The Marine Corps recently announced that, come September, it will allow women to take its Infantry Officer Course. To get a sense of what the course entails, read C.J. Chivers’ The New York Times article “A Grueling Course for Training Marine Officers Will Open Its Doors to Women,” and The New York Times editorial, “The Few, the Proud, the Women.” The arduous test readies lieutenants to lead infantry platoons into combat, and is comprised of written and physical exams under conditions of extreme heat and exhaustion for 86 days. The tests sound obscenely challenging- physically, mentally, and emotionally. I imagine the course is incredibly difficult for all who attempt it- regardless of gender.
Despite differences in physical abilities, men and women have accomplished incredible physical and mental feats throughout history, and I see no reason why an able-bodied and properly focused woman would fail this test while her male counterpart passes it.
The assumption that women would fail the course may have had nothing to do with their exclusion from it. Women are barred from direct ground fighting, and this course prepares one to fight and lead others in doing so. Allowing women to participate in the Infantry Officer Course is a step in the right direction. But it’s a step that’s too small. Even if a woman should display the skills and endurance of an infantry officer alongside equally talented men, her passing the course means less for her immediate future. Allowing women to take the course is an experiment; they will not become infantry officers should they pass it.
I support military prudency, but think that running this experiment, without awarding proper leadership to those who merit promotion, based on sex, is inherently unfair. Should women prove themselves qualified and eager to be infantry officers, then they should be made into officers. I fear that failing to do so will deter women from attempting a backbreaking course that promises no progress for their hard work.
What’s holding the Marine Corps back from this seemingly simple equity? During each of America’s wars, women have fought with valor and have proved their strength and efficacy. Perhaps it’s institutionalized sentimentalism, a desire to protect women from active combat and violence that prevents them from accessing higher ranks of leadership. I’d like to credit the limitations put on women in the military to well-intentioned traditionalism. But the tentativeness with which the military is expanding female combat opportunities must be challenged. The prospect of greater female leadership in the U.S. military is incredible, given the impact it will allow women to have on our nation’s safety and future, and what that influence means for female leadership in all fields.
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