Today an anticipated 20 or so women will begin the U.S. Army’s elite Ranger school, bringing on yet another phase of public discussion on whether “women” (meaning, roughly 50% of the global human population) are capable of meeting the same standards required of the men in this particular school. I wish all of this round of Ranger school’s candidates the very best of luck–both men and women–and may the strongest of them finish and earn their Ranger tab.
Maybe all 20 of the women candidates will succeed; maybe some of them will; maybe none of them will. But whether each of them succeed or fail–just as with the male candidates–will be a matter of whether an individual was able to meet the requirements at that time, and not a matter of whether an entire gender of individuals is capable or not. It is time we put away discussion of gender as a limiting factor of individual capability or achievement. Because gender category is irrelevant to capability. It’s not a matter of if women candidates can pass Ranger school; it’s just a matter of when.
Of course there are individuals who will speak up and say otherwise, and that their breadth of knowledge about “women” (again, roughly half of the 7 billion or so humans on this planet) is all anyone needs as justification to prohibit people they’ve never even met from even trying to meet the standards required for certain jobs in the military (or from being president, etc.).
Opening candidacy for all jobs to women isn’t a social experiment. It’s not about whether “women” can or can’t. It is about ensuring that all citizens of our country have the same opportunities to achieve and succeed. No exceptions. When we talk about inclusion in the military, it is about ensuring the most qualified and capable individuals are the ones who have the job–not just the most qualified of one particular gender, or a particular race, or any other closed category of individuals. Opening opportunities to all who can meet the job requirements is the American way. Exclusion is the purview of the small-minded who refuse to see the world around them as it is.
The recurring arguments about women being less physically capable are simply mind-boggling to me. I see men every day (my age and younger) who are not as physically capable as I am–and I’m 41 years old and not an athlete. Yet I’ve gone through decades of my military career having numerous positions closed to me simply on the basis of my gender–the same positions that are open to all of these men who cannot perform at my level. Likewise, any of the women who manage to earn their Ranger tab will not be able to serve in the units open to their male counterparts, even if those male counterparts are less capable or qualified.
Two of my recent experiences have illustrated this with complete clarity for me–and they are exactly the kind of experiences all the naysayers and mansplainers would rather not see. Which is why I’m choosing to put this out there.
First, my experience with some 6,000+ other marchers/runners at the Bataan Memorial Death March last month simply amazed me. I saw young ROTC cadets (both male and female) jogging the course with rucksacks that weighed more than 35 pounds. My own ruck weighed closer to 50 pounds for most of the 26.2 mile course, when it was full of food and water I’d consume by the end of the day–and at the race’s end weighed 42 pounds. And again, I’m 41 and not in prime physical shape these days. (Plus the next day, my sister dismissed my soreness by saying, “When I was 41, I carried a 60-pound pack all day up Mount Rainier.”)
At about the 25-mile point, I was passed by an Army colonel wearing a CA patch who was jogging in full uniform and rucksack. By my best guess, she was maybe 60 years old. I thanked her at the finish line for leading the way. Because she truly was–whether she was a man or a woman was irrelevant. You just never see a colonel out there kicking that kind of ass, and it motivated the hell out of me. My point, though, is this: military women of every age are indeed more than capable–both physically and mentally. They have been for a while now. And they’re coming up stronger with each year. To exclude them is to insist on a weaker military for the sake of appeasing the men who simply refuse to open their eyes to the strength, talent, and capability around them.
A second experience of mine was yesterday’s More/Fitness/Shape Women’s Half Marathon here in Central Park. The point of the race is to encourage women to participate in races–and it indeed succeeds. This was my first half-marathon back in 2006, and many of the women I talked to yesterday also mentioned that this was their first half-marathon race within the last few years. Because women need to know that they are physically capable, too–despite common cultural messages that femininity and athleticism don’t go together.
What impressed me yesterday wasn’t just that more than 7,000 women and girls, ranging in age between 13 and 86, completed a hilly 13.1 miles–but that I saw young women out there who showed a new kind of feminine physicality that still (pleasantly) surprises me. These young women–who’ve no doubt benefited from the opening of sports opportunities to school kids through Title IX–were out there taking selfies of themselves showing off bulging biceps, sporting shirts and jerseys from cross-fit or martial arts gyms, plus other celebrations of badassery that I’m just not used to seeing in full force like I did yesterday.
If I’m surprised by the intensity of this new generation of badass young women–imagine how shocking it would be to the naysayers and mansplainers out there who still drone on and on about how “women” aren’t fit for such and such. To all these folks, I say this: shut your mouth. Open your eyes. The world has changed, and it’s time you take notice.