Women and the Military

I. NOW’s Position on the Current Proposal to Institute a Compulsory Registration of Young People (1980)

Statement From Eleanor Smeal, President

“We are opposed to reinstatement of compulsory registration. As the first step toward reinstatement of the draft, registration is a return to the sexist and racist Selective Service System which gave us discrimination against the poor, minorities, and women while it lowered the quality of our military forces. Our long standing position against violence combined with our determination to end discrimination makes us unable to support registration.

“The voluntary armed service is of higher quality than the draft service and would be even more so if it were free of discrimination against women and minorities. Discrimination against women and minorities produces in the armed services exactly what it produces in the society as a whole- wasted skills, talents and potential and inevitable reliance on lower quality because of the refusal to recruit and select the best qualified regardless of sex or race.”

The drive to reinstate compulsory registration of young people and to ultimately reinstate the draft was begun almost immediately after the draft was ended and the All-Volunteer Force (AVF) was created in 1973 (registration of young American males ended in 1976). Four reasons generally appear in arguments to reinstate the draft: (1) It would be required in the case of a major war; (2) the declining youth population will create serious problems in meeting personnel requirements; (3) should a national youth training and work program be instituted military service would be part of the program; and (4) considerable savings in costs could be realized. Underneath the surface of these arguments are the racist and sexist attitudes which pervade our society, coupled with undisguised economic exploitation.

A fear frequently expressed is that the army is rapidly becoming a black man’s army – 34% of Army recruits in 1978 were black-with the unstated racist views that blacks are inferior “raw material” and therefore inferior soldiers. Hand-in-glove with these racist attitudes are the sexist attitudes towards women in the military. Female participation in the military has increased dramatically under the AVF to a projected 13% of the active forces in 1983. Women constituted less than 1% of the draft army.

Poverty has always been one of the features of military life, especially in the lower ranks. This situation has been somewhat mitigated in the AVF by the pay increases required to attract volunteers with the result that personnel costs, in the view of some, have made serious dents in funds available for hardware. A return to the draft is viewed, again by some, as the easiest way to reverse this trend.

Myths about the All-Volunteer Force are abundant. Contrary to myth, the active forces of the AVF have been within 1.5% of the congressionally authorized limits since 1974. The AVF has superior mental ability, is better educated, has less discipline problems, and has proportionally the same number of people from the lower economic levels, but a higher percentage of minorities, compared to the old conscripted service of the Vietnam War period. The Department of Defense itself in a December 1978 report stated in unequivocal terms that the AVF was superior to the drafted force.

Why then the need to register? We are told it will show the USSR that we mean business, and that it will increase our ability to mobilize. Actually, registration saves only a few days. And although it sounds strong to Americans who want to show that we are serious, in reality it proves nothing to the USSR which appreciates fully how little names on a list actually mean. NOW is against the registration of young people precisely because it is a response which stimulates the environment of preparation for war. Too many of us still remember the senseless killing and destruction in Vietnam-which we also protested-and believe that violence is the “ultimate solution” taught most typically to males in our society. We reject that solution, and believe that too many are willing to wage war with others’ lives. National defense and self defense is one thing; aggression for economic self-interest is quite another. To fight a war for oil is to deny that the inherent rights of all human beings must take precedence over the economic self-interest of a very few. We are committed to working for the day when our nation and our world priorities will be people-a day when our domestic problems are not solved by military aggression.

If the objective is really to increase the number of people capable of being mobilized in a short period of time and to improve the quality of the national defense, the easiest way to accomplish this without increasing the war atmosphere in the world and without involuntarily disrupting the lives of young people is to remove the sex discriminatory restrictions on women in the military. Without these discriminatory practices, women recruits would be in far greater supply and of a higher caliber than additional male recruits. Under existing practices, female numbers are depressed to a current 8% of the armed forces (programmed to increase to about 13% by 1983). The current discriminatory practices are based upon outmoded concepts of both women’s role and combat. Today’s military is highly technological. The military is more in need of brains than brawn.

Moreover, physiological limitations go both ways: a small, agile person is more advantageous than a large, heavy person in many situations. What Is the impact of sex discrimination on women in the current military? Women are given fewer educational, training and advancement opportunities than men in the largest single vocational training institution in our country, the military. Approximately 83% of enlisted women are in the four lowest pay grades as compared to 68% of men. The four highest pay grades hold 23% of enlisted men and only 3% of enlisted women. Officer training programs and many specialties are closed to women except in token numbers. Using even the most inclusive measures, 75% of the positions in the military are unavailable to women because they are defined as combat-related or because they are reserved to provide rotational and career progression slots for men.

