Australia has recently allowed women to serve on the frontline. While military life and customs hold no personal appeal, many men and women feel the call to defend our country. Traditional thought says that women shouldn’t engage in frontline combat because they are weaker, because they wouldn’t be able to manage the rigours of the front line, because they wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) be capable of taking a life, and because they would distract the male soldiers.
The first three of these can be easily refuted. Physical strength makes little difference in modern warfare; none of our soldiers are required to swing a broadsword or fit an arrow to a longbow. Endurance is a certainly a factor, as is the perception of pain, neither of which appear to have an indisputable biological sex bias. (However, greater stamina and greater pain endurance are regularly attributed to women by non-scientific sources, and there may be some truth in this.) Gender-specific physiological factors should probably also be disregarded – in Word War II the Soviet Union used female snipers with great success, and there is no evidence that women are any less capable of killing than men.
The fourth point, regarding group physiology, is more complex. If current military culture thinks of female soldiers as a potential distraction, then it’s almost inevitable that currently serving male soldiers will be distracted. That’s culture, not biology, and cultures change. In other areas men and women work together happily and effectively, and there is no reason to suppose that the military is any different. Soldiers will come to see each other as soldiers, not men and women, not friends, not sexual partners. Keeping women off the frontline will only slow down inevitable cultural change.