President Biden has nominated two female generals for the promotion to the rank of Four-star General. These nominations, if confirmed, would add these women to the list of only six other women to achieve this rank continuing the push for equality in the military.
By Benjamin Noel
This month President Biden has nominated two female generals for promotion to Four-star Generals. If confirmed by the Senate, they will join the other four star female general currently commissioned in the entire US military, and will join the ranks of only 6 women in history to achieve this position. Air Force Gen. Jacqueline Van Ovost and Army Lt. Gen. Laura Richardson have had this promotion on their horizon, but due to political reasons, their promotions had not been brought up to the then-President Trump for consideration. According to The Hill, DoD officials, including the Secretary of Defence Mark Esper hesitated bringing their names up for nomination during the Trump administration, to protect their careers, for fears of the President not looking kindly on women in such high ranking positions in the military. These two generals were highly qualified for their promotions, and their merits were overlooked due to the perceived bad optics of having more women in high ranking military positions.
The history of female Four-star Generals is rather new, with the first one being pinned in 2008. This brings to mind the Obama era push for more roles to be open for women in the military, especially combat roles. This was a rather recent push, and fell in line with the gradual acceptance of women in the armed forces. While women were only allowed in the military after the Second World War, into the military service academies in the 70s, and could only work on Navy combat ships starting in the 90s, the history of women in the American military much precedes that (Brookings). As early as the Civil War, women served as nurses, spies and even disguised themselves as men to fight as soldiers. And in both the World Wars, women served again as nurses, spies and even intelligence officers in the second.
The debate of women in combat roles is an entirely different subject, and extremely nuanced, but the core argument of the detractors explains why the military is as it is now, in regards to the gender disparity. One aspect of militaries over time is their inherent “macho” factor which is a result of the fact of entirely male fighting forces since the dawn of conflict. Men were, and are, seen as having the ability to be doers of violence, while the women held the role of a nurturer and caretaker. Any female warrior of old is an exception that proves the rule. This globally held gender norm might be what is killing women’s interest in joining a fighting force, even in auxiliary roles. As Churchill wrote to his secretary of war, “I fear there is a complex against women being connected with lethal work. We must get rid of this.” The fact that fighting and violence is a role relegated for men continues to permeate even our modern, progressive militaries. While minorities make up nearly half of the military despite being 30% of the population, women still only comprise 17% of our armed forces.
While there are different entry level requirements for male and female recruits in boot camp, there is no special treatment afforded to women at advanced schools, such as SFAS, Ranger School, etc. as grading and success is based on proven merit. This enables women to try out for roles traditionally held by men, without compromising the strength of the force. A notable example is a woman becoming an Army Special Forces operator a few years ago, who underwent equal treatment to her peers, proving ticking off diversity boxes is of the least concern in a role where lives are on the line. This proven merit is what has brought Air Force Gen. Jacqueline Van Ovost and Army Lt. Gen. Laura Richardson into the spotlight this month, while traditionally held norms prevented them from being assessed on their character and merit.
Melanie Moyer '22,