Illustration by Caetano Santos.
Illustration by Caetano Santos.

Last week, hearing that the Department of Defense (DOD) was about to rescind a 19-year-old rule barring women from serving in military units that engage in direct combat, retired Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin did what any Galahad would do: he typed up a press release warning women that if they serve in combat units, they may have to pee in public. And people say chivalry is dead.

Less amusing was Boykin’s underlying criticism of the DOD’s policy reversal, which accused the department of engaging in another dangerous “social experiment.”

We at CHP ask, when did gender equality become a social experiment?

It’s not as though the department is diluting its standards to accommodate women. Military physical testing requirements are gender-normed, but the prerequisites for nearly 240,000 “combat” jobs about to open up for women will remain the same. For example, if you want to join a tank crew, you have to be able to lug 50 pound shells while in a squatting position — regardless of whether you pee sitting down or standing up.

And it’s not as though women serving overseas are sitting safe on the sidelines. Despite officially being barred from combat for the last decade, more than 150 women have died in the line of duty and over 800 have been wounded. According to the National Center for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, female veterans experience similar levels of post-deployment mental trauma as men.

Women already share equal risk with men in warfare, just as they have for years. But it’s because of gallant knights like Jerry Boykin that recognition of this fact comes so late and with such a heavy price.

As New York Times columnist Gail Collins points out, fear of putting women on the front lines in a military conflict played a major role in suffocating the 1970s movement for the Equal Rights Amendment, which would have created an important constitutional safeguard for women.

Barring women from combat roles has also blocked talented female soldiers from many of the military’s plum promotions and high salaries. This has contributed to an enormous gender gap in the upper echelons of command, with only 69 women serving among the nation’s 976 generals.

The perception of women as unequal soldiers has also undoubtedly contributed to the pervasive culture of sexual abuse in the military. According to the Department of Veteran Affairs, approximately half of all female soldiers who served overseas experienced sexual harassment from fellow soldiers, and nearly one-quarter were sexually assaulted.

The good news is aside from Boykin and a handful of other ancient knights rallying around the standards of tradition, public opinion is vastly in support of the DOD’s “social experiment”. City on a Hill Press is too.