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Tuesday 22 Aug 2017 | 19:04 | SYDNEY

Reader ripostes: Women in combat

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5 October 2011 09:01

Below, an email from Alison Broinowski. But first, Martin O'Donnell:

Jim Molan, in his blog post 'Are we ready to see ADF women kill?', addresses some important issues. The debate on women in close combat roles has, for the most part, been debated as a cultural/social issue and failed to fully address the impact of changes on the armed forces' raison d'être, that is, to kill effectively. 

The modern cultural debates on the role of women in our armed forces reflect the postmodernist academic goal within gender studies to remove any and all social gender constructions placed upon a sex. For all intents and purposes this has served most social institutions, both public and private, and the people who occupy them to great benefit; a deconstruction of the cultural gender makeup has freed people from the binding constraints of those cultural compositions.

When it comes to institutions like the army, however, people must seriously ask themselves if the 'culture that has developed over thousands of years to make young men successful in close-quarter killing' that Jim refers to will be worth subjecting to the 'risk' of a process of gender identity reduction. The truth be told, as gender identities become increasingly fragmented in all areas of life the army may find that it has to resort to other psychological tools to imbed the necessary spirit of comradeship and discipline that is necessary to the sustain an effective killing machine. 

What must be addressed in this debate, however, is the belief by some in the army that the promotion of values in their front-line soldiers of 'traditional' army male traits does serve a purpose. A society may decide that restricting women from front line service does more damage than good, that is, it's a hindrance on where a society would like to project their future ideal gender construction (if any at all). However if there are arguments to suggest that outdated concepts of gender help to reinforce psychological motivation and comfort for a group of humans asked to perform very psychologically tricky actions again and again then they must be voiced. 

If we were to accept that notions of 'maleness' provide enhanced ability for someone to navigate the psychological demands of killing, yet we also come to the conclusion that the promotion of such values is detrimental to society as a whole, then it will be the army's job to equip recruits with new (non-gendered) psychological tools, but equally as important, also provide the mental barricades to ensure our army's enlisted men and women can kill when called to arms whilst enduring the least possible psychological damage.

Alison Broinowski:

General Molan asks if 'we' are ready to see ADF women kill. Obviously, Defence and the government, scratching for recruits for endless war, are ready, and so are some ADF women. Others may be less ready. Jim's question implies that he's not, but not till the end of his post, after stepping delicately around the central issue, does he reveal why: because with women in hand-to-hand combat we might not win.

What that means is, no matter how well trained, brave, or capable, women weaken the team. Underlying that assumption is centuries of conditioning of men and women about their 'inherent' difference. Vive la difference, those who want to disparage women and keep them in their place have always cried. 

In his thoughtful piece, Clive Hamilton argues among the disparagers, militarists are the most obdurate of the lot, because 'war represents the continued hegemony of male thinking, with the grunt culture of hyper-masculinity inescapable because survival depends on it'. He adds that the armed forces reflect this male understanding of power, based on the idea that 'disputes can be resolved by lethal force, and the more lethal the better'. He calls on women who have traditionally 'pacified the beast' not to join it and undermine the gains they have made.

As an extension of your discussion about women's role in strategic affairs and defence, I suggest that the considerations leading to the next Defence White Paper include this issue, and particularly what Australia has to gain by perpetuating a militaristic 'beast' culture. In Europe, with a history of pointless and devastating wars, resolution of national conflict by force is widely regarded as primitive, a stage beyond which those countries have evolved. Women's and Green movements have powerfully influenced the growth of this thinking. How long before Australia too grows out of following our allies into wasteful, counterproductive wars and finds smarter ways to resolve disputes than hand-to-hand fighting? Even without women doing it, our victories have been pretty scarce since World War II. 

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