August 18, 2005

Equality in the Military

I just had a passing thought that relates to the military, especially to female officers. Rather than distinguishing men and women with different standards, uniforms and address, maybe it would help promote unity if they were treated the same.

It's probably a bad idea to have coed showers and bathrooms, but I think expecting every soldier to fit the same weight and fitness training standards is an obvious step. Currently, there's a very explicit form of affirmative action going wherein there are widely different standards for men and women. This is part of the reason why keeping women out of combat might be a pragmatic good, since the military requires so much less from them. It's unfortunate that women are expected to be inferior to men, which helps perpetuate (not without merit) the idea that women have less of a place in the armed forces than men.

But beyond that step, which would almost certainly take an order from the President or an act of Congress to enact, the same uniforms and address should be used. Giving female soldiers and officers skirts and blouses, even relatively tough cuts and designs, helps set them apart from the men. Addressing them as "ma'am," even though it has a firm basis in language and history, can also serve to separate. I don't know how necessary or effective it would be, but maybe addressing female officers and male officers the same way could help to streamline some of the problems in the forces.

Of course, other issues of menstruation, sex, pregnancy and rape aren't going to go away because they're intrinsic to being women (although pregnancy and menstruation can be controlled through protection and chemistry). The problems of sexual harassment and of male soldiers compromising missions to save female soldiers aren't going to go away with uniform changes or adjusting the language involved.

However, given that the tradition of keeping women out of the military used to be longstanding and has now been done away with, it seems trivial to keep language or uniform traditions when there's at least a plausible reason for doing away with them. The least we can do is not keep sub-standard soldiers just for the sake of appearances. We don't change standards in order to make sure weak and slow people are represented in the military.

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