The Ironman triathlon is among the most grueling sporting events in the world. Leanda Cave, the 2012 international women’s champion, came in 46th overall. That was good enough to put her ahead of 1,419 male competitors, which is to say, almost all of them. (The fellow Ms Cave finished just ahead of does not look a slouch.) What about fighting mano y mano against a “brutal” enemy? My guess is that Ronda Rousey, the Strikeforce women’s bantamweight champion, is more dangerous in close quarters than most Taliban insurgents. Of course, few women have the endurance of Leanda Cave, or the martial-arts prowess of Ronda Rousey. But then neither do many men. In most sports, the best men outperform the best women, but the best women outperform almost all men. Of course, it doesn’t take testosterone to pull a trigger. Lyudmila Pavlichenko, a Soviet sniper during the second world war, is credited with over 300 kills. The Nazis surely would have preferred a Soviet army with no such female combat troops.
The best argument against women in combat specialities runs as follows: Although standards for training and physical capacity may initially remain high, over time these standards may slacken for institutional and political reasons (a USMC embarrassed by a lack of women in the infantry informally and selectively relaxes standards, etc.), leading to the inclusion of less than fully capable infantry-persons, which will consequently lead to less effective combat teams, as so forth. It’s not a terribly compelling argument; the average US infantry-person is considerably more physically and intellectually capable today than in Vietnam/Korea/WWII, and so even if we grant the hypothetical decline in standards the US is still, by historical and relative standards, deploying extraordinarily capable soldiers with an extraordinarily sophisticated support network. As an argument for pre-emptive exclusion of a class of citizens from combat specialties, the “relaxation of standards” case has to establish both that a particular set of standards are sufficiently critical to national security to merit such an exclusion, and that organizational misbehavior cannot be remedied by any means other than this exclusion. Doesn’t seem to me that the argument can meet either concern.