What would be the impact on women and the nation if women were excluded from the registration or ultimately from a draft? Currently, more women are capable and willing to serve than are recruited. Many more will be turned away to the detriment of women and the military if the limited progress toward equality in the armed forces is halted. Female numbers in the military would decrease or be held to current projections. During the last draft, women were held to 2% of the armed services. A signal would be sent to the armed services that women do not have to be treated equally. Women serving in combat areas would simply be classified once again as non-combatants or civilians and asked to serve for fewer benefits and lesser training, as was done in the past.

Women have always served. The question is whether they will serve equally or at greater risk to themselves. In modern warfare, the front line and combat zone are difficult to determine. People behind the so-called front lines are nevertheless serving at great risk. Women are serving at even greater risk because they have less combat training.

The modern military depends upon a high degree of technology. Not only in the modern civilian labor force do women fill many of the technically trained positions, but also in the current military. Women are simply necessary and the need for women is increasing as the supply of men decreases and the need for highly qualified and trained or trainable people increases.

The current debate over foxholes in Korea and the trenches of World War I is as obsolete to warfare in 1980 as the structured lines of’ the British Redcoats in the American wilderness. Warfare has changed and so has the position of women in education, training and the labor force.

We will serve. We will serve, for one reason, because the military has difficulty attracting sufficient numbers of people who are educated and technically trainable. One half of the pool of talented and trained youth of our country is women. Moreover, many personnel categories required by the modern armed services – clerical workers, keypunch operators, computer specialists, communications experts, administrative personnel-are more readily found already trained in the female population. If there is a true national emergency we will serve and we will do so in all capacities. The myth that we are not needed and not first class citizens must end right now.

Those who oppose the registration and draft for females say they seek to protect women. But omission from the registration and draft ultimately robs women of the right to first class citizenship and paves the way to underpaying women all the remaining days of our lives. Moreover, because men exclude women here, they justify excluding women from the decision-making of our nation.

When the word “protection” is used, we know it costs women a great deal. In this case, it fortifies a pattern of sex discrimination in our nation which manifests itself in many ways. One rape occurs every eight minutes. One out of every four American married women is a victim of wife beating. Eight out of ten murder victims in the United States are female. Women earn $.59 for every $1 a man earns in the same 40-hour week. The 13 million American women 65 years of age and over have an average income of less than $3000 a year.

Do women know violence? Yes: women are the most frequent victims of violence. We must not forget that the great wars in Europe have visited far greater hardship upon the civilian population, largely untrained and unprotected women and children, than upon the military forces of the combatants.

Do women know hardships? Yes: the cost of discrimination to women is too dear – we pay with our lives. War is senseless. Neither the lives of young men nor young women should be wasted. But if we cannot stop the killing, we know we cannot choose between our sons or daughters. The choice robs women as well as men. In the long and short run, it injures us all.

II. The Current Role of Women In the Military


WORLD WAR II: 350,000 women served in many traditional roles and in non-traditional roles as pilots, truck drivers, airplane mechanics, gunnery instructors, air traffic controllers, naval air navigators, etc.

1948-1967: Woman were limited by law to 2% of the total enlisted services. Women officers were limited by law to 10% of total enlisted women.

1968-1972: As the result of military regulations severely restricting the positions available to them, women remained less than 2% of the armed services.

1973-1980: The draft terminated and the All-Volunteer Force was established. The armed forces began to increasingly utilize women as a factor in making the All Volunteer Force work. The number of women increased from 2% to approximately 8% of the total armed services today. Despite these increases, women continue to be restricted by law, regulations, practices and policies to a small fraction of the military. The restrictions are based largely on the exclusion of women from jobs defined as combat-related and the reservation of numerous slots for men for career progression and rotation purposes.

Present Status of Women

Quantity and Diversity

Women comprise approximately 8% of the total armed services. Women are projected by the Department of Defense to be 13% of the armed services by 1983.

Increased participation for women in the military has also meant increased participation for minority women although the only group of minority women currently fairly well represented is black women who comprise 19% of total enlisted women. Hispanic women are a little more than 3% of enlisted women and Native American and Asian American women are less than 2 1/2%.

The restricted number of women officers and the token number of women promoted to truly significant rank is especially apparent when it comes to minority women who have not even reached the level of tokenism.

Women recruits are performing well in diverse military occupational groups including electrical equipment repair, communications and intelligence, other technical, administrative and clerical, crafts, service and supply, and medical and dental.


