Women Serving on US Navy Submarines: Great! (As Long as They're as Strong as the Guys)


julie marsh
Photo by Aimee Gies
Last week, the deadline passed for Congress to raise objections to the US Navy's policy change regarding the assignment of women to submarines. Now it's official: Yet another gender-based barrier has bitten the dust.

It's been a long road. From accommodating pregnancy (this 1979 Time magazine article is a hoot 30 years later) to women serving in combat roles, integrating women into the military has been a battle, pun intended.

As a woman who served in the military -- at the Pentagon, in fact, among many of the top decision-makers and highest-ranking members of all four armed services -- I take great pride in the expanding role of women in our nation's defense:

"Today military women serve in all jobs and assignments stateside and overseas except in direct ground combat and in units with a high probability of direct enemy contact. They are also prohibited from serving in Special Forces and aboard submarines. There are currently an estimated 344,500 women in the armed forces; on Active Duty, in the National Guard and in the Reserves. They serve in every enlisted rank, and in the officer corps, all but the four-star general/flag officer rank."

I support the integration of women into military units just as I support the integration of gays or any other group that has faced cultural opposition. However, when it comes to combat roles, I hold a stricter -- and less feminist, some might say -- view on physical qualifications, and it has nothing to do with whether a service member has a penis or a vagina.

In short, if a woman can't meet the same physical standards that men must meet, she shouldn't serve in the same role. Period. It's not about denying women an opportunity; it's about getting the job done.

Think about it: If your home were on fire and a female firefighter responded but wasn't physically able to rescue your family, wouldn't you rather have a firefighter -- male or female -- who could get you out of there safely?

Likewise, on the battlefield, it's crucial that every service member -- male and female -- be physically able to fulfill their duties. It's not simply a matter of physical fitness, but as essential to military readiness as weapons and supplies.

The barriers to women serving on subs have been primarily cultural, with minor logistical elements (such as separate facilities and sleeping quarters), and the Navy and Congress made the right decision. But as the Army and Marine Corps consider integrating women into ground combat roles, they must ensure that the same rigorous physical standards remain in place for men and women, for the sake of the mission.


To add a comment, please log in with

Use Your CafeMom Profile

Join CafeMom or Log in to your CafeMom account. CafeMom members can keep track of their comments.

Join CafeMom or Log in to your CafeMom account. CafeMom members can keep track of their comments.

Comment As a Guest

Guest comments are moderated and will not appear immediately.

nonmember avatar Julie Pippert

If they pass the same rigorous tests the men do, though, shouldn't they qualify for the same opportunities? I know some pretty tough and strong women. Me? I don't have the endurance to do the course at Quantico lol. But if a woman could and did, and paced with the men, maybe even ahead of some, does that not reveal the same capability?

I know female firefighters have to run the same courses and tests, for example, and people are assigned positions base don their strengths.

IMHO if you can't do it -- male or female -- you shouldn't qualify. But if you can? You should.

That's what I hear you saying, anyway, right? Just keeping the same standards and qualifying both based on that.

That said, I do believe in differences between men and women. I believe that women's strengths need to be better appreciated and employed at large.

nonmember avatar Melissa

I have no problem with this sort of qualification and neither do the courts. Bona fide occupational qualifications -- being Jewish to teach in a shul, being able to carry X pounds for Y distance as an emergency responder, being able to converse in Spanish to fulfill 911 operator duties, or needing a female model to do an ad for bras -- are fine.

What is NOT fine is that for far too long, having XX instead of XY forestalled the opportunity to even try to fulfill a BFOQ. Should women be allowed to serve on subs? Yes, if they can meet the physical and emotional standards required, provided those standards are truly necessary to operate the boat.

Julie... JulieMarsh

Julie, that's exactly what I'm saying. I don't believe in cultural barriers to opportunities, but I think it's important to acknowledge physical limitations. Such limitations exist among both men and women - that is, not every guy is going to be able to physically fulfill combat duties.

Julie... JulieMarsh

ITA, Melissa. Too often, discrimination masquerades as qualification (and vice versa).

nonmember avatar Tim Berquam

Being a submariner isn't about passing a physical test.  I have known submariners that aren't that strong it becomes a team effort.  I know submariners that aren't that smart, again it becomes a team effort.  It is about the stress of life under the water for months at a time.  Submariners do not need added stress of pheromones.  They don't need sex clouding their mind.  Whether or not they are having sex they are not submitted to the pheromones that women put off allowing them to be free of that instinctual stress.  With women on board they will have atleast a week out of the month where a female is in heat.  It is an added stress that could become deadly.  What happens when they are doing a battery charge and the BCEF is flirting with girl while she is ovaluting instead of watching hydrogen levels?  Don't tell me this won't happen if there is professionalism, because I gaurantee you once someone recieves their dolphins they are a professional submariner but they are still people.  They still have urges, especially three months out on deployment.  This is not about women being inferior, this is about one of the most dangerous professions that people are doing by choice.

gypsi gypsi

we also have to remember that as women our bofies abilities change dramatically with life events such as childbirth. So if you went on leave to have a baby would your physical abilities be re-evaluated? I am old fashioned in my own life. I am content to stay home and keep my family cared for, the laundry done and dinner on the table. I believe this is just as much of a carreer choice as any. And if i wasn't capable of caring for a family I would hope someone would ban me from this too. I certainly am incapable of serving in the military. But more power to those who are able and make that choice. Physical ability is by far the most important factor in deciding who serves where.

Julie... JulieMarsh

Ovulating instead of watching hydrogen levels? Are you f*cking kidding me? Hell yes, it's a profession. And women in the military are professionals, just as much as men are. Glad I never served with any misogynists like you, Tim.

nonmember avatar Tim Berquam

Your lack of concern for how dangerous a submarine is shows how ignorant you are on the situation.  Yes when women are ovulating guys hormones go into overdrive.  Do you doubt this?  This isn't like being on a surface ship where you can walk topside and get some air and clear your mind.  You stand watch, do pm's, sleep, and then repeat.  It isn't about men being better than women, it isn't about who can be more professional.   I like how you pinpointed one point and didn't even think about it.  I am not kidding.  How fast does it take for a battery well to fill up with hydrogen levels that become explosive enough to blow up the whole sub during a battery charge?  Don't know well figure it out.  If you had any kind of clue about sub life you would know that men and women don't mix in that atmospere.  I know this from watching my fellow sailors interact with females on base while we were in the shipyard.  It was not professional and yes the guys only paid attention to the females.  So lie to yourself but please don't lie to others.

Julie... JulieMarsh

Sounds like subs should be manned by females only, since men are so easily distracted from their duties.

gbmom1 gbmom1

Way to stand up for all men and their ability to maintain a professional working relationship with a woman and control themselves, there, Tim. 

1-10 of 12 comments 12 Last