Deprived of an available man to do the job, another woman and I recently struggled to replace the 5 gallon tank on a water cooler. I am an average-sized woman (5 feet, 5 inches) and she is on the small side (5 feet, 3 inches). The tank weighs 50 pounds. In order to do the job without dousing the floor for miles around, it is necessary to lift it about 4 feet in the air and then manipulate it so that the spout points down into the cooler. Working together, we caused only minor flooding. Not really. We did fine. But it took two of us using all of our strength.
I mention this quotidian detail because the matter of women in combat is chugging along in the Pentagon and Congress, and without strenuous opposition may well become the policy of the United States. The water cooler illustrates one of the ways in which women (in general) are less well-equipped than men (in general) to perform tasks essential to military success.
Great Britain is struggling with the same questions. Feminists are pushing for women in combat, and realists are quaking lest they be called bad names. Nevertheless, the British military recently commissioned a study, the Combat Effectiveness Gender Study, to examine how well men and women can perform certain tasks. When asked to carry 90 lbs of artillery shells over measured distances, males failed 20 percent of the time. The female failure rate was 70 percent. Asked to march 12.5 miles carrying 60 pounds of equipment followed by target practice in simulated wartime conditions, men failed in 17 percent of cases, women in 48 percent.
The American military has of course noticed the same thing -- and then gone to great lengths to hide or disguise it. Military tasks that used to be classified as one-man jobs are now reclassified as two-man jobs to make it easier for women to succeed. Basic training was altered, giving more weight to skills like map reading and first aid, so that women would not wash out in such high numbers.
Recently, the Center for Strategic and International Studies did a study on the military culture. It found that two-thirds of junior enlisted men did not believe women would pull their own weight if it came to combat. Forty-four percent of junior enlisted women agreed!
One of the most demoralizing things to happen to the military on Bill Clinton's watch was the endemic dishonesty that became part of normal operating procedure. The dishonesty concerned women. Everyone in the military knew and knows that double standards prevail everywhere. Everyone knows that women are given special breaks. Yet no one is permitted to say so out loud for fear of having his career destroyed. Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, was often the person to report on this climate, but she has recently become a victim of it.
Following the Tailhook scandal, a stung Navy rushed to put women in combat aviation. Flight trainers were encouraged to push women ahead even if their scores did not merit advancement. One of the first women to be permitted to do carrier landings, Lt. Kara Hultgreen, crashed and died. The Navy put out the word that engine trouble had caused the crash. But Donnelly discovered that this was a lie. Hultgreen had made a "glide slope" error -- the same error she had made twice before in training. An instructor told Donnelly that another woman, Pilot B, was also being pushed forward by the Navy despite abysmal flying scores.
Pilot B, Lt. Carey Lohrenz, was the belle of the Navy, offered to journalists as proof of the "new" Navy. Worried, Donnelly met with Navy officials. They confirmed that the service records she had obtained on Lohrenz and other women were correct, but did not agree to change the policy. At that point, Donnelly went public with what she had learned.
Donnelly and the Center for Military Readiness have been embroiled in litigation ever since (that was 1996). They've already run up legal bills in excess of $350,000, draining resources that could have been far better used to advance the debate about the proper role of women in the military. Contributions are welcome. The center's website is www.cmrlink.org.