Trigger warning for mentions of rape and violence.
As Americans enjoy fireworks, flags and picnics, it is important to take a moment to remember the military currently engaged in hostilities in five countries (Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Libya and Yemen). The weight of military service falls equally on most demographics: the racial composition of the military is similar to that of the general population; higher-income people are actually slightly more likely to serve than lower-income people. However, there is one glaring exception.
The United States’s all-volunteer army is all too often an all-male army. As of 2010, only 15.59% of the US army is female.
There may be many reasons why the American military is primarily male. Most notably, women are not allowed in combat positions, for fear of harming a unit’s espirit de corps, romantic relationships that disrupted a unit’s combat readiness, women becoming pregnant and female POWs being sexually assaulted. (Unofficially, however, women are involved in combat in Iraq, especially since with a guerilla war everywhere is a front line.)
The lack of involvement of women in combat is unfair to both women and men. Men are forced to bear more than their share of the damages of conflict; women are (rather patronizingly) ”protected” instead of allowed to endure the same dangers and risks that men could. Surely a woman is allowed to take the same risks that a man could? Besides, gender-segregated combat units could reduce the risk of romantic relationships and other harms to espirit de corps.
However, gender parity has not even been reached in non-combat positions, for many reasons. The military may be a hostile environment for women: in particular, a female soldier is twice as likely to be raped as a civilian, often by fellow soldiers. Biologically, more men may be physically more suited for certain military jobs than women because men tend to have stronger skeletal frames, higher upper body strength, etc. Historically male jobs such as construction and manufacturing have disappeared from America’s shores, while historically female jobs like health care have grown, which may make the military a more attractive option for men.
However, one of the most important reasons is how masculinity is linked to military service. Men have, from GI Joe to the average action movie, hundreds of heroic, manly soldiers, while media aimed at women very rarely feature the military as a noble, or even a viable, career choice. Men are typically encouraged to protect women (i.e. “don’t hit a girl,” chivalry), which not only makes women less desirable soldiers since the men will be trying to protect them but also makes the military a gender-conforming choice for men (the protector) but not for women (the damsel in distress). Violence is often gendered male, with everything from FPSes (mostly played by men) to homicide (mostly committed by men): a “real men” is the one with the capability to fight.
But whatever the reason, happy Fourth of July to the men who are far more likely to sacrifice their lives, limbs or sanity for their country, and happy Fourth of July to the women who have joined them. America salutes you.