The right’s reaction to the prospect of women in combat

Sargent Sheena Adams and Lance Corporal Kristi Baker and Hospital Corpsman Shannon Crowley working with the FET (Female Engagement Team) 1st Battalion 8th...
Sargent Sheena Adams and Lance Corporal Kristi Baker and Hospital Corpsman Shannon Crowley working with the FET (Female Engagement Team) 1st Battalion 8th...
Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced Wednesday that the military would lift the ban on women serving in combat roles, prompting some conservatives to speak out against the measure.

Not surprisingly, the least substantive criticism of women in combat roles came in the form of tweets, like those by The Daily Caller’s Tucker Carlson. On Wednesday night, Carlson tweeted: ”The administration boasts about sending women to the front lines on the same day Democrats push the Violence Against Women Act.” Carlson seems to equate the potential injury in military service with domestic abuse. A few minutes later he tweeted on the subject again: “Feminism’s latest victory: the right to get your limbs blown off in war. Congratulations.”

It’s unclear whether or not Carlson knows that women have been serving in the line of fire for some time, and that many of their limbs have, unfortunately, already been “blown off.” The lifting of the ban is largely about financial equity and proper recognition for jobs women have been performing since the beginning of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Officially allowing women in “combat roles” gives them the opportunity to earn certain posts that require combat service as a prerequisite.

From the snide to the doom-laden: former congressman Allen West took to Facebook to lambast Panetta’s new policy decision:

“To make the insidious policy decision that we shall now open up combat billets to women is something completely different. GI Jane was a movie and should not be the basis for a policy shift….Unless the Obama administration has not noticed we are fighting against a brutal enemy and now is not the time to play a social experiment with our ground combat forces. President Obama, as Commander-in-Chief, should be focused on sequestration and the failure of his policies in the Middle East. This is the misconceived liberal progressive vision of fairness and equality which could potentially lead to the demise of our military.”

The emphasis on seeing the new policy as a “social experiment” is repeated in much of the policy’s criticism. Ryan Smith, a former infantryman and writer for the Wall Street Journal, cites the preservation of societal norms as a key reason not to mix the sexes. After describing the “cheek-by-jowl” life of the average “grunt” (including an incident of defecation in uncomfortably close quarters with fellow soldiers), Smith writes,

“Despite the professionalism of Marines, it would be distracting and potentially traumatizing to be forced to be naked in front of the opposite sex, particularly when your body has been ravaged by lack of hygiene. In the reverse, it would be painful to witness a member of the opposite sex in such an uncomfortable and awkward position. Combat effectiveness is based in large part on unit cohesion. The relationships among members of a unit can be irreparably harmed by forcing them to violate societal norms.”

Critiques like these seem to overlook the fact that the combat prohibition was largely “a legal fiction,” at least according to Jennifer Hunt, an Army Staff Sergeant injured in 2007 by a roadside bomb in Iraq. “Right before the IED went off, it didn’t ask me how many push-ups or sit-ups I could do,” Hunt said, “Right now the women who are serving are being engaged in combat, so their physical restrictions aren’t a barrier.”