Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Australian women - coming to a frontline near you.

Since yesterday's news that women will now be allowed into frontline combat roles, the radio has provided interesting listening.  When I wasn't yelling at it.

According to the article in The Age these kinds of jobs make up 17 per cent of all Australian Defence Force jobs.  They had previously been closed to women simply because they were women.  Now women will be able to do these jobs as long as they meet the physical and psychological requirements.  Just like any other job.

When I arrived home yesterday I switched on the ABC radio to hear Neil James, the Executive Director of the Australian Defence Association, going toe to toe with announcer Waleed Ali.  Of course James is against the idea of women on the frontline - he represents an organisation where there isn't a single woman on the Board of Directors.  I've heard his bizarre argument before when he appeared on ABC television's show "Q and A": women are unsuited to frontline roles because they have a greater chance of being killed than men.  I've never heard him actually explain his argument.  Any time the line of questioning is pursued, he attacks the questioner. I switched off when he explained that the physical demands of frontline combat roles threaten only a hernia for men, but women end up with a collapsed uterus.

On the other side of the equation ABC local radio's Jon Faine interviewed a young woman who is excited at the prospect of having the opportunity to fight for her country, having been working for Defence as a civilian.  I'm not excited by the prospect of fighting on the frontline of a war, but if that's what she wants and she now can have it, then good luck to her.  What made me angry this morning was the line of questioning put to her and other speakers:

"Why do you want to kill people?"
"The role of a soldier or anyone involved in a combat role is to kill."
"And you're looking forward to it?  Excited at the prospect?"

A man contemplating military service would never be asked these questions.  A man would never be accused of having blood lust because he had decided to serve in the defence forces in a combat role.

Then the questions became patronising:
"It is the quintessentially blokey environment you want to break into - you can't be unaware of that?"
"You're going to have to fight that battle before you get to fight any other battle." (Starting right here with this interview, I thought.)
"It's also the difference between what a defence force does in peace and what a defence force is called upon to do in times of war. Do you understand the difference...?"

You can hear on the podcast that the young woman acquitted herself very well.  I thought that was a miracle because I was ready to throw something at the radio.

After reading a selection of text messages, we went to an interview with the Defence Personnel Minister, Warren Snowdon.

"How can you find out whether or not they [women] can do the job until they do the job in combat?"

Oh for goodness sake - doesn't the same situation apply to any person?  male or female?

Then came the most extraordinary question of all.  Basically it boiled down to the recruitment of women costing more because of absenteeism due to child bearing.  The ultimate argument against women being recruited to ANY job. I can't believe that this argument was being put.  In Australia. In 2011.

And what does the whole discussion say about our view of men?  That their lives are somehow more expendable, less valuable than women's?  That they are more capable of killing and that's desirable?

I'd prefer the discussion to be about how the world can work towards having no need of military forces at all!


  1. Like you, my blood was boiling whilst I listened to that Podcast. Didn't Natalie Sambhi do well in how she answered those questions though?
    Another great 'divacultura' blog and an enlightening read! Pip

  2. I was glad I could find the podcast to let you listen, but sorry it made your blood boil! Natalie Sambhi handled herself very well - I agree!
    Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment, Pip.