In December 2015, former Security of Defense Ash Carter made a landmark announcement that all military combat roles would be available to women for the first time. “To succeed in our mission of national defense, we cannot afford to cut ourselves off from half the country’s talents and skills,” Carter said at the time. “This means that as long as they qualify and meet the standards, women will now be able to contribute to our mission in ways they could not before. They’ll be able to drive tanks, give orders, [and] lead infantry soldiers into combat.”
The announcement was a long time coming. Because of a decision made 40 years ago, women had previously only been allowed to enroll in military service academies—a fraction of services available. The decision to open combat positions to women followed a three-year review, during which different branches of the Armed Forces voiced any concerns they had with the new proposed infrastructure. Notably, the Marine Corps requested exemption, citing research that had suggested that units with women were weaker. Upon his announcement, Carter clarified that “there will be no exceptions.”
Today, roughly 220,000 military jobs that were once limited to men are now available to women. That’s a massive victory, and a necessary one. Last month, the first woman enrolled in the Navy SEALs. A second woman celebrated a similar accomplishment when she applied to be part of Navy’s Special Warfare Combatant-Craft Crewman program (SWCC), whic provides mission support to Navy SEALs. Both women must complete an extensive training program before officially joining the ranks.
According to the Associated Press, senior Marine leaders are now looking to take further steps toward gender equality. Currently, only 8.4 percent of Marines are women, the lowest percentage of all branches in the military. The Los Angeles Times reports that the branch may soon allow women to attend what has traditionally been male-only combat training facilities in San Diego. As it stands, women are limited to a boot camps in Parris Island, South Carolina, whereas men can choose. If approved by senior Marine leaders, the change could be implemented as soon as next spring.
The Marine Corps has faced intense scrutiny as of late for sexism. Aside from the Marines being the only branch to raise red flags following Carter’s announcement, earlier this year, hundreds of Marines came under investigation for sharing nude images of a female cohort in private messages on social media, leading to 21 criminal cases.
Judging by a report released by the Pentagon, this is a disturbing trend across the military. The document cites more than 6,000 cases where in sexually explicit photos were shared or captured, without consent, by a fellow military member.
The theory behind why the genders are currently separated during the training process is predictably disappointing. Officials assert women must “become more physically competitive before joining their male counterparts.” Officials also believe all-women training environments provide them with the support they need during the early stages of service, as if women need to be treated more delicately than men.
Now officials are finally changing their tune, suggesting that the separation prevents male recruits from establishing camaraderie with female Marines. Considering the New York Times found that a group of 400 male and female Marines reported feeling “a strong sense of belonging” to the military, "even more so when compared to other Marines of the operating forces,” they might be onto something.