Women have trained and fought alongside men for years, but not without limitation—that is, until Thursday. In a push for gender equality, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter announced full gender integration for the American military, leaving more doors open for women in combat than ever before. The New York Times emphasizes just how drastic the change will be, by providing an additional 220,000 job opportunities to female soldiers. Granted rights now include permission to drive tanks and the ability to join the Navy SEALs, for example, as long as ability requirements are met.
This isn’t the first integration attempt in recent years—back in 2011, the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy was repealed, giving lesbian and gay service members the should-be-unquestionable right to openly serve no matter their sexual orientation. The decision to integrate women follows suit largely due to a deadline set by the Obama administration in 2013. And the military certainly took their time, meeting the deadline of January 2016 by a hair. The delay in implementation points to a hesitancy most likely influenced by both military and civilian backlash—a backlash that hasn’t ceased.
A scroll through the comments section of the New York Times report shows just how sexist many Americans still are. While some viewpoints are more explicit in their words, expressing rage and laughter at the thought of women in combat and exhibiting what psychologists call hostile sexism, others express more subtle signs of chauvinism (known as benevolent sexism), feeling the need to argue the decision in order to “protect” the “fragile” women in their lives. Either way, the backlash proves that inclusion is only the first step. Clearly, long-held gender stereotypes will take much longer to abolish than any out-dated policy.
All in all, many questions remain. What will this mean in terms of a potential draft? Is it a good thing that the military may grow, putting more lives at risk? Can a simple change in rules reverse other, more hidden forms of gender inequality present in the armed forces? With issues like sexual violence against women grossly unacknowledged by the military, we fear we still have a long way to go before true equality takes hold.