Here’s What People Across the Spectrum Have to Say About Women in the Military

Last week, the Indian Army, for the first time, initiated a process for recruiting women as soldiers into the Military Police.

They started their online registration and put out an advertisement inviting women to apply for different posts in the Military Police Corps.

LiveWire collated a selection of perspectives from across the spectrum on women serving in combat roles and the military.


“The question, then, is not whether women can be effective combat troops but whether a hyper-masculine military culture can adjust. The potential benefits of having women in combat units argue for making that happen.
Women volunteer for the infantry for the same reason men do: to protect their country and their comrades. When a revered leader like Mr Mattis hedges on whether women should be in the combat arms, he does all of the troops a disservice.”

Teresa Fazio, a former marine.

“Through no fault of their own, women will often become the weak link in an infantry team. The men will have to take up the slack and this will engender resentment and reduce the cohesion that is so vital for effective infantry combat.”

Colonel Richard Kemp, Commander of British Forces in Afghanistan in 2003.

“Any sort of physical ailment could prevent someone from deployment. Pregnancy may be one, but singling it out because it’s the one thing that can’t happen to a man is not fair,”

Janiece Marquez, former US Army recruit.

“Our women in Iraq and Afghanistan saw loads of combat up close. But they are not fit for infantry work. Not even close. They are no more fit for infantry work than for playing as linemen in the NFL. This is amazingly stupid. And not due to fraternisation. That is trivial when bullets or are flying, people are dying, and brute strength is paramount.”

Michael Yon, former Green Beret.

“I’ve been homeless, I was really driven into the military in part because of the life struggles I was going through but because I wanted to get rid of my transness… to be this more ‘manly man’, to meet the masculine expectations.”

Chelsea Manning, former US Army soldier and whistleblower.

“Though many instincts are held more or less in common by both sexes, to fight has always been the man’s habit, not the woman’s. Law and practice have developed that difference, whether innate or accidental. Scarcely a human being in the course of history has fallen to a woman’s rifle; the vast majority of birds and beasts have been killed by you, not by us; and it is difficult to judge what we do not share.

The military doesn’t just urge women, it requires them – especially if they want to succeed – to view themselves on the same playing field as their male counterparts. They are also expected to behave and perform in traditionally masculine ways—demonstrating strength, displaying confidence in their abilities, expecting to be judged on their merits and performance, and taking on levels of authority and responsibility that few women get to experience. The uniform and grooming standards work to downplay their physical female characteristics. Additionally, the expectation – explicit or implicit – is that they also downplay other attributes that are traditionally considered feminine, such as open displays of emotion.”

Virginia Woolf, British writer, feminist thinker.

“On the one hand, the achievement of equality for women in the military highlights just how successful feminism in the United States has been in one of its primary goals – achieving equality. As Jean Bethke Elshtain argued in Women and War, military combat is, in some sense, the defining male role. Exclusion from combat, has, in turn, been one of the defining traits of femininity. A military policy that recognizes women’s participation in, and capacity for, combat, is, then, an important assertion that people are not their gender roles. It shows that women really can, and should be allowed to, do everything and anything that men can.”

Noah Berlatsky, author of Wonder Woman: Bondage and Feminism in the Marston/Peter Comics, 1941-48.

“I feel that it’s safe to say females had to do double duty protecting themselves, both against enemies outside the wire and soldiers with war-torn brains and unmet sexual needs inside the wire.”

Susanne Rossignol, deployed to Iraq in 2004-05.

“The participation if women in some armies in the world is in reality only symbolic. The talk about the role of Zionist women in fighting with the combat units of the enemy in the war of 5 June 1967 was intended more as propaganda than anything real or substantial. It was calculated to intensify and compound the adverse psychological effects of the war by exploiting the backward outlook of large sections of Arab society and their role in the community. The intention was to achieve adverse psychological effects by saying to Arabs that they were defeated, in 1967, by women.”

Saddam Hussein, The Revolution and Woman in Iraq

“Of course, women are capable of all sorts of major unpleasantness, and there are violent crimes by women, but the so-called war of the sexes is extraordinarily lopsided when it comes to actual violence. Unlike the last (male) head of the International Monetary Fund, the current (female) head is not going to assault an employee at a luxury hotel; top-ranking female officers in the US military, unlike their male counterparts, are not accused of any sexual assaults; and young female athletes, unlike those male football players in Steubenville, aren’t likely to urinate on unconscious boys, let alone violate them and boast about it in YouTube videos and Twitter feeds. No female bus riders in India have ganged up to sexually assault a man so badly he dies of his injuries, nor are marauding packs of women terrorizing men in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, and there’s no maternal equivalent to the 11% of rapes that are by fathers or stepfathers.”

