Debate: After the Pentagon lifted its ban, should women be allowed to serve on the front line in UK armed forces?

Share
Related Topics

 

What's going on?

The make-up of America's combat forces will change dramatically in coming years as US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta yesterday lifted a ban on women serving on the front lines, a move that could open thousands of fighting jobs to female service members.

President Barack Obama said: "This milestone reflects the courageous and patriotic service of women through more than two centuries of American history and the indispensable role of women in today's military."

The new legislation has put focus on the UK's own arrangements, which currently prevent women from serving in units whose job is to "close with and kill" the enemy, after a 2010 review decided against change. More than 70 per cent of all posts in Britain's army and navy, and more than 95 per cent of posts in the RAF, are currently open to women - but access to infantry positions and elite units such as the Marines is withheld. Should we update and follow America's lead?

Case for: Equality

It is a complete nonsense to say that women can serve some useful functions in the Armed Forces - gathering intelligence, for example - but not serve on the front line. What is it about the front line that disqualifies their patriotism, commitment, physical strength, skill and mental aptitude from relevance? Nothing - which implies that it must be something to do with their gender. But that argument is unsatisfactory; women obviously have a huge range of abilities that could do precious work on the front line. Inhibiting them from doing so is both unjust discrimination and counter-productive. Finally, at a time of widespread cutbacks in military spending, it's clear that beggars can't be choosers. Our enemies are multiplying while our resources are shrinking. Therefore we need all the help we can get on the front line - and excluding half our population makes no sense at all.

Case against: Impractical

The politics of this move are all right, the practicalities all wrong. Gender equality and women's issues must be paid more attention by the military, particularly given the outrageous number of sexual assaults that occur within the armed forces each year (US figures show 3,129 in 2011). However, allowing women to fight in units that "close with and kill" enemy fighters ignores valid biological and emotional objections. First, elite units like the Marines will be pressurised to take on women, despite the fact that they are highly unlikely to be fitter, stronger or faster than a male candidate. Second, the presence of women could wreck a unit's social dynamic, encouraging soldiers to fight for affections rather than behave as a so-called "band of brothers". Finally, how could the UK pursue a war that came at the cost of thousands of mothers and daughters? At least men have been expected to fight and die for their country for centuries.

Women should be allowed to serve on the front line

Read Next
 

In Sickness and in Health: It’s been lonely in bed without my sleep soulmate

Rebecca Armstrong
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor