Are G.I. Janes Unwanted?

by | Dec 6, 1999

“Exodus of female recruits signals trouble for military!” “Military women less likely to advance!” A new Defense Department study on bias in the military prompted these hysterical headlines. For those who thought the military an example of growing fairness and equality, says the report, think again. Sexism remains acute, just like in the real world. […]
Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore

“Exodus of female recruits signals trouble for military!” “Military women less likely to advance!”

A new Defense Department study on bias in the military prompted these hysterical headlines. For those who thought the military an example of growing fairness and equality, says the report, think again. Sexism remains acute, just like in the real world. A Defense Department analyst said, “We have nothing that leads us as researchers to conclude that it’s all that different from what’s happening in the civilian sector.”

The report found female recruits less likely to stay in the military, and less likely to get promoted. In the Army, for example, 47 percent of enlisted women leave before their initial four-year commitment. The male departure rate stands at 28 percent. Sexism! cries the report.

But do the numbers and the reality justify the alarmist headlines?

While the “retention gap” seems large in the Army, take a look at the figures for all branches.

According to the same Defense Department study, among all branches of the service, the female attrition rate stands at 38 percent. And, what about the men? A not-too-distant 33 percent, or a difference of approximately 15 percent. Yes, the military may wash out a lot of women, but they take a lot of guys with them, too.

And why do so many women fail to fulfill their four-year commitment? For one reason, economic opportunities outside the military provide a powerful magnet. Given the historic low unemployment rate, many women and men benefit from the military’s training only to take off for bigger bucks elsewhere. Bad for the military, but pretty darn good for them.

A military woman recently told me that, shortly before the Persian Gulf War, nearly 15 fellow female recruits got pregnant to avoid assignment in the desert! For this, they received honorable discharges. Funny, articles on the Defense Department reports seemed to overlook stuff like that.

One newspaper, though, mentioned the, uh, “career” of a 20-year-old female recruit who wanted to see the world. After two tours at sea, she wanted out, deciding “to return to civilian life and move back home to take care of her ailing mother. She’s planning to marry her boyfriend, whom she met while in the Navy. Because she’s pregnant, she’s free to leave with an honorable discharge.” Oh.

Seventy percent of women, according to the military, leave early for the following reasons: substandard performance in initial training, a medical condition originating before service began, physical disability, and pregnancy. Pretty good reasons for them to leave or to get booted out.

And what about the female officers? Remember, “Military women less likely to advance!” The military must be brutalizing these G.I. Janes. The wire service UPI certainly thinks so: “A new study released Tuesday by the Defense Department said women are about 9 percent less likely than men to reach the level of captain in the Air Force, Army, or Marine Corps, or lieutenant in the Navy.”

Doesn’t this mean, therefore, that 91 percent are as likely as men to reach captain or lieutenant? Why didn’t the headline read, “Military Women 91 percent as Likely to Advance as Men.” Doesn’t the relatively low 9 percent discrepancy scream “good news”? After all, in the military, a notoriously macho, testosterone-driven environment, a 9 percent discrepancy seems rather small. What, for example, would the number have been 10, 20, or 30 years ago?

Women comprise nearly 14 percent of all active duty personnel, up from 10 percent 10 years ago. That’s a 40 percent hike in one decade. And, what percent are officers? Fourteen percent, identical to the percentage of women who serve.

Face it, many women, like many men, simply find the military unattractive.

The military exists to defend America against enemies. This requires a willingness to kill on command. To create this mind-set, the military environment requires discipline, regimentation, rigorous respect for superiors, and a willingness to abide by rules and regulations, many of which seem petty and pointless. And, to rise through the military, as in corporate America, a woman must be willing to move several times, assume different posts, placing severe strains on family and personal life. One military psychologist based the female departure rate on the “disillusion factor.” “Disillusion factor”? Maybe some women, seduced by heroic, uplifting recruiting ads, did not properly understand the rigors, loneliness, and discipline required to stick.

This raises real questions about whether the military’s efforts at female “outreach” make sense. The military spends $35,000 a pop on recruiting and training, on top of signing bonuses, ranging as high as $65,000.

So, rather than telling women to “Be all that you can be,” how about, “Be all that you can be — but not necessarily here.”

This editorial is made available through Creator's Syndicate. Best-selling author, radio and TV talk show host, Larry Elder has a take-no-prisoners style, using such old-fashioned things as evidence and logic. His books include: The 10 Things You Can’t Say in America, Showdown: Confronting Bias, Lies and the Special Interests That Divide America, and What’s Race Got to Do with It? Why it’s Time to Stop the Stupidest Argument in America,.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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