Rebecca Solnit, Author of Men Explain Things to Me

“The sight of women soldiers gleefully participating in the torture of Iraqi detainees taught this feminist a difficult but important lesson: A uterus is no substitute for a conscience.

A certain kind of feminism, or perhaps I should say a certain kind of feminist naiveté, died in Abu Ghraib. It was a feminism that saw men as the perpetual perpetrators, women as the perpetual victims and male sexual violence against women as the root of all injustice. Rape has repeatedly been an instrument of war and, to some feminists, it was beginning to look as if war was an extension of rape. There seemed to be at least some evidence that male sexual sadism was connected to our species’ tragic propensity for violence. That was before we had seen female sexual sadism in action.”

Barbara Ehrenreich, Author of Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America.

“But what happens in war, happens.”

Lynndie England, former US Army soldier known for her involvement in the Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse scandal.

“Bipin Rawat says women can’t be given combat roles for fear they might accuse male jawans of sexual harassment, coz ‘even in Delhi, ladies tell me that people peep’. Like sexual harassment & pregnancy are a design flaw in women!! Regressive BS.”

Kavita Krishnan, Women’s Rights Activist

“For every frontier touched or broken by women that frontier should be sustained with more and more women.”

Nirmala Sitharaman, India’s first full-time woman Defence Minister

“In a recent interview, the [Israel] army’s Ground Forces Command chief, Maj. Gen. Kobi Barak, said that in the worst-case scenario female tank crew members will have difficulty loading shells. Why is the army pushing them into a post that isn’t physically suitable for them? How is the bespectacled, motivated male soldier who wants to get into flight training different from the young woman who wants to serve in infantry, even though she’ll have trouble dragging an FN MAG machine gun?

The IDF was meant for us to serve its needs, not for it to serve our wishes. The IDF isnt a summer camp to make dreams come true, but Israels defense wall. We must not forget that.”

Lizi Hameiri, social activist and a member of the IDF Fortitude Forum.

“We won’t have a female chief of staff. The glass ceiling is there for a variety of reasons. The military is a boys club. I think every military is a boys club. It’s still a majority of men who are going to choose that way of life.”

Miri Eisen, retired colonel who spent 20 years in the Israeli military

“This progressive step is in keeping with the aspirations of Indian women and is in line with contemporary trends in armed forces of developed nations,” the Ministry said. It said that the performance of women, inducted into transport and helicopter streams of the IAF, has been “praiseworthy” and at par with their male colleagues. “Inducting women into the fighter stream would provide them with an equal opportunity to prove their mettle in combat roles as well,”

Indian Defense Ministry

“Shakti, which means power, is the manifestation of female energy. This shakti defines our strength,”

Former President Pranab Mukherjee

“There are always men thinking that women are slaves, but when women are an armed force, men are scared of them,”

Arzu Demir, the Turkish author of a book on the Y.P.J. militias.

“If members of our military can meet the qualifications for a job, then they should have the right to serve, regardless of creed, color, gender or sexual orientation,”

Former US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta

“The time has come to rescind the direct combat exclusion rule for women and to eliminate all unnecessary gender-based barriers to service” and “to implement these initiatives successfully and without sacrificing our war-fighting capability or the trust of the American people, we will need time to get it right,”

General Martin E. Dempsey, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s decision to lift the military’s ban on women in Combat.

“There are a few stalwart young ladies who are charging into this, but they are too few. Clearly the jury is out on it, but what we’re trying to do is give it every opportunity to succeed if it can.”

Defence Secretary Jim Mattis

“Women will be allowed to apply for all military roles in the British armed forces, including in frontline infantry units and the Royal Marines.”

“Women have been involved in frontline activity in so many ways for so long. You’ve seen women serving alongside men in Afghanistan and Iraq. They have been part of the team. The idea that we’re excluding half the population for some of these vital roles potentially holds our armed forces back.”

—UK Defence secretary, Gavin Williamson

“Considering the ways American militarism disenfranchises and perpetrates violence against communities of color and women specifically, we may want to reconsider the inclusion of women on the front lines of battle as a feminist advancement,”

Kim Tran, a gender and women’s studies graduate student at University of California, Berkeley.

“The Israelis have consistently refused to put women in combat since their experiences in 1948. I have been told by several Israeli officers that this is because in 1948 they experienced recurring incidences of uncontrolled violence among male Israeli soldiers who had had their female combatants killed or injured in combat, and because the Arabs were extremely reluctant to surrender to women.”

Dave Grossman (Retired Lieutenant Colonel in the US Army), On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society

Featured image credit: Reuters