Higher Educational Level: With the growing complexity of the modern technological military, high school completion is the best single measure of potential to succeed in the armed services, according to the Department of Defense. A significantly greater percentage of women recruits have high school diplomas.

Equal or Better Performance at Military Service Academies: Women have been admitted to the Army, Navy and Air Force Academies since 1978. In this year’s first graduating classes with women, the women’s performance has equaled and often surpassed that of their male counterparts.

Fewer Disciplinary Problems: The average woman recruit is much less likely than a male recruit to become a discipline problem. Women lose far less time than men for absence without leave, desertion, alcoholism and drug abuse.

Physiological Differences

On the average, American men are taller, heavier and stronger than American women. This fact is cited as proof that men should dominate the military and be the only ones in combat roles. This unwarranted assumption ignores four major points:

1. Size is Not Always a Factor: Technological advances continue to diminish the importance of brute strength. The “person who pushes the button” may be in a combat role, but does not require extraordinary strength to carry out her/his duties.

Even many of the “traditional” combat roles, such as those in the Air Force and Navy, do not now and never have required the brute strength allegedly associated with combat.

If the truth be known, in most close combat, a gun is the great equalizer. And our experience in ground combat with Asian men (who are on the average smaller than American women) in Korea and Vietnam demonstrated that smaller men can be the victor because of skill or training.

2. Size Can Be Factor – A Plus for Women: There is no reason behind the blanket assumption that “bigger is always better” in the military arena.

The proliferation of advanced equipment installed in planes, ships, tanks and other land vehicles is turning “elbow room” into a scarce commodity. A soldier with a smaller physique becomes a valuable asset in these situations. In many cases, it is the small, lithe and agile soldier who can do the job more proficiently, escape the space more easily, and better fit the needs of today’s (and tomorrow’s) armed forces.

3. Weaponry and Equipment Can Be Adapted to Fit the Needs of the Average Female Soldier: Our military has already faced similar needs in adapting U.S. military equipment for use by allied forces whose average sized male is smaller than the average American male. American industry has made great strides in adapting equipment and clothing originally designed for use by men in the construction and telecommunications fields to fit the needs of the highly productive female worker in non-traditional occupations.

4. Finally, the Fact That the Average Man Is Stronger Than the Average Women Does Not Mean That All Men Are Stronger Than All Women: First, it has been proven that the differences narrow or disappear when women receive adequate training. And, more significantly, no one disputes that some women are stronger than some men. Assigning jobs by gender instead of by ability simply does not make sense. What it does make is a less qualified military. If the armed services are to operate to their fullest capacity, they must classify people by their ability to do the job-not by their gender.

Combat Effectiveness

The first myth to be dispelled is that women have not been in combat. According to the Women’s Equity Action League Educational and Legal Defense Fund:

“During World War II, 110,000 military women in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard served as nurses, mechanics, truck drivers, parachute riggers, typists, radio operators, technicians and air traffic controllers. They performed bravely and competently under hostile fire. “American military women landed on the beaches at Normandy, France as part of the ‘D-Day’ allies invasion. Army women traveled with the Fifth Army close to the front lines during the invasion of Italy. Army women also served in the South Pacific and North Africa. They received many military decorations for bravery; including the Purple Heart-awarded to those wounded by enemy fire.

“Nearly 100 Army and Navy nurses were prisoners of war for three years in the Philippines during World War II. “Over 7,000 women served their country in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War and received combat pay. Some of these military women died as a result of enemy action.”

Women have served and will continue to serve in combat environments under the same conditions, suffering the same risks and the same injuries as men. Playing the language game of classifying an army nurse or a Women’s Air Service Pilot as non-combatant does not change the fact that they are in combat. The reality is that women have served and died for their country and will continue to do so. The question is whether they will do so with the same training, benefits and salary as men.

In contrast to emotionalism and unsubstantiated generalities, many tests have been done by the armed forces in the late 1970s to assess the capabilities of women in combat roles:

Women Content in Units Force Development Test (MAX WAC)

Purpose: To test the effect of placing women in combat support and combat service support units.

Exercise: 72 hours under normal field conditions.

Results: The performance of men and women with no prior civilian experience and equal military training was equal. The units effectiveness was not impaired by the presence of up to 35% women soldiers.

Note: 35% was the maximum tested in this particular exercise; there is no evidence it is the actual “maximum.”

Reforger Exercises (Return of Forces to Germany Exercise)

Purpose: To test the performance of enlisted women in extended field situations.

Exercise: A 30 day field exercise involving 1 1/2 weeks of war games in Germany. Ten percent of the combat support and combat service support units were comprised of women.

