Gender Segregation in the Military

Scott directs us to Volokh Conspiracy guest blogger Kingsley Browne's arguments in support of continued gender segregation in the military. I wrote some comment's in Scott's thread that I think are worth pulling out and placing in a front page post of their own.

I didn't originally plan to respond to Browne's posts because I figured it would be obvious to most readers that his arguments were poorly reasoned, little more than an excerise in Browne embarrassing himself in public by exposing his outdated gender biases. For the same reason, I don't spend much time rebutting White Nationalist or anti-Semitic blog posts, because I expect (perhaps mistakenly) that smart people living in contemporary America have the wherewithal to figure out what's mistaken about such arguments on their own. But apparently some libertarians take these gender segregationist arguments seriously - indicating that in many ways sexism is more socially acceptable than racism - and therefore it is worth spending some time addressing Browne's project.

Browne argues that there are significant biological and psychological differences between women and men, and that, because of these differences, men (on average) make better soldiers than women, at least in roles like combat which make use of and indeed require greater physical strength or "courage." Recognizing that differences in group averages do not alone justify excluding the group with the lower average score, - after all, there is much overlap between groups, so a recruitment system based purely on merit might allow some women in - Browne makes the further argument that statistical discrimination is simply a more efficient method of recruiting, for more individualized determinations are expensive and may lead to false positives, and because the few women who would pass would hardly provide enough benefit to justify the additional screening costs.

Let's assume all of this is true. Where does that leave us?

Consider the following argument: Some people believe that there are significant biological and psychological differences between blacks and whites (namely, that whites on average tend to score higher on IQ tests than blacks), and that because of these differences, whites (on average) make better soldiers than blacks, at least in roles which make use of and indeed require whichever abilities are associated with higher IQ scores. Recognizing that differences in group averages do not alone justify excluding the group with the lower average score, - after all, there is
much overlap between groups, so a recruitment system based purely on merit might allow some blacks in - we make the further stipulation that statistical discrimination is simply a more efficient method of recruiting, for more individualized determinations are expensive and may lead to false positives, and because the few blacks who would pass would hardly provide enough benefit to justify the additional screening costs. We all cool with that?

One might object to this comparison on the grounds that there are significant differences between the gender/sex divide and the racial divide. And this is surely true. There are significant differences between gender divisions and racial divisions. If there were no such differences, the comparison wouldn't be a metaphor; it would be an identity relationship.

Regardless, the metaphor between gender and race is powerful, as demonstrated by Douglas Hofstadter's classic essay, A Person Paper on Purity in Language. Hofstader's argument works because it takes the progress we as a society have made in thinking about race and extends it to gender with the hope that the same sort of progress will occur there, for the very same reasons. Merely observing that race and gender are not identical is not alone sufficient in rebutting Hofstadter's comparison; rather, to do so, one must show that race and gender are significantly different in such a way that the comparison doesn't work at all for his purposes. I don't think that's the case, though I'm open to the possibility, if given a sufficiently persuasive argument.

In addition to the alleged efficiency of statistical discrimination, one might further attempt to justify gender segregation in the military on the grounds that mixing different groups together into one combat unit creates inefficiencies and trust issues. This claim takes it as a given that the phenomenon of heterogeneous distrust is endogenous to human nature, and not something that can be changed through sufficient education and culturalization. So too, many opponents of racial integration in the military argued that the races should not me mixed in combat units because white soldiers wouldn't sufficiently trust black soldiers, and vice versa. Now we see that this was not the case; the proposed distrust was simply an exogenous product of a racist culture at the time, not a necessary and immutable truth. So too with the present-day arguments justifying gender segregation.

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Much more instructive than

Much more instructive than all this armchair theorizing of how people will react in integrated environments would be some kind of empirical study. Perhaps other countries have sexually integrated--are there noticeable effects?

I had some basic military

I had some basic military officer training, the sex ratio was 1:10 in favors of men, it drove people nuts. Not really a significant empirical study, but definitely a step away from the armchair.

What exactly is your argument Micha?

Your argument seems to be, "the belief that races were importantly different was wrong and harmful. Therefore the belief that the sexes are importantly different is wrong and harmful." That seems to be the gist of:

Now we see that this was not the case; the proposed distrust was simply
an exogenous product of a racist culture at the time, not a necessary
and immutable truth. So too with the present-day arguments justifying
gender segregation.

"So too" seems to extend the conclusion from race to sex. If you had, instead, said, "maybe so too", that would be something else. Then you would be making the much more reasonable argument: "Look, we were convinced the races were importantly different and we turned out to be wrong. Maybe we're wrong about the sexes, too. Just saying."

One thing that I expect really gets your goat is evolutionary psychology. I just finished "Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters," and it argued with a great deal of conviction against the view that the supposed difference between the sexes is really the product of our upbringing and that with different acculturation those differences can dissolve. In particular, it argued specifically for the idea that men are violent and aggressive and competitive and risk-taking to the very core of their being for reasons specific to their sex, reasons which do not extend to women, who are nurturing, risk averse, and so on.

To briefly and incompletely summarize what the book says, humanity is inherently polygynous, which means that in the ancestral environment (that's important) women are pretty much guaranteed babies (the same man can be shared by women), while the majority of men are doomed not to reproduce. (The variance of reproductive success is much higher for men than for women.) Since the plight of men is so desperate, they may as well take risks and fight, because from the genetic point of view, better for a man to risk his neck in a contest and merely probably be killed, than to play it safe and definitely not reproduce because all the available women are taken by polygamous men who aren't chicken. Since women are pretty much guaranteed babies if they can manage to survive (in contrast to men who most definitely are not), then the optimal strategy for women is for them to play it safe, to avoid unnecessary risks. This is of course not the whole story, but it is a big part of it. It doesn't really sit well with the view that the difference between the sexes is a product of being brought up into different roles by a sexist society. Rather (the authors argue), the different roles are a product of the underlying sex differences. (BTW IIRC, many sexual dimorphisms in behavior are common across species, and are reversed in species where the male carries the babies - e.g. seahorses - a key source of the dimorphism being which sex carries the unborn child.)

If that book is at all accurate, I think it provides a serious challenge to the idea that the military ought to be sexually integrated. Various aspects of the psychological dimorphism described in the book seem especially relevant to military service, seem to explain rather well why militaries throughout history have been exclusively male (or at least so overwhelmingly as to seem exclusively male), and seem to back up the view that, if not definitely, then at least very possibly, our own military should be exclusively male. BTW I don't claim that the authors endorse my application of their book to this issue, but for my part I find it difficult to escape these implications.

There are always exceptions to any rule. However, successful female members of the military apparently are so exceptional that they are the stuff of legend and story. There is Joan of Arc, whose career would not, I think, have been quite as well-remembered today had she been a man. And there is Mulan, whose story (fictional as far as I know) serves to highlight the exclusively male composition of the military in China. And there are, of course, the Amazons.

However, I wouldn't give up my fantasies about women in battle for all the gold in the world. Give me Ghost in the Shell or give me death.

Women in the military have a

Women in the military have a much higher incidence of stress fractures during basic training than men do.

Women and men are biologically different. Get over it.

http://www.nap.edu/html/stress/

What's the hard part?

Browne's argument makes perfect sense. Despite the overlaps in physical and psychological abilities between the genders, the percentage of women who might qualify is too small to be worth addressing, both from a "fairness of opportunity" perspective as well as a pragmatic one; it's not like excluding this small group somehow injures the military in numbers or abilities, or even social engineer's favorite trump card - diversity (an aside: Let me know when somebody quantifies these "benefits").

the percentage of women

the percentage of women who might qualify is too small to be worth addressing

Browne hasn't yet provided any evidence for this claim.

Did he need to?

I'm suggesting the percentage would be small enough to qualify for my claim that adding that female segment isn't needed or offers no additional value, no matter whether Browne offers a percentage or not. We already have plenty of comparable data to extraolate from - physical and emotional exams at the military academies, firefighter and police academies training data, sports... Wouldn't the military academies be a fair data set? Formal requirements plummeted for over a decade, as well the altering of the 'military atmosphere' to be more accommodating to a more female approach, until the magic number was obtained that guaranteed 'success' for a reasonable percentage of females.

I once heard Gloria Steinem state, when asked to explain why almost no female firefighter cadets could fireman's carry the regulation weight but instead dragged the dummy, that it was better to drag the person anyway since smoke concentration is lower at the floor than at shoulder height. Didn't answer the question.

Because it's about the narrative.

Perhaps a better question is 'exactly what are the minimum physical and emotional criteria to be a soldier, and in what type of war'?

Wouldn't the military

Wouldn't the military academies be a fair data set?

No. If we are interested in how many women could meet the minimum qualifications required for various military roles, we would need to look at the population of women as a whole, not just at the self-selected group who were willing to put up with whatever artificial social constraints might have existed in the past in military academies. Although this self-selected group would no doubt have a higher percentage of potentially qualified soldiers than the general population of women as a whole, it would tell us nothing about the absolute number of women who could be potential recruits if the military was made more welcoming to them.

Fair enough

Other than that it would be folly to believe that the non-self-selected group stood any chance to offer a higher percentage of females, or even the same, with the necessary attributes than the self-selected group - which I submit is the vastly more capabale group with regard to military combat attributes.

Not everything has to be measured directly. We already know the self-selected group represents how ever many standard deviations above the norm. The military academy group serves as a defensible proxy.

And accepting for a moment - which I don't - that these so-called "artificial social constraints" are unrelated to the job of soldiering and therefore surpress the number of women who otherwise might qualify, these already have been "relaxed" so as to increase the number of female participation we see today.

If it's necessary to determine that the number is 1.88% or .0018% or whatever, then perhaps Browne's analysis needs more scrutiny. But if all we need is 'an insignificant number' or 'not greater than already observed', then it's an academic exercise which I submit doesn't add value. I'd much rather examine if under the proper circumstances, females can improve these attributes - if they even wanted to.

Browne: An extensive

Browne:

An extensive study of physical capacity by the British Ministry of Defence concluded that only about 0.1 percent of female recruits and 1 percent of trained female soldiers could satisfy the required physical standards for infantry and armor without sustaining substantially higher rates of injuries than men.

That is, granted, just one bit of evidence. I don't doubt there's much more in his new book. From Publishers Weekly:

To support his argument, Browne presents an avalanche of intriguing psychological and military studies that examine male-female differences. He points to evidence that men are generally better able to carry the necessary gear, and that although even noncombatant women must be prepared to fight hand-to-hand, they are generally more cautious: we would rather solve the situation; if somebody has to die, then nobody really wins, explains one. Men have superior hand-eye coordination and situational awareness as well as a greater willingness to take risks and function better in hierarchies, he says. Women are more democratic and tend to resent taking orders, especially from other women, but overwhelmingly oppose complete equality (e.g., being assigned combat roles involuntarily on the same basis as men).