I’ve been pretty quiet on the state of the world lately. As you’d imagine, I have some powerfully strong opinions on women’s role in society, and how we’ve all done more than enough to keep the inequality of men and women intact. But this is not that post. Because frankly, the more I hear about slut shaming, online trolling and rape threats, doxxing, girls sent home from school because their clothes make it difficult for boys to learn (do not even get me started on that one), gender stereotypes in the media, and other random instances of misogyny, the more insane I get as I wonder what the hell this world is coming to. I’ve probably read a hundred posts in the last month alone on how we fail women — and as a woman, I say, no shit, people. Welcome to our world and the baggage we’re required to carry at all times. Glad you’re waking up. Here’s your number; the line forms to the left.
But finally I’m starting to see the beginning of a movement: I see more and more women standing up and speaking out. They’re calling out instances of discrimination and denigration and violence against women, usually at their own risk. It’s an uphill battle, but for every new feminist that stands up to be heard, it’s one more supportive voice. (And by the way, people, ‘feminist’ is not code for a subversive, psychotic woman; that’s simply someone — ANYONE — who supports women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.) It’s one more person calling for equality, and pointing out the prejudice that exists. There is significant danger inherent in this defiance of female stereotypes; enough that fear of threats and repercussions frightens many voices into uncomfortable silence. But the collective voice is slowly gaining force, resonating with others, and making them brave enough — or possibly angry enough — to take a stand. Many of these women aren’t trying to change the world; they’re just trying to change their world.
Which brings me to the actual reason I started writing this post. A friend forwarded a link to yesterday’s NPR All Things Considered episode on the Army finally allowing women into Ranger School. This is relevant to my life right now because DangerBoy himself is currently fighting his way through Ranger School. Although he’s an Airborne paratrooper, he has sought out every opportunity to earn a slot at Ranger School since he joined the military two years ago. Ranger School isn’t a cakewalk; it’s a grueling 62 days that pushes a soldier beyond both physical and mental limits for weeks without end. It begins with the Ranger Assessment Phase (Days 1 – 3) and successful completion of the following:
- Ranger Physical Fitness Test: 49 push-ups (in 02:00), 59 sit-ups (in 02:00), 6 chin-ups (from a dead hang), and a 5 mile run (40:00 or better). A student failing to accomplish these minimum requirements in perfect form is dropped.
- Combat Water Survival Assessment: traverse a log suspended 35′ above water, transition to a rope crawl and, without hesitating, plunge 35′ into the water; jump into the pond and, while submerged, must ditch their rifle and load-bearing equipment; and climb to the top of a 70′ tower, then traverse on a pulley attached to a suspended cable, once again plunging into the water at speeds that can dislocate legs or arms. Any student showing hesitation is dropped.
- Combined Night/Day Land Navigation Test: One of the most difficult events in RAP, it begins at 0300. Using a map and compass, a student must find a number of MGRS locations only using flashlights for map referencing (and then only with red lens filters). A student who uses a flashlight to navigate terrain is immediately dismissed.
- A 3-mile terrain run and completion of the infamous Malvesti Field Obstacle Course (this written description of one student’s experience is enlightening). The 25-meter obstacle is covered by knee-high barbed wire and must be negotiated — usually several times — on the soldier’s back and belly.
- A 12-mile forced, tactical ruck march with full gear. A student failing to complete this ruck in less than 3 hours is dropped.
By Day 4, typically 60% of the original 400 students have already washed out.
It’s almost incomprehensible to me why anyone would want to submit to these conditions, much less volunteer for the chance. I know I couldn’t do it; nor would I want to. What I do comprehend, however, is the desire to prove yourself, to succeed despite overwhelming odds and obstacles; to attain the unattainable. So be it — I can get behind that. DangerBoy has made it to Day 19, which means if he survives two more days, he will move on with the other remaining candidates to the next phase in the northern Georgia mountains. I do not take his successful completion of Ranger School for granted; in fact, I hold my breathe and wait for news each day, whichever way it may come down. All I can do is support his decision to answer this challenge and scour his Army buddies’ Facebook pages for updates, while answering unknown phone numbers with baited breath. This is his chance to rise above and be part of an elite military force, and he is driven to succeed. I hope he does.
Now women can try for the chance to be elite, too. That’s nice. My question is, why has it taken so long for women to get the same opportunities in the military? During the Revolutionary War, women served as nurses, cooks, and support staff in military camps. In the Civil War, women also served as spies. Since 1782, there are documented cases of women serving in the military during the Revolutionary War, the War of 1813, the Mexican War, the American Civil War, and the Spanish-American War — women serving in the military, but forced to do so while disguised as men. During World War 1 women finally earn the right to openly join the military, but it takes until 1948 for Congress to pass the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act which entitles women to permanent status and veterans benefits. So it’s taken 241 years for women to move from military servitude to military service.
By 2016, all arms of military service must open all combat jobs to women, or explain why a job, if any, must remain closed. Good for women who choose the military as a career but, as you might expect, there’s been a lot of pushback. Yes, there are a lot of people who do not support this move. Yes, there are a lot of things the Army is going to have to figure out in order to bring about this change. But it is time. Other countries have mandatory military service for its citizens, regardless of gender. Clearly, it can be done. I hardly believe this is going to bring about the end of days. Instead, I believe it opens up the opportunity for a few good women to join the elite ranks as well. And to those who have the gall to say requirements will need to be lowered in order for women to compete? I’ve got news for you. Women aren’t looking for a handout; women are looking for the same goddamn chance their male counterparts have by default. Women are not inferior. We are different, with unique gifts. Stop treating women as a liability; it’s your outdated sexist bullshit that is the real liability. To those people, I say, fuck you.
A soldier who has earned a spot at Ranger School should be allowed to pursue the opportunity he or she has earned through hard work and perseverance. Regardless of gender. Regardless if you think letting women enlist is a bad idea. Regardless if you resent the idea of breasts in the barracks. There are no guarantees of success, but there should be equal opportunity to succeed. If he does in fact make it through Ranger School, I would expect DangerBoy to serve shoulder to shoulder with other Rangers and demand their best, just as they have a right to demand his. Because excellence doesn’t have a gender. Because male or female, son or daughter, man or woman, each has chosen this course, and if they’ve met the qualifications, they’ve earned the right to try for a spot in the elite ranks. Each soldier has earned the right to challenge themselves to finally be all they can be.
And if we’re incredibly lucky, while they are driven to change their own world, they just might help to change ours.