On Wednesday, two female soldiers filed suit to end the U.S. military's restrictions on women in combat. The women are Command Sgt. Maj. Jane Baldwin and Col. Ellen Haring, both currently Army Reservists.
The current restriction bars them from certain assignments solely on the basis of sex which includes infantry, armor and special operations units. Women make up 14.5 percent of active duty military personnel and more than 800 women have been injured and 130 killed in fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The only thing I'm surprised about is that the suit to address sex discrimination took so long. We've had the law preventing it on the books for a long time. France, Germany, Canada, Denmark, Norway and Switzerland already allow females to serve in all duty assignments and Israel and Great Britain allow them to serve in artillery roles.
Hanging on to this policy suggests sex discrimination exists not only in practice but in the mind as well. It implies that women are inferior to men; that there are some jobs women just can't do and it tacitly supports the age-old bias that a woman's preferred role is barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen.
I saw this attitude practiced on the Tulsa Police Department. In a 550-person police department, we had only three women commissioned as police officers and they were all assigned to the Youth Division as soon as they graduated from the police academy.
It was believed they simply weren't suited for patrol duty. It was thought they were small, sensitive and unable to confront the dangers that police officers on patrol confront daily. But once given the chance, the women proved the men wrong again, and today women serve in every area of police work and many towns and cities have women police chiefs. On the other hand, many men discovered they didn't have what it took to be effective police officers and were either dismissed or resigned.
Today, we see women working next to men in practically every job requiring strength, endurance, or bravery except combat roles in the military and hopefully, the suit filed by the two women in the military will rectify that. I know we'll hear "the sky is falling" rhetoric from those who still support the traditional role of the female but their voices become fewer and fewer as time marches on and sooner rather than later will be silenced forever. Our society must allow women the ability to compete for jobs at every level and the only thing restricting them will be their performance, not their sex, just like it has always been for men.
Since affirmative action became a reality, we've found that the old sex stereotypes just don't stand up to the light of day. There are a lot of 'men' that can't do so-called men's jobs and a lot of women that can.
Bias, discrimination, racism, sexism and prejudice will not end just because we pass a law making it illegal. We know that from the Civil Rights movement and the Women's movement fifty years ago. There are still many people in this country who, because of their own personal insecurities, continue to harbor those attitudes in their soul. But changing the law to make it illegal to practice those feelings is the first step toward doing away with them once and for all.
It's a step toward the future rather than hanging on to the past and that's a good thing.