It’s to be expected that there would be a fair amount of backlash from the announcement that women will now be able to serve in combat roles. It’s a complex debate, lots of valid opinions, tra-la-la. I’m not interested in dignifying arguments about whether or not women are strategically less capable, or prone to distraction, or have feeble upper body strength. We already know that women are just as capable as men of handling the world’s biggest jobs, or could be if given the opportunity. Yet many opposers of the ruling are calling the decision a “dangerous experiment,” however, not with regard to sexual assault in the military, or whether or not women could be subject to a draft, or anything like that. *Sigh*. The “danger” that they’re referring to, more or less, is sexual tension.
The implication is that the presence of women may ultimately compromise our national security by arousing our men in uniform to the point of distraction. You know, because they can’t help it. The other part of it, is that having women around will interfere with unit cohesion, AKA the soldiers’ ability to bond due to female interlopers causing them to feel competitively toward one another. I’d say that’s a tremendous insult to those highly trained guys, because it assumes they’re too weak to resist the charms of someone they haven’t even met yet, and may never meet.
I would guess that in most cases, a soldier doesn’t rise in the ranks unless they are exceedingly disciplined and dedicated to making a contribution to the greater good. If someone wasn’t ambitious, self-sacrificing, and consistently meeting expectations, it’s probably safe to assume that they wouldn’t get through Basic Training. So, women in the military are not exactly engaging in the type of behavior that one would find while watching The Bachelor, for example. Their priority is doing the best job that they can, and I’m sure the same could be said for the men. The difference lies in the fact that these female soldiers are, in a sense, the high watermark for women everywhere who want to reach their fullest potential; they must be physically, intellectually, and emotionally strong in order to be effective. They’re not there to get a rose, they’re there to do their jobs and do them well; they know that it’s important for the world to watch them succeed.
That being said, I imagine that being in close quarters, in dangerous situations where you’re feeling homesick, bored and scared, could definitely lead to the development of flirtatious and romantic relationships amongst even the most professional individuals. Whether or not we can control our attraction to another person is arguable. We can, however, control our behavior. But is that realistic? Assuming both individuals are unmarried and mutually interested in each other, is it even necessary? Sure, problems could arise if their behavior were to distract them from doing their jobs, or dealing with fallout if and when the relationship is over. But by that logic, women should be cast out of the political arena as well as the workplace. If a surgeon and her assistant have mutual chemistry, does that mean they’re going to go make out somewhere while their patient dies on the operating table? Probably not, because civilization would collapse if everybody just did stuff like that all the time, and I’m pretty sure the military cares a great deal about civilization collapsing. As in, they don’t want it to happen because it would indicate that they were bad at their jobs.
I know it’s not that simple, and I understand that this is a multi-faceted debate and it could go on forever. I don’t pretend to know what goes into making a military unit run cohesively, but I just don’t believe that the potential for sexual tension is a valid argument for keeping women from stepping into roles for which they have more than proven themselves worthy. PS, we’re behind Canada, Australia, Israel, Norway, and like a bunch of other countries who already have women in combat roles, so um, what the hell, America? I thought you were America.
Attraction and sexual tension are obviously powerful forces, and they’re definitely not things that we as a species will ever be able to control or reserve only for more “appropriate environs”. People are everywhere, and they’re going to connect with other people on lots of different levels. You can’t prevent that from happening in the military or any other secular institution by saying “we just want men” or “we just want women”. Sexual boundaries are blurring, people! You never know who’s lovin’ on who. So you might as well just accept that, and if you can’t, then go join the Clergy. And even then, good luck.
So can we at least give this part of the debate a break? Men and women were meant to work together because each gender brings something to the table. Scratch that; each person brings something to the table. The role sex plays in the big picture shouldn’t be minimized, but it also doesn’t need to be exaggerated. Life is one big co-ed mixer and as long as everybody keeps it in their pants when they’ve got a job to do then there is no argument. You know, just like we’re expected to do at work? Or while filling up our car at the gas station? Or basically any other place on Earth that isn’t our apartment after a romantic dinner?
You can read more from Laura Levatino on her blog.
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