6 arguments against women serving in combat roles (and why they're dodgy)

“So women, it seems, are tough enough for service on any battlefront but not tough enough to be peeked at in the shower. For the latter they need compassionate leave, counselling in depth, back pay and five parliamentary enquiries.”

Jacqui de Gelder, an Australian soldier in Afghanistan (2009)

That’s a piece of claptrap (or very clever trolling) from political commentator and author Bob Ellis which is the perfect example of injured thinking about the role of women in the defence forces.

How timely.

Plans to put women on the frontline of our defence forces, in direct combat roles, are being fast-tracked and the Prime Minister echoed the sentiments of former Major-General Peter Cosgrove by saying ‘men and women have an equal right to die for their country’.

They changed the voting age in Australia because young men were being sent away at 18 to fight, and die, for the country. “If they’re old enough to die for Australia, they’re old enough to vote.” But that’s not true for women who were granted the vote in Australia in 1902, more than a century ago. Since then they’ve been good enough to vote but the thought of allowing them to serve on a combat frontline has created fierce debate, most of it supremely absurd. “But who’ll make our doilies while the men are away!”

Admittedly, women played a pivotal role in Australia during the big world wars, putting together care packages, working in ‘man’ jobs while the boys were away and so on. But times have changed. And we’re still making arguments about females getting their periods as a way to ignore the debate.

1. Women aren’t as strong as men!

I don’t know if those who make this argument have ever been to a roller derby. If I ever needed to hire personal security or frontline troops to defend the sovereign nation I will eventually set-up on an abandoned oil rig, I will be hiring roller derby ladies. And besides, nobody is arguing that the extreme roles on the frontline should be just populated with token girls. That’s absurd. We’re not going to put one of the Veronicas in there, even if their music could make the Taliban run screaming in the opposite direction. These positions would be chosen, as they currently are, on merit and the full range of physical tests and exams. But if there are men out there who think women can’t meet those standards, they haven’t been to my hometown.

2. Women are more likely to get raped.

I’ve never quite understood this argument. Well, of course they are. But a simple scan through, oh I don’t know, thousands of years of human warfare will also show that men who go to war are more likely to die. Anybody who goes to war potentially subjects themselves to capture, torture, beatings, death. Death by land mines, death by improvised explosives, death by gunfire. So yes, rape may well be in there as a likelihood for women. But we’re not talking about forcing them. Women are perfectly capable of assessing these risks for themselves.

3. But they’ll get their period!

Yes! They will! Lana informs me that science has proven this and, more than likely, would make female combat troops one hell of a fighting machine. I really don’t quite know what this argument is trying to establish?  Nobody has ever made the argument that male soldiers get a morning glory. Probably because it’s phenomenally ridiculous.


4. Islamic fighters rarely surrender to female soldiers.

This is actually really interesting, and seems to be true according to Lt. Col Dave Grossman in his book On Killing: The psychological cost of learning to kill in war and society. But it’s a misleading argument because it’s not like we’d be assembling female only combat troops to go raiding the countryside. There will be females within troops of men and they will be able to perform roles that men can’t, particularly in Muslim countries. Roles like training Afghan women for jobs to help the national forces, or searching villages without infringing on the very different religious norms in those countries. Winning the hearts and minds of locals who are trying to make the country (whatever country) a better place would hinge on us having the flexibility to do things the right way.


5. Having women in troops will ruin the ‘mateship’ in the ranks and lower morale.

This is no more a reasonable argument than saying that women shouldn’t be allowed in the cigar room for the poker game. Mateship isn’t a male dominated concept. News flash: women can be our friends too! I know, controversial. Look at me and my maverick suggestions, rocking the boat, subverting social norms. This suggests to me that if people really think women will ruin the social cohesion of a force, then that is a serious problem with the mindset of the people who actually believe this. This argument used to be used to counter the push for women to work in boardrooms, you know. And it was utter bullshit.

6. But what if the women start up romances, or get pregnant?

Those crazy women, always looking for sex! And love! We all know that women are incapable of quarantining their personal lives for work. Especially when they’re in combat zones. Nothing makes them randier than being stuck in a hostile desert under the threat of death, right? Yes, people have made this argument. It might happen. It has happened. No one’s saying it wouldn’t, but that’s hardly an impediment to allowing women to serve full stop. That’s like saying women might go AWOL for a pedicure in the heat of warfare. Are we done with the stereotypes yet?

So, they’re the most common arguments we have heard or read. But are there any more shockers you’ve come across? Or, conversely, any good arguments?

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