Results: Women’s skills were as good or better than the males. Women had the stamina and endurance to maintain performance standards in the field equal to those of men. Women were highly proficient. Women were highly motivated.

Navy U.S.S. Sanctuary

Purpose: To test the effectiveness of women at sea.

Exercise: 60 enlisted women served on board the U.S.S. Sanctuary.

Results: Women performed every shipboard function with the same ease, expertise and dedication as men. Morale was high. Response of male and female sailors was favorable.

Operation Bold Eagle

Purpose: A guerrilla warfare and airborne assault exercise.

Exercise: 150 women and 4000 men participated.

Results: Women were exposed to the same hardships in the field as men and they performed very well.

Army Human Engineering Lab Test

Purpose: To test the ability of women to operate 105 and 155 mm artillery howitzers.

Exercise: 13 women office workers participated in a three-week physical training program and were then assigned to the “heaviest, noisiest job in the army.” They loaded and fired the howitzers and met a tough rate-of-fire test of four rounds a minute for three minutes, then one round a minute for the 155mm and ten rounds a minute for three minutes for the 105, followed by three rounds a minute on the same weapon.

Results: The women were rated “professional, outstanding, and phenomenal.”The above tests demonstrate that women are capable of performing satisfactory or better in combat-related positions. Those who would restrict women from combat based on the fear that the quality of our military could be adversely affected should rather advocate women in the armed forces. Selection and training of soldiers based on ability rather than gender would result in a better quality military than could be achieved by arbitrary exclusion of one-half the potential pool.

Women Soldiers Lose Less Active Duty Time Than Men

Myth: Women, because of pregnancy and menstruation, will lose more active duty time than men.

Reality: The evidence is that there is little difference in the time lost by women and men and that, in fact, it appears that less time is lost by women. This is true even when pregnancy, the largest single factor in lost time for women, is included. The only definitive lost time study was done in the Navy and it shows that men lose twice as much time as women.

Comparison of Lost Time for Enlisted Men and Women in the Navy

Lost Time CategoryWomenMen
Alcohol Abuse.09.12
Drug Abuse.02.12
Unauthorized Absence (AWOL).05.24
Returned Deserters.07.62

The Retention Rate of Women Soldiers is Higher

Myth: Women are more likely to drop out of the service (because of pregnancy, marriage, or alleged lack of ability) thereby wasting valuable training invested in them.

Reality: Women are being retained in the services at higher rates than men. Of those recruited in 1973-1976, 64% of the men remained on active duty as of June 1978 compared with 70% of the women.

Percentage of 1971-76 Enterees Still on Active Duty as of 06/76

Year of EntryFemaleMale

Economics of Women in the Military

Opening the doors to more women in the military would prove cost-effective. The simple fact is that it costs far less to recruit high quality women than to recruit high quality men. Because of the restrictions on the number of women the services will accept, highly qualified women are recruited without effort while less qualified men are sought with incentives and high cost advertising campaigns. Excluding enlistment bonuses, the costs for an Army recruit are:

High Quality Men $3,700

High Quality Women $150

Low Quality Men $150

Many people believe that the Military spends more money per female recruit because of “difficulties” in training, housing, clothing and recruiting women. This is simply not true. The average woman in the military costs the Defense Department about 8% less than the average man according to an often quoted study on Women and the Military by Binkin and Bach for the Brookings Institution. The average annual per capita costs of providing medical care, housing and transportation are approximately $982 less for women than for men.

Characteristics of Male and Female Recruits*

Average Age18.920.0
Percent Married11.611.6
Percent Black18.516.1
Percent HispanicN/A3.11**
Percent H.S. Grads.62.991.7
Percent Still on Active Duty, 6/30/7864.070.0
High Quality Army Recruit$3700$150

*Fiscal Years 1973-1976 **1977 Data

Department of Defense Statistics

Despite the sex discrimination which restricts them to few and truncated career paths, the military is attractive monetarily to many women. Especially for those women who pursue traditional careers, the average pay for enlisted military personnel far surpasses the average pay for civilian women who earn 59¢ for every $1 earned by men. The services, unlike the private sector, do pay men and women equally if they are of the same grade, longevity, and skills. Like the private sector, however, enlisted women are clustered in the lower pay grades and are under-represented in the higher pay grades.

