The deeper challenge is not physical; it is institutional. From the top down, the corps’ leadership has framed the issue of gender integration as one of physical ability, relying on elaborate studies that address issues like the density of women’s hipbones, the toll of rigorous physical activity on their fertility, and that women’s hearts are proportionally smaller than men’s.
But this ends up being a sort of smokescreen obscuring many other questions that the corps needs to face: Should recruit training remain segregated when the active forces are not? How would a minority of women fare in the infantry’s atmosphere if their integration were mandated? Would it hurt morale? Most important, if gender integration is mandated before real cultural reform, would it result in an increase in sexual assault and workplace harassment, and thus undermine the “trust and confidence” generations of Marines have earned through their service to the American public?
I know the value of the present Marine culture. For eight years, I served as an officer in infantry and Special Operations units. The infantry is the soul of the corps. Marine pilots, tankers and artillerymen all exist to support the infantry and the infantry is all-male. I experienced how this all-male culture nurtures an intense brotherhood, an alchemical bond I’ve seen inspire incredible courage in the deserts of Anbar Province and the choked valleys of the Hindu Kush. The real reason many Marines don’t want women in the infantry is that it will forever change that culture.