Women in Special Operations and the 800-Pound Misogynistic Village Elder in the Room
By: Kevin R. Flike
(This article was written in the summer of 2013 while many were speculating about women potentially serving in Special Operations units. The article first appeared on www.sofrep.com)
I have heard almost every argument detailing for and against women in Special Operations and I promise not to beat a dead horse in this article. The problem with the “Women in Special Operations” argument is that it never seems to address the proper issue. The most common issues brought up are:
1) Women cannot handle the physical nature of the training and job and therefore standards will be lowered to allow women into Special Operations (there are valid arguments for and against this).
2) There would be problems with unit cohesion if women were to enter the male dominated world of Special Operations (once again valid arguments for and against).
These two aspects have been debated ad nauseam by the public and military. A common conclusion to this argument is that women can do everything men can do and should at least be given the opportunity to try out for Special Operations. This is where the argument for women in Special Operations is wrong, because women cannot do everything men can do.
I agree that there are definitely women out there that could pass the training and could handle the physical nature of the deployments. There are some, not many, but they are out there. However, what many people are failing to grasp is that physical prowess, while very important in Special Operations, is not everything. There are many facets that make up the Operator and one of the most important aspects is the ability to gain the trust of the soldiers/militia/village elders that they are working with.
As much as American Feminists would like to paint the US as oppressive towards women, in actuality it is one of the most progressive countries in the world regarding women’s rights. This is not the case for the rest of the world and especially the areas in which the US military will be/is operating. The fact that we are even having this conversation about women serving in Special Operations is proof of our countries progressive nature. I have trained soldiers in the Philippines, Thailand and twice in Afghanistan and never once did I train a woman because our military operates in mostly male dominated cultures (especially Afghanistan and Iraq). I cannot even imagine what the Afghan soldiers my team was tasked with training would have done if our team had a female captain or NCOs. In two deployments to Afghanistan the thing that haunted me the most was the deplorable way that locals treated women. If the local population treats their own flesh and blood in such a medieval way, why should we expect female Operators to be treated any differently? Do people really think that a Ranger tab on the shoulder, Trident on the chest or a Green Beret on the head will change this? I love the Afghan soldiers that I spent nearly two years of my life training, but I shudder to think what would have happened if we had females on my team. The most likely course of action would have been that they laughed at them every time they talked; the most dangerous course of action would have been death. The Afghans would have most certainly not followed them into combat.
If we really want to debate women in Special Operations then we need to look at Special Operations actual role in national defense. The public thinks this job is all Rambo, GI Jane and Hollywood but in reality, it is a long enduring process of trying to build and maintain fragile relationships in male dominated cultures. While the military has always been a working social experiment joining the rich and poor, northerners and southerners, atheists and believers, and GED-holders and master’s degree-holders of all ethnicities, we need to recognize our limitations and realize that the job of the US military is to win wars and defend this country, period.
The battlefield and Congress are a far ways apart. Lets move past the issue of physical prowess and unit cohesion and get down to the real issue here; the 800-pound misogynistic village elder in the room.
Kevin R. Flike is currently a graduate student pursuing dual masters degrees from the MIT Sloan School of Management (MBA) and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government (MPA) with an expected graduation date of spring 2016. Prior to grad school Kevin served as a Special Forces Engineer assigned to the 1st Special Forces Group and deployed to the Philippines, Thailand and twice to Afghanistan. On September 25, 2011 during his second deployment to Afghanistan, he was shot in the lower abdomen and was medically retired due to his injuries.