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True Grit

The Myths and Realities of Women in Combat

A U.S. Army cultural support team member with the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force scans the terrain while sitting in a Humvee in Sarobi district, Kabul province, Afghanistan, Dec. 6, 2013. U.S. Department of Defense

By January 1, 2016, all positions in the U.S. military, including frontline combat roles, will become open to women—that is, unless the services seek exceptions before October 1. Whether they do will drastically shape the future of the U.S. military.

The exclusion of women from combat in the United States and elsewhere has persisted primarily because of myths and stereotypes associated with female and male capabilities and the military’s “band of brothers” culture. The most persistent of these myths—that women are physically unfit for the demands of war, that the public cannot tolerate female casualties, and that female soldiers limit the cohesion of troops in combat—have been rigorously dismantled by scholars and female soldiers alike in recent years. Today, most Americans support the inclusion of women in combat.

U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Sienna De Santis and U.S. Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Heidi Dean on a patrol in Sangin Valley, Afghanistan, October 2010.
U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Sienna De Santis and U.S. Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Heidi Dean on a patrol in Sangin Valley, Afghanistan, October 2010. David Hernandez / DOD photo / Handout / REUTERS
But as the services prepare for female integration, a new myth has come to dominate the debate around the

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