Notable Women in Combat, from the Amazons to the U.S. Military [Lady Bits]

On January 24, outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta officially cleared female soldiers for ground combat, overturning a longstanding ban. Panetta has spent the last year consulting with top military officials, and his decision comes after years of debate about whether or not women are fit for combat.

Though women weren’t officially approved to engage in combat before, the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have seriously blurred battlefield lines. There are no “front lines” in an insurgency, so women serving in these wars haven’t been kept entirely out of combat. Many women serving as pilots, mechanics, supply clerks and in other positions have been put in danger and exchanged fire with enemies. Now, women will be able to formally qualify for combat units, by meeting the same physical skill standards that male soldiers are held to.

An official reversal of the ban is a huge step for women in the military. While many critics have been quick to point out that not all women will want to serve in these dangerous roles, the women who do will now have the chance. And more combat opportunities could also lead to career advancement for some female soldiers – combat tours have long been a factor in promotions, and women who have served in battle could make better candidates for high-level positions.

As Jessica Valenti points out over at The Nation, this decision is an important one for all women, not just members of the military. Common arguments against women in combat include that they’re too emotional, too weak, and, oh, they can’t poop in front of their fellow soldiers. Allowing women the opportunity for equal military placement will help break down outdated ideas of what women “should” be, and the powerful sexism that still plagues our country.

The United States isn’t the first to make this stride. Several other countries already allow women to serve in battle, including Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Israel, New Zealand and Norway. And while women may not have always been on the front lines in modern warfare, there’s a long history of women and combat. Click through the gallery for a brief history of the fighting women throughout the world.

Garnet is a student at Columbia University in New York City. She is “that person” who starts dancing at a party when everyone else is standing around, and if there were a Facebook stalking Olympics, she would be a gold medalist. She also loves cheesy 90s music, and almost died of happiness when Vanilla Ice retweeted her. Once. Follow her on Twitter @garnethenderson.

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  1. justiceday says:

    I'm so disappointed in women who don't see that this is nothing more than a PR move by the US government and Dept of Defense. Two week prior to the announcement the Commission on Civil Rights held a hearing to discuss investigating military investigations. During this time the documentary on military sexual assault, "The Invisible War", was nominated for an Oscar. Then out of nowhere the lift a ban on women in combat.

    What this does is not only take the focus off of military rape but also puts women in a position of looking like weak victims if they pursue the sexual assault issue (they believe one in three women is assaulted while serving), or turn their back on this heinous crime against humanity for the chance to go into combat.

    This is not a win for women, it's just another setback.

    1. Garnet Henderson says:

      Sexual assault is obviously a huge issue in the military, and nowhere near enough is being done to stop it. Half the women I mentioned in this post disguised themselves as men to avoid sexual assault. But there’s no way that making women MORE equal participants in the military could be a setback. In fact, this will open up more positions for women, potentially making them more of a fixture in all areas of the armed forces. It will also help women climb the ladder through promotions. Most of the perpetrators in the military are officers who prey on their subordinates. More female officers means more women who are in a position of power and can help stop assault when they see it. I don’t think any woman is going to “turn her back” to sexual assault in order to go into combat, because it’s not like that’s an easy or highly desirable choice for a lot of people. 80% of the military consists of non-combat positions anyway.

      And while this might have been intended as a good PR move for the military, which it is, I don’t think it’s going to silence the debate about sexual assault. At all. That’s already been a major talking point in the discussions of women on the front lines. And sexual assault victims don’t have a whole lot of advocates. The people who ARE speaking out against rape in the military aren’t going to stop. They’re committed, and they’ll continue to raise the issue.

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