III. Registration and the Draft

Registration means simply compiling a list of all people (male, female, or both) who happen to fall within a certain age category, e.g., 18 to 22 year-olds. It does not mean classifying these people as to suitability for military service. Thus registration is only a crude first step in generating an effective military force. Registration at the present time would save only 13 days of the months required to produce military personnel with even minimal training if a draft were to actually follow registration. This is the real effect of registration and its relevance to our military preparedness.

A draft subsequent to registration would mean the classification, induction and training for military service of a large fraction of all young people in a certain age group. It is important to remember that every draft has included exemptions and deferments. Although one can no longer openly buy one’s way out of the draft as during the Civil War, large numbers of men are exempted because of their physical or mental condition, because they support more than a certain (arbitrary) number of family members, or because they possess critical skills. Deferments have been granted for completion of education and training and for employment in fields deemed vItal to the war effort. Since our armed forces have been staffed on an all-volunteer basis since 1973 a draft represents a complete reversal in policy.

Some would have us believe that the shortcomings of the All Volunteer Force have been so serious that the draft is the only recourse. How does the AVF compare to the pre-1973 draft military? A 1978 Department of Defense study of the AVF showed it to be superior to the draft military with respect to:

1. Educational Level: One measure of the increased educational level is the percentage of high school graduates. This has increased from 88% of those entering the services in 1972, the last year of the draft, to 77% of all recruits in 1978. Other measures, such as the percentage of the enlisted force with some college educatIon, also show an increased education level in the AVF.

2. Mental Quality: Written test scores show that mental quality of recruits in the AVF is better than that in the draft era forces. One illustration of this improvement is the decrease from 14% to 5% of personnel in the lowest mental quality category during the years the AVF has been in existence. 3. Discipline: Military discipline as measured by court-martial rates, non-judicial punishment rates and desertion rates has steadily improved since the inception of the AVF. For example, desertion rates have dropped from 25 per 1000 in 1973 to 18 per 1000 in 1977.

Initial concerns that the AVF would be less representative of society as a whole than the draft forces have not materialized. Geographic representation and family income profiles almost precisely duplicate those of the draft. In both, the very rich and the very poor are under-represented.

Since the inception of the AVF, however, minority participation in the military has increased significantly. The 1978 study of the Department of Defense on the AVF did not publish statistics on percentages of all minority service persons, but did publish this data for blacks. In the AVF, the percentage of blacks continues to increase, both in officer and enlisted ranks. By the end of 1978, blacks comprised 17% of total active duty armed forces personnel, 19% of enlisted personnel and 4% of officers. In the Army, blacks comprised 7% of officers, 29% of enlisted personnel, and 34% of new recruits, an all-time high. In fiscal years 1964 to 1972, before the AVF came into existence, blacks comprised an average of 10.8% of total enlisted active duty forces.

The disproportionate numbers of black volunteers are partially the result of job discrimination and blocked mobility patterns in the larger society. Indeed, many civil rights leaders believe that a return to the draft would in fact threaten job opportunities for blacks in the military.

As to cost savings, in contrast to the claims that a draft force would be far less expensive, it was estimated in the 1978 Department of Defense study that the savings in returning to a draft force would be only about 0.2% of the Department of Defense budget. According to the 1978 Department of Defense study: “Considering that the career force has always been (staffed) by volunteers, the only savings one should anticipate are those associated with recruiting, paying, and training the first-term members.” Those savings would be partially offset by the cost of operating the conscription system.Draft advocates may be planning to “save” money in personnel by freezing or reducing pay at lower enlistment levels. The point is that the major way the draft could result in significant cost savings would be through gross economic exploitation of draftees considering that junior pay is barely at minimum wage today.

Considerable concern was expressed during planning for the AVF that recruitment alone could not maintain the required staffing levels. This has not proved to be the case. Since 1974 staffing levels in the AVF have been within 1.5% of those authorized by Congress.

Other arguments for resuming the draft focus on the understaffed reserve forces. Department of Defense statements indicate that the origin of this problem lies in the initial assumption by the military that the major problems in the All-Volunteer Force would be with the active components. These therefore received most of the management attention and the reserves were left to languish. Defense spokesmen have stated that increased attention to the reserves will undoubtedly yield better resuits and that until such efforts are made it would be reckless to advocate conscription to fill vacancies in the reserve.

The establishment of the All-Volunteer Force is in line with our tradition of using the draft only in time of war. Since no case can be made for any deficiency in the All-Volunteer Force, it is legitimate to question the motivation of those pushing for a return to the draft.It is even more difficult to argue for the wasted expenditures and efforts of registration without a draft.

