While reading William Saletan’s “Women and Infantry” article, I was shocked by its parallels to G.I. Jane. In particular, both emphasize the practice of “falling back on other excuses” (Saletan) to prevent women from entering the military field.
In G.I. Jane, after the Navy leaders realized that Lieutenant O’Neil was physically capable of finishing the Navy test cases, the Master Chief brutally beat Lieutenant O’Neil during training to show the other trainees that a woman’s presence on the combat team would only make the men more vulnerable. In addition, Senator DeHaven, who got O’Neil into the Navy training program in the first place, sabotaged O’Neil’s place in the program. Her explanation was that she had never expected for O’Neil to make it so far. And anyways, according to DeHaven, why would any woman want to be “squatting in some third world jungle with guys looking up [her] behind”?
Similarly, Saletan narrates in “Women and Infantry” that after 3 women graduated from the Marine infantry training course, former Marine and Republican Duncan Hunter dismissed the idea of women participating in Marines combat. He told Washington Post that there was no need to make such a commotion if so few women were showing interest in becoming Marine officers. In his statement, he failed to mention that so few women apply because they’re not given the incentives that men are given to join the Marines.
Both G.I. Jane and “Women and Infantry” emphasize the difficulties women joining combat face when others are constantly making excuses and saying ‘no’ for them. These difficulties need to be eradicated. Excuses that women in combat will make men more vulnerable or that women shouldn’t want to endure the hardships of combat or that women don’t show enough interest in combat for substantial change to happen are stifling progress to equalize the playing field for women in combat. Instead of rejecting women right from the start, our military needs to give women the chance and the choice. Like Saletan says in his conclusion,
If we substitute merit for prejudice, we can’t be sure where the universe will take us. But it will certainly take us away from group-based exclusions.