranks. “My generalizations I had going into it were thrown out the window”, remarked Sergeant Dan Glass when he recalled having a female gunner in his tank unit. In regards to “fitting in” with the men, women who show their willingness to adjust to the hardships military life can bring and those who demonstrate their toughness, generally become “one of the boys”.

In many ways, the United States has been slow compared to other industrialized nations in the progression of women’s rights. From not allowing women to vote until the 1920’s to still today not having equal pay, the United States appeared to be slacking. With the introduction of this new measure, the US joins the ranks of twelve other nations that have women in combat. For the first time in a while, this is a measure that all Americans can be proud of. It shows that the American public is becoming more accepting of dynamic gender roles and that this country has a more inclusive future ahead. Given that the last ten years have included economic distress and overall poor morale, including women in military solutions may produce needed positive outcomes.