IV. The Registration and Drafting of Women

NOW opposes the registration and drafting of anyone. The elimination of sex discrimination in the military would, in and of itself, markedly improve our national defense. However, to adequately utilize women, as volunteers or as draftees, sex discriminatory practices must be eliminated. In fact, if the current restrictive legislation, regulations, policies and procedures are maintained in the military, the percentage of women cannot increase much beyond 15% whether or not there is a draft of women.

If a draft and registration is instituted, NOW believes it must include women. As a matter of fairness and equity, no draft or registration that excludes one half of the population in 1980 simply on the basis of gender could be deemed fair. Young people who have common aspirations, hopes and education will resent women being excluded. Women will pay with more limited opportunities and rights. Our nation will pay by limiting its resources. All will pay by the constant exclusion of females and their priorities from the nation’s decision-making.

Any registration or draft that excluded females would be challenged as an unconstitutional denial of rights under the Fifth Amendment. Two developments since the termination of the Vietnam-era draft weigh heavily on the question of women’s inclusion in any future registration and draft and lead to the conclusion that excluding women would be found unconstitutional.

The first of these was the establishment in 1978 by the Supreme Court of a more stringent review standard for sex-based classification and the subsequent application of this standard to legislatIon containing sex-based classifications. The second development is the consistently high performance of women in all military categorIes to which they have been admitted as the result of recent changes in military policy.

There is no doubt that any attempt to institute registration and a draft excluding women would result in legal action. There are also very substantial grounds for believing that the courts would find any such attempt in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fifth Amendment.

Between 1980 and 1992 the pool of young males will decrease by almost 25 percent. This drop, coupled with the increasing complexity of modern weapons and the even more limited pool of technically trained or trainable youth, leaves little room for rational argument against women’s increasing participation in the military, on either a voluntary or involuntary basis. The military simply will not be able to operate without utilizing women.

Any draft, whether it includes women or not, will have deferments and exemptions based upon such matters as physical and mental health, specialized skills, or family dependents and obligations. The draft has usually been applied to young people, the overwhelming majority of whom are not married and do not as yet have family responsibilities. In any case, if women were included, such exemptions would have to be written to be applicable to either sex. Congress would retain the power to define the exemptions from compulsory service which then would be applied to both men and women.The issues of fairness, legality and need not withstanding, the full integration of women in the military cannot occur until sex discrimination is routed out. The April 1977 report of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights found 140 provisions relating to the armed forces under Title 10 of the U.S. Code which contained sex-based references. Not until discriminatory regulations, laws, practices and policies are off the books will women gain equal access to the opportunities available in the military.

Sex Discrimination In the Military

Sex discrimination is rampant in the military. The single largest reason given is the exclusion of women from combat roles. In reality, sex discrimination in the military serves to protect male career lives and is based on stereotypic assumptions about the inferiority of women.

In considering women in combat there have been two basic questions:

1) Should women be exposed to the conditions of combat and war, and

2) Will women in combat adversely affect the proficiency of the combat force?

Clearly, neither men nor women should be exposed to war. It is obvious, however, that without the establishment of a war-free society it is impossible to shield women from the violence of war either as civilians, soldiers, or as relatives or loved ones or both.

Women, as members of the civilian population have always suffered great damage as the front lines of war merge with their homes. If civilian women have been unable to escape from war, it is surely evident that women in the military have been repeatedly exposed to combat conditions. Although women have been barred from combat on paper, they have often served in the midst of it, and been exposed to the same dangers and hardships as their male counterparts. Women’s Air Service Pilots, nurses, medical technicians, and many more have served and died for their country. Women are assigned to combat support and combat service support units, and function side by side with men. “Behind the lines”‘ jobs are hardly safe in a world where there are fewer and fewer known”lines”.

Moreover, the hysteria at the thought of sending women into combat must be placed in its proper perspective. In the last draft, less than 1% of the men eligible were inducted and subsequently assigned to a combat unit. If women were added to the pool, the statistical chance of an individual being drafted and assigned to a combat unit – whether or not there was a female combat exclusion – would be negligible.

The second question that is inherent in any plea to keep women out of combat is whether the presence of women soldiers will lower the fighting quality of the military. Again, clearly, women soldiers who have been trained have demonstrated their capabilities. The numerous tests cited herein are proof that those persons who serve in combat must be chosen on the basis of ability rather than gender if the military is to be as proficient as possible. Thus, it is clear that there are no genuine reasons to exclude women from combat. There are, however, grave effects on the opportunities available to military women based on the unnecessary combat restrictions. The chart on the preceding page, entitled “Service Data Submission on Potential Use of Women,” indicates the Department of Defense’s explanation of restricted positions for women. The single largest reason for closing positions to women is indicated in line B/C-combat and combat support. Combat restrictions do not now and never have “protected” women. They do assure that military women can never reach the same posts as men or follow unlimited career paths. They do serve to restrict women from 43% of the total military positions.

