In January of 2013, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta signed a historical dotted line, lifting the 1994 ban on women serving in combat positions in the United States military. The lift on the ban was met with confusion and celebration, concern and cheers. The ban, officially called the ground Combat Exclusion Policy, declared “service members are eligible to be assigned to all positions for which they are qualified, except that women shall be excluded from assignment to units below the brigade level whose primary mission is to engage in direct combat on the ground” . Today, 214,098 women serve in the U.S. military, representing 14.6 % of total service members .
The justifications for the ban were not made explicit at the time it was put into effect; then again, no explanation was really necessary. In 1994, it was widely accepted that there were “practical barriers” to a woman being an adequate soldier, namely physical constraints, emotional frailty, and tensions between the sexes . In 1991, General Robert H. Barrow, former commandant of the Marine Corps, testified before the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee, saying, “If you want to make a combat unit ineffective, assign some women to it” . These prevalent attitudes make it unsurprising that the 1994 ban was put into effect without much debate.
Now that the ban is being lifted, some of these same attitudes are being cited by critics and concerned citizens alike. But truly evaluating these apprehensions shows that not only is lifting the ban plausible and overdue, but also one of the strongest triumphs for women’s rights in decades.