In response to the Pentagon’s decision to ease some restrictions on women in combat roles, Rick Santorum said,

I think that could be a very compromising situation, where people naturally may do things that may not be in the interest of the mission because of other types of emotions that are involved.

Asked by Ann Curry on the Today Show this morning to clarify what he meant, his explanation mirrored what one man wrote in the comments section of the announcement on’s Facebook page:

A man has a natural reflex to protect a woman at all cost, this might be a bad idea

(To be fair, a few women expressed similar thoughts.)

Here are the most oft-repeated reasons people offer when trying to defend the position that women don’t belong in combat roles (or, in particular types of combat roles):

1. Men have a natural instinct to protect women. They might get distracted from the mission by their need to shield women from danger.

Soldiers are, above all, professionals (at least, I hope they are – if they aren’t, why are we utilizing them?). Most of them, as training would dictate, possess  the instinct to protect and watch out for each other. If they feel inclined to be overly protective of a soldier with a vagina, that is not the failing of the female soldier, but the overly protective male, and one would have to question whether the soldiers who can’t be appropriately professional are fit to serve in a combat role.

As my husband, who has been in the military since 1993, pointed out, soldiers will often risk themselves for the safety and protection of fellow soldiers:

Remember Blackhawk down? Delta snipers Shughart and Gordon volunteered for a suicide mission so save an all male Blackhawk crew. They didn’t have a chance and they knew it. Men have, and will, sacrifice themselves to protect their fellow soldiers.

2. Rape would increase

Who would be raping these women, exactly? Whoever it is, they should be restricted from combat roles. Mental instability has long been one of the reasons for barring someone from joining the military.

3. If female soldiers are captured, they’ll be raped.

Possibly. Men might have their heads sawed off. They might also be raped. Should we keep men out of combat, too, because of the torture they might suffer if they’re captured?

4. If a male soldier sees a woman hurt or killed in combat, his mental health will suffer.

Soldiers suffer PTSD for any number of reasons. Some of them see a lot that they find disturbing – including seeing other male soldiers wounded or killed. Does this mean there should be measures taken to prevent male soldiers from bonding in such a way that witnessing death or injury will affect them?

A well trained soldier recognizes that a soldier is a soldier, whether said soldier has a penis or a vagina.

5. From FB: “If women in the military want equality, than can be equal targets.”

No shit.

6. Having women in combat would ruin morale.

In 1994, the Department of Defense rescinded the Risk Rule and made additional noncombat positions available to women. By 1997, the percentage of positions available to female applicants had risen from just 67.4 in April of 1993 to 80.2.25 In 1997, the DOD asked the RAND Corporation to study the effect of these changes on readiness, cohesion, and morale.

The RAND study examined five attributes of personal readiness: “whether personnel are available, qualified, experienced, stable to the unit, and motivated,” and found that “the integration of women had not had a major effect on readiness.” Single mothers, the study found, did often consume the time of supervisory personnel due to “financial and child-care problems that impacted the unit.” Numerically, though, single fathers were still more common in the military than single mothers and “single parents of either gender were perceived to place a burden on the unit.” –From “Women in Combat: A Culture Issue?” by Lieutenant Colonel Henderson Baker II 

7. From FB: “This PC BS is going to get people killed. Females rightly belong in the military but they do not have the physical or psychological skills to be in the Combat Arms.”


Without a doubt, being in the military is a physically demanding job that not everyone is fit to handle. Despite this, all experts agree that there are some women, although perhaps small in number, who have the physical strength and endurance to be soldiers (Army Times, July 29, 1996). Source

Even if many women cannot perform certain tasks, those who can should not be excluded. Women should not be forced into an MOS for which they are unqualified or uninterested. Awarding of a skill should be based on individual ability and not on gender. While the physical makeup of a woman is different than that of a man, some women can out-perform their male counterparts, and this may account for any differences this make-up may cause. –From “Women in Combat: A Culture Issue?” by Lieutenant Colonel Henderson Baker II [Source]

Psychological “skills” (?):

Men and women deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan in 2007 and 2008 experienced very similar levels of combat-related stress and post-deployment mental health impacts during the first year following return from deployment, researchers reported in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology®, published by APA.

“Contrary to popular belief, women who go to war respond to combat trauma much like their male counterparts,” said lead author Dawne Vogt, PhD, of the Veterans Administration National Center for PTSD and Boston University School of Medicine. “And with the unpredictable guerilla tactics of modern warfare, barring women from ground combat is less meaningful.” Source

8. From FB: “Women I lov u but u being on the battle field is a very grave situation!”

You mean it’s not all kittens and cotton balls?

Dammit! Now no women will want to serve in combat.

LTC Baker concluded his essay with the following, and it’s so perfect that I’ll paste it here to also serve as the conclusion to my blog post:

Our egalitarian society teaches our young females that they can be anything they desire when they grow up, but that same society contradicts itself when it says that women are not physically or psychologically strong enough to serve in military combat positions. As women come closer to entering all Army MOSs, let us honestly assess their impact and performance.

Since their inclusion, the public has been told “all is well” in this regard and the record of women in the service, supports this. But, let us be honest in our appraisal: We should have the courage to declare, “Enough is enough–allow women to serve in combat.” If we do not address these concerns, then it is the soldiers, the Army, and, ultimately, our nation that will suffer. We should be more concerned with national security then with archaic attitudes toward women. Let them join the fight fully!


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About Kris Tsetsi

Kristen J. Tsetsi is the author of the novels "Pretty Much True..." and "The Year of Dan Palace" and the short fiction collection "20 Short Stories," all published under the name Chris Jane. Website:


combat, military, women


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