Service Data Submission on Potential Use of Women

ATotal Positions100%
B/CCombat & Combat Support43%
DNet = A – (B/C)57%
ERotation Base7%
FPhysiological Limits0%
GOther Limits23%
HOpen to Women H = D – (E + F + G)27%
IWomen Utilized 19776%

Aside from combat restrictions, however, the chart tells a shocking story about discrimination against women in the military. Line E indicates that an additional 7% of positions are reserved for men to provide a base for sea/shore and overseas/continental U.S. rotations. Line G shows that yet another 23% of positions are reserved for other reasons. What are the other reasons? Slots reserved to provide career progression opportunities for men. Limitations on the concentration of women in various units. Lack of available housing-the Air Force, for example, excludes women from 45% of its overseas positions because of “unacceptable” facilities. The Air Force considers it “unacceptable” for men and women to share a common hall.

Perhaps the most revealing line is line F. The military there states that no additional positions are excluded for physiological reasons. The armed forces are saying that aside from those positions restricted unnecessarily because of their “combat” nature, there are no jobs in the military which women cannot perform because of size, or strength. The bottom line, using even this most liberal of measures, is dismal-a total potential of only 27% of military positions open to women, and women today comprise even less at 8% (6% in 1977).

Maximum Weight for 72″Difference
Marine CorpsMale20332
Air ForceMale19629

Women’s entry into the military is hampered by physiological restrictions. Height and weight restrictions serve to assure that women remain frailer than men by imposing lower weight limitations on women regardless of their bone structure or muscularity. The maximum weights for men and women six feet tall in the various branches of the military are indicated above.

There are clear inequities in the different limitations. Women are not allowed to weigh the same or even near the same as men regardless of their bone structure. An Air Force regulation even allows further adjustment of the maximum weight allowance for men with large bone structure, but women with large bone structure are not granted any adjustment.

To illustrate the problems that these restrictions can cause beyond the initial problem of being allowed to enlist, there is the regulation that provides that if a male or female in the Air Force wants to be a firefighter, he or she must be at least 5’6″ and weigh at least 140 pounds. The maximum allowable weight, however, for a 5’6″ woman in the Air Force is 141 pounds. In other words, an Air Force woman 5’6″ must be within one pound of her maximum weight allowance to be a firefighter.

Yet another source of discrimination is the failure of the armed forces to provide equipment and clothing adapted for use by women and men of small stature. The Defense Advisory Committee on Women In the Services (DACOWITS) recommended in the fall of 1979 the adaptation of military clothing to suit women’s needs. During visitations to military installations, DACOWITS found that there were “items of present field work and organizational clothing for women that fit women so poorly that they constitute health and safety hazards and are inappropriate and non-functional.”

Finally, there is the problem of sexual harassment of women in the military which has assumed epidemic proportions. The entire range from verbal abuse to physical attack can be found at any military installation. The attitude of some men is often one of resentment-that “this man’s army” is being invaded by women who have no place in it.

Some service men look upon service women as a sexual convenience and freely use rank to proposition them. Official response to reports of sexual harassment is often non-response, the product of a “boys will be boys” mentality. Refusals on the part of women are often countered with charges of lesbianism, redeemable for a less than honorable discharge. Discharge may result regardless of the veracity of the charge.

Suspected homosexuality on the part of male and female military personnel constitutes grounds for discharge, with female personnel generally prosecuted more harshly than males. The waste of human talent and potential that results from the military’s irrational discrimination against lesbians and gay men is oppressive to the individuals involved and is not in the national interest.

Beyond the discrimination against women who are actually in the military, there is lifelong discrimination against those women who are excluded from the military through no fault of their own. They suffer discrimination in the pursuit of governmental civilian jobs because of veterans preference. Veterans are, by law, given preferential treatment in federal jobs and most state jobs, both in hiring and promotions. Currently, because of past discrimination in the military, only 2% of our nation’s veterans are females. Considering that the federal government alone has three times as many civilian positions as American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T), the nation’s number one prIvate employer, this results in massive discrimination against females. There are more than 28 million federal jobs. More civilians work for the Department of Defense than for General Motors. And the Veterans Administration has almost as many jobs as Exxon and Dupont Corporation combined. Discrimination against women in the military serves to injure all women in governmental employment and in salaries for their entire lives.

The effects of discrimination against women in the military cannot be measured in dollars and cents alone. Being told they are unfit for combat training, that they need “protection,” women are more readily victims of violence of every kind. Without training and the confidence that they can defend themselves, women live in daily fear of physical assault. One must ask, also, whether a would-be rapist might be less likely to attack a woman if he thought she had been trained as a Marine.

VI. Registration, Draft and the ERA

The present discussion about the registering and drafting of women is without an Equal Rights Amendment and without our nation being at war. For the past several years, without any international crisis, the discussion of registering and drafting women has been a serious part of the drive to return to a drafted military. Whatever happens about registering or drafting women in the short run, in the event of a real national crisis or war, women will be drafted (if men are) and will serve.

Why? Because they are needed. Women today are an essential part of our nation’s work force and are a key part of the trained and trainable technical pool of young people required to operate a modern military. Moreover, because of sex segregation in our labor force, certain work categories, which are essential to the military, are overwhelmingly female. Women are a vital part of the administrative, computer, communications, medical and other technical personnel of this nation.

Discrimination against women in the military costs this nation literally billions of dollars a year because better qualified women are not recruited while less qualified males are and at much higher enlistment bonuses and costs.

The combat restrictions serve to bar an entire sex from a wide range of career opportunities and to deprive our national security of vital personnel resources. Women in combat-related categories have been in combat, wounded and killed. But they have served at greater risk to themselves because they have not had adequate combat training.

Discrimination against women in the military depresses opportunities, career paths, training and benefits for women. The military provides thousands of jobs, training programs and educational opportunities which are, for the most part, presently closed to women. Military pay which is, on the average, some 40% higher than female civilian pay, could be the only way out of poverty for countless young women. Restrictions on women in the military, far from protecting them, serve to continue their second class citizenship, pay and opportunity. And this discrimination exercised by the military affects women’s employment opportunities and wages throughout their entire work lives because of veterans preference.

The inarguable need for women in the military, coupled with the blatant and crippling discrimination against women in the military, dramatically demonstrates the need for the ERA. Women in the military have just as much right to adequate equipment, training, clothing, benefits and career progression as men do. The Equal Rights Amendment will guarantee women equal rights and would serve as the basis to eliminate sex discrimination in the military.

Under the Equal Rights Amendment, the military’s practices, regulations, statutes and policies that discriminate on the basis of sex would be held unconstitutional. People would serve in the armed forces according to their own abilities. The national defense would gain by increasing the size of the talented personnel pool at lower recruiting posts while women would have an increased number of jobs, training programs, and financial benefits.

In the event of registration, or draft under the ERA, men and women would register and be drafted according to their ability. Exemptions would be determined along equitable and necessary lines, e.g. physical or mental fitness, sole parent of dependent child, etc.- but not upon the basis of gender alone. Under the ERA, the very possibility of a need for a draft or registration would be reduced because the numbers in the available pool of recruits for the All-Volunteer Forces would double.

The debate about whether women will, serve in the military is over. They must serve, but at what cost to themselves?

The debate over registering or drafting women only serves to underline the dramatic necessity for the immediate ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.

Major Sources

America’s Volunteers: A Report on the All-Volunteer Armed Forces, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense. (Manpower, Reserve Affairs, and Logistics), second edition, September 1978.

Hearings on Women in the Military, U.S. House of Representatives, Armed Services Committee, Subcommittee on Military Personnel, November 1979.

The Role of Women in the Military. Hearings before the Subcommittee on Priorities and Economy in Government of the Joint Economic Committee, Congress of the United States, July 22 and September 1, 1977.

Use of Women In the Military. Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Manpower, Reserve Affairs, and Logistics), second edition, September 1978.

Women and the Military. Binkin, Martin and Bach, Shirley; The Brookings Institution, Washington, D.C.; 1977.

Women Content in the Army: REFORGER (REF-WAC 77). U.S. Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences; Alexandria, VA; May 30, 1978.

Women Content in Units Force Development Test (MAX WAC). U.S. Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences: Alexandria, VA; October 3, 1977.

Women and the Military: A WEAL Fund Kit. Women’s Equity Action League Educational & Legal Defense Fund, Washington, D.C.; 1979.

Women in the Armed Forces. (Issue Brief B79045); Collier, Ellen C.; Foreign Affairs and National Defense Division of the Library of Congress, Congressional Research Service; October 25, 1979.

Women In the Military: Topics for Discussion-1979. Gilden, Nina; Legislative Assistant for Military Affairs to Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder (D-CO)

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