Women in the US Military

New York Times editorial: "The Pinking of the Armed Forces" (3/23/03):

The news that one of the American soldiers taken captive by the Iraqis over the weekend is a woman serves as a reminder of how the American military has evolved, slowly and sometimes reluctantly, into an organization where the dangerous jobs of war are performed by both sexes. While women are still barred from some sorts of duty, the case for equal footing is gaining ground.

Thanks to changes in the law in 1994, women, who make up 15 percent of the military, are eligible for about 90 percent of all service positions. Those gains were a recognition of the performance of the 41,000 women deployed as part of Desert Storm three years earlier. Despite legal limits on combat participation, 13 women died and many more were wounded in that conflict.

But while the law opened the door for women a little wider, glass ceilings have held firm and women have made gains in just a small fraction of the jobs supposedly open to them. Helping to hold them back are the remaining taboos and the misperceptions of physical and mental inadequacies that they perpetuate. . . .

The United States, with the most advanced military in history, is simply a laggard on the topic of women in combat. One million women served in the Soviet Army in World War II, and Israel, Canada and South Africa are among the countries that now give women combat roles. The American policies of excluding women threaten the readiness of the armed forces, particularly when there is no draft.