On both sides of the Atlantic, women are finally being permitted to have a job that has always been off limits to them. The Royal Navy and the US Navy have both announced this month that they are lifting the ban on women serving in submarines. The ban was supposedly to protect pregnant women from harmful radiation inside nuclear submarines.
It’s great to see that our Navy is opening doors for 3,400 female Navy personnel. Unfortunately, they’re not the last bastion of male-only roles in the armed forces.
In 2002, Captain Philippa Tattersall became the first woman to earn a prestigious Green Beret from the Royal Marines. But because she is Philippa, and not Philip, she may not serve as a Commando. She is limited to 3 Commando Brigade, where she may work in a supportive role.
This exemption from discrimination legislation applies to roles within the forces where the main aim is “to close with and kill the enemy”, and was reviewed by the MOD only last year. The Navy’s website attempts to justify this by claiming that the inclusion of women is not permitted on “grounds of medical or combat effectiveness/team cohesion”. “Medical or combat effectiveness” is a wonderful euphemism, and covers all manner of sins. I will resist the temptation to vigorously defend Captain Tattersall evident ‘combat effectiveness’.
The MOD also express a concern that allowing women into small teams for close combat will endanger troops by undermining the cohesion of the group. I fail to see why the presence of women in a team needs to be disruptive. If it were the potential for romantic feelings, that presumably these teams would also exclude gay men. They don’t, thankfully. There are plenty of examples of men and women working together in high stress situations – both within and outwith the armed forces. Surgeons work together within an operating room, police officers respond to emergencies. These are a world away, but the theme – men and women working together under pressure – remains.
In the words of the MOD themselves, “The contribution of Servicewomen to the combat effectiveness of the Armed Forces is essential.” That doesn’t just go for the Logistics Corps, or the Intelligence Corps – it should go for every part of the armed forces. Women have proved themselves to be capable of being everything the armed forces has allowed them to do – despite ‘being girls’. And now, we’d like the opportunity to prove that we can be part of an effective close-combat team. This ban only stands because of an inconclusive review. Surely it’s time to give our soldiers – men and women – the opportunity to rise to the challenge.