Presidential hopeful Rick Santorum, in the latest addition to his “foot-meets-mouth” campaign series, said during a CNN interview with John King last week that he had “concerns” about women in combat because of the “types of emotions that are involved.” I think that could be a very compromising situation, where people naturally may do things that may not be in the interest of the mission because of other types of emotions that are involved. Santorum has since had to backtrack on the statement, saying he meant that men would not be able to resist saving the fair damsels in distress from the line of fire and would be distracted. While all this is fairly unsurprising coming from Santorum, a recent report from the Pew Research Center confirms that his claims are unsubstantiated.
According to the report, “Women in the U.S. Military: Growing Share, Distinctive Profile,” women and men report similar post-combat experiences, indicating that all genders are equally likely to be affected by those pesky emotions that spring up as a result of military service. Both men and women are equally likely to report difficult transitions to civilian life (45 percent of men, 43 percent of women) and experience strains in their family relationships (48 percent and 50 percent, respectively). They are also equally likely to report positive experiences from time served in the military. A majority said they appreciate life more after service, are proud of their time spent and feel the military has helped them grow and mature. Granted, as the report points out, women and men have different occupational roles in the military. Female veterans are less likely than men to have served in a combat war zone (15 percent versus 35 percent). The discrepancy arises because of the different jobs that are available to women in service. Women are not allowed to serve in ground units where combat is the primary mission. However, the differences might diminish with new rules announced by the Department of Defense on February 9. The new policy states that “positions will no longer be closed to women solely because the positions are required to be co-located with ground combat units,” and “positions will be opened to women at the battalion level in select direct ground combat units in specific occupations.” According to the press release, 14,325 additional jobs will now be open to women. The number of women in the armed forces has grown substantially since the United States ended conscription. Women now make up 14 percent of enlisted ranks as opposed to 2 percent in 1973. There are now slightly more female commissioned officers than men in the military as a whole (17 percent versus 15 percent). In the army alone, 18 percent of women are commissioned officers, compared with 13 percent of men. Women’s increasing participation in an institution where they are facing record levels of sexual assault can’t quite be heralded as a victory for gender equality. The military’s vast overextension, arguably, leaves little room for the DoD to be choosy about which genders, sexual orientations or immigration statuses they’re willing to accept among the ranks. Santorum’s suggestion that women are too emotional to serve is both regressive and incredibly callous--the record number of active-duty suicides in 2011 should serve as a reminder that emotional trauma as a result of military service is a reality for many, many men as well.
Alyssa Meza is a Winter 2012 In These Times editorial intern