Right-Wing Media Turn To Absurd Sports Analogy To Attack Women In Combat

Right-wing media figures opposed to the Pentagon permitting women to serve in combat roles attacked the decision by pointing to sex-segregated sports teams. But military research has shown that women are capable of serving in combat, and the decision has the support of major political and military figures.

Conservative Media Use Sports Analogy To Attack Women In Combat

MSNBC's Scarborough: “There Is A Reason Why There Are No Women In...Most Male-Centered Professional Sports.” MSNBC co-host Joe Scarborough claimed that women had physical limitations that would affect their ability to perform in combat roles. He added “there is a reason why there are no women in the NFL, there is a reason why there are no women in Major League Baseball, there is a reason why there are no women in most male-centered professional sports.”   [MSNBC, Morning Joe, 1/25/13]

Fox's Krauthammer: Women “Wouldn't Have A Chance” Competing With Men In Sports. Fox News contributor Charles Krauthammer pointed to gender-segregated sports and Olympic events to justify his opposition to allowing women to serve in combat positions: 

The argument on the other side is that there is a reason why we have professional men's basketball and separately we have women's basketball. There is a reason why in the Olympics you have a men's decathlon and the women's, the men's boxing and the women's, the men's weight lifting, because if the women were to compete with the men they would not have a chance.

Now, the differences are clearly not a matter of discrimination or prejudice. They are a simple physical fact. It's true that in a more high-tech that makes less of a difference. This isn't exactly Agincourt. We're not wearing chainmail and wielding battle axes. But nonetheless, there is still an element of strength and endurance which is required. [Fox News, Special Report with Bret Baier, 1/24/13]

Military Officials And Prominent Veterans Support Policy Change

Gen. Martin Dempsey And Joint Chiefs: “The Time Has Come To Rescind The Direct Combat Exclusion Rule For Women.” A memo by Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recommended that Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta rescind the 1994 direct combat exclusion rule for women “and to eliminate all unnecessary gender-based barriers to service.” [The New York Times, 1/23/13]

Sen. McCain: Women Are Already Serving In Harm's Way. In a statement responding to the Pentagon's decision on women in combat, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) released a statement supporting the decision:

I respect and support Secretary Panetta's decision to lift the ban on women serving in combat. The fact is that American women are already serving in harm's way today all over the world and in every branch of our armed forces. Many have made the ultimate sacrifice, and our nation owes them a deep debt of gratitude. As this new rule is implemented, it is critical that we maintain the same high standards that have made the American military the most feared and admired fighting force in the world - particularly the rigorous physical standards for our elite special forces units. [mccain.senate.gov, 1/23/13]

Military Leadership Diversity Commission: Research Evidence Hasn't Shown That Women Lack Physical Ability To Perform In Combat Roles. In a case study on the effects of the combat exclusion policy in the military, the MLDC found that research did not reveal that women lack the physical ability to perform in combat roles, “or that gender integration has a negative effect on unit cohesion or other readiness factors.” The study also noted that no evidence has been found to support the view that “women are necessarily more likely than men to develop mental health problems from combat exposure,” but it does affect their career opportunities. [Military Leadership Diversity Commission, November 2010]

Rep. Duckworth: This Policy “Will Make America Safer And Provide Inspiration To Women Throughout Our Country.” Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) -- an Army veteran who lost both legs during the Iraq War -- applauded the policy change and the new role it would allow women to take in the future:

“The decision to allow women to serve in combat will allow the best man or woman on the front line to keep America safe,” Duckworth said in a statement Wednesday. “As a combat veteran, I know the inclusion of women in combat roles will make America safer and provide inspiration to women throughout our country.” [Chicago Tribune, 1/23/13]

Military Has Been Expanding Roles For Women Since Gulf War

Congressional Research Service Highlights Defense Study Endorsing “Gender-Neutral” Polices For Military. In a December 2012 report to Congress on women in combat, the Congressional Research Service detailed the history of efforts that have gradually expanded roles for women in the military since the Gulf War. The report highlighted a February 2012 review released by the Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness)  recommending that the Department of Defense should rescind the 1994 policy that excluded women from combat positions. The Under Secretary of Defense review also found that physical demands and co-location of ground combat would not forces would not adversely affect the mission, according to CRS:

Hypothetically speaking, if a female soldier carries 70 pounds of equipment five miles and exerts the same effort as a male carrying 100 pounds of equipment the same distance, the differing standards could be viewed as 'gender-neutral' because both exerted the same amount of effort, with differing loads. Such differing loads, in certain scenarios, may or may not matter, particularly in terms of ammunition, medical equipment, communications equipment, and medical supplies, commonly carried by foot soldiers. (According to a U.S. Army Report, a rifleman in Afghanistan can be expected to carry an average fighting load of 63 lbs. to an average Emergency Approach March Load of 127 lbs.

The proposal allows commanders to co-locate women in open occupational specialties with ground combat units noting that the "[r]emoval of the co-location operating restriction responds to the current operational environment." [Congressional Research Service, 12/13/12]