In Afghanistan, Female Marines Defy Gender Roles

A group of female Marines arrived in Afghanistan six months ago with something of a bizarre mission: to access all-female communities in rural Afghanistan that were off-limits to men, by having tea with Pashtun women in their homes.  By forging such connections, the Marines hoped to assess the local need for aid and gain better strategies for opening local clinics and schools.

This mission, however, according to a long article in the New York Times, has allowed these Marines to engage in combat activities that are forbidden to female soldiers, simply because southern Afghanistan is much more dangerous than anyone expected.  According to the article, the women “have shot back in firefights and ambushes, been hit by homemade bombs and lived on bases hit by mortar attacks.”  They have, like their male counterparts, lost weight from the stress, and some have seen marriages or relationships end.  Others have, for the first time, seen fellow soldiers die.

For some women, this is the beginning of a long-sought equality that the U.S. military is still far from extending.  For Captain Emily Naslund, a graduate of the Virginia Military Academy, the Marines are the ultimate proving ground, and the fact that she must say that women simply “accompany” Marine infantry groups on patrols is absurd.

“The current policy on women in combat is outdated and does not apply to the type of war we are fighting,” she wrote in an email quoted in the NYT article.  And although she unwillingly accepts the guidelines imposed on her by the Marines, she will continue to speak out.

Some women have said that they would not volunteer for this mission again – that the death and destruction is too much.  And there are male officers and infantrymen who question the women’s presence and remain resentful of the attention they have received from the news media.

But the experiences of this group of female Marines comes amid criticism of the way that the military defines “combat roles.”  Especially in counterinsurgency missions, there are no definite “front lines”; soldiers are in constant risk of being targeted by insurgents.  Despite all of this, only a few countries allow women to serve in active combat roles, and the U.S. is clearly not one of them.

The article illustrates the extent to which women are still limited by the U.S. military – and to everyone’s detriment.  Women like this company of Marines show that there is nothing inherently gendered about being on the front lines of a war – but even women who openly defy these gender stereotypes still seem to be fighting an uphill battle to change these outdated cultural norms.


Photo from the Department of Defense.


Farhan C.
Farhan C.7 years ago

Alice J.... you haven't been to Marjah, Afghanistan have you? There is still close combat going on there... Insurgents will literally start engaging 40 meters infront of you, and yes there are many situations that my unit was involved in where a Marine gets shot or blown up and needed to be carried by his buddy into some safe cover until the medevac comes in. Its extremely physically demanding... There is ALOT of running and bounding involved when there is a firefight over there and with all that gear(plate carrier with front/back and side plates, water, food, ammunition, metal detector, liter.. etc....) it aint fun.

Farhan C.
Farhan C.7 years ago

i find it funny that people think that just being shot at means your basically a grunt. Getting shot at in a supply convoy and shooting a couple pop shots and driving off is totally different than hiking 5 miles on a mountainous terrain with 100 pounds of weight on our back and setting up an ambush. The difference is grunts run TOWARDS machine gunfire.... whenever these female engagement receive a few pop shots they break contact and let the grunts come in and search and destroy... it isn't the same thing. And no female marines are not trained the same way as grunts... We go through countless field ops and hikes for a work up towards deployment.

Farhan C.
Farhan C.7 years ago

i love how people assume that just because they were there and shot back means that they are doing a grunts job.... There is more to being a grunt then just shooting back and moving away from contact... They still will never conduct ambush patrols or patrols designed to create contact. No, it still isn't the same thing....

Allan Y.
.7 years ago

In Israel, this would not even be a point of discussion.

jane richmond
jane richmond7 years ago

You go Girls!!!

Joel Crowe
Joel Crowe7 years ago

There's nothing to argue here now. These women are trained and are ready for combat. Whatever the situation, they know how to deal with.

Perth tourist guide

Derek H.
Rico H7 years ago

Women should be able to do what ever men do, although maybe we should just stop going to war all together and talk like adults, what kind of example of are sending our kids, if so we should let our kids fight to the death ? Humans hunting humans with guns is so mid-evil.

Jennifer H.

Women have been going into combat since our country began (yes, even in the revolutionary war). The only thing this policy does is prevent women from receiving the extra pay the male soldiers are getting and from receiving recognition for their heroism.
I'm a Navy veteran and I joined the service fully expecting to be placed in a combat situation where my life would be in danger. Anyone who joins the military not knowing that is either deluded or not mature enough to serve their country in that manner.

Sheila N.
sheila s7 years ago

As long as women volunteer for the military and volunteer to be soldiers then they should be allowed to fight in combat. (Personally, I think war is stupid unless it is 100% self defense and I think the U.S. needs to bring all our troops home.) There is nothing more dangerous than a woman protecting her children and it’s that primal instinct that can be a foundation that makes some women outstanding soldiers. I do think recruiters for the military should be required to be honest about the realities of war rather than concentrating on the “see the world… