The Female vs. Male Strength Debate... Resolved
To better understand the challenges women face today when taking on new combat duties, it is probably best to start with one of the most well-known arguments against women in combat: women are biologically different from men and are physically weaker than men, making women less suited for combat duties that require great physical strength.
Elaborations on this argument often go on to discuss how it is difficult for women to carry heavy loads for long distances, or, should a woman need to carry an injured person in an emergency situation, she might not have the strength to do so. Advocates on both sides of the argument typically get the facts completely wrong and miss the simple, logical answer that renders the entire argument meaningless.
To say that women are weaker than men is not an accurate statement. The following two statements express reality more accurately: 1) On average, women are always physically weaker than men, 2) The world’s strongest woman can never be as strong as the world’s strongest man. Essentially, yes, women have a disadvantage when it comes to strength and it would be unrealistic to think, for example, that a female Olympic sprinter could ever defeat a male Olympic sprinter.
However, the point everyone misses is that the standard of excellence for strength, speed and endurance in military organizations is not the same as the Olympics. Rather, science and survey data proves that numerous women are more than capable of not only meeting military physical fitness standards but exceeding them.
For example, while a male Soldier running 2-miles in 13-minutes would earn a “top score” on the Army Physical Fitness Test (a score that the vast majority of Army men fail to achieve) such a time would not come close to earning a place on any women’s Division-I track team. Given the almost 350 Division-I schools in the country, there are plenty of women who can easily achieve a top 2-mile score on the male scale.
Muscular strength is not much different. Countless women athletic competitors in strength-focused events such as gymnastics, CrossFit, mountain climbing, hiking, weightlifting etc. can easily surpass most military males in events such as push-ups and long-distance movement under load. So statistically speaking, there are plenty of women out there who can meet and exceed the male military fitness standards, simply because military fitness standards are generally not very high, in order to maximize personnel retention.
In summary, with the exception of the most elite and selective military units, the average level of strength and physical fitness within the military is very attainable for most women and not an obstacle to their professional success in combat roles. That being said, the average woman will have to work much harder than the average man to attain the same level of physical capability. However, thousands of women achieve put in this level of work while competing in high-school, college and professional/olympic athletics every day.
In short, if women are not achieving or exceeding military physical fitness standards on the male scale, it is not because they are physically incapable of doing so. Other factors are at work that are preventing women from achieving their full potential as combat professionals. In upcoming articles, we will continue to examine the true nature of these challenges that combat women face.