Let Women Fight: Dr. Megan MacKenzie Argues for More Front-Line Combat Roles for Women

13 November 2012

'Dr Megan MacKenzie
"Combat is seen as the most valuable and heroic kind of role in the military, and protecting that as a male-only environment is detrimental for women," says Dr Megan MacKenzie.

In the current issue of America's most influential international relations magazine Foreign Affairs, Dr. Megan MacKenzie from the Department of Government and International Relations argues that the US military should lift their outdated ban on women serving in front-line combat.

Dr. MacKenzie explains that in modern insurgency warfare, distinct front line and support roles are diminishing, so more and more women are serving in the front line despite the ban.

"Women are being rewarded for their valour in combat, but officially they are not allowed to be in front-line combat. There are women who are getting combat pay, so the military are officially recognizing the role, but officially not changing the policy," she says.

"It just defies all logic. It makes no sense. And I guess for me, that's what motivates me to focus on it".

Dr. MacKenzie pinpoints three predominant justifications from the policy-makers as to why this ban remains in place, even at a time when gender-role distinctions are disintegrating on the battlefield - physical standards, the disruption of cohesion, and the moral argument.

She says that while there are physical differences between women and men, the idea that women "can't cut it" physically is a myth.

"There has been so much research showing that women can meet a lot of the physical standards through training, and also that physical standards have been created to measure men's standards, not necessarily job capacity," Dr. MacKenzie says.

With research having been undertaken that dispels the idea that women would disrupt cohesion, that argument becomes tenuous also.

"That was the same argument they used to keep gays out of the military - that they would disrupt cohesion - and there has been no evidence to show that they have, in fact it has been the opposite".

And lastly, Dr. MacKenzie defines the moral argument "that women just don't belong there; that the public don't want to see women in body bags; that women are inherently weaker, and that they shouldn't be in a war zone, period."

There are countries outside of the US, Australia included, that have lifted bans on women in the front line. Despite our military only having lifted the ban last September, Dr. MacKenzie says that it is a step in the right direction.

"Australia is a world leader in the sense of removing their restriction, but they still have a long way to go in terms of their gender integration. I think the military needed to make a policy change, in good faith, given some of the problems with gender integration in the military over the last few years."

Integrating women into combat roles removes the hierarchy between men and women that has established females as second-class citizens in the military. Female soldiers in the US believe that removing the policy will change military culture and may even reduce rates of sexual violence and harassment.

"Combat is seen as the most valuable and heroic kind of role in the military, and protecting that as a male-only environment is detrimental for women."

Somewhat like the exclusion of women from the front-line, there has also been an absence of articles about women in the usually conservative Foreign Affairs, where Dr. Megan MacKenzie's article is published this month.

After being noticed for her gender-themed blog posts on The Duck of Minerva, MacKenzie was approached by the editor of Foreign Affairs to write a piece from a gender perspective, which surprised her, but fit well with her goal of having a conversation with a new audience.

"I think for a feminist scholar to be able to infiltrate a mainstream publication like Foreign Affairs is a major accomplishment. I feel really proud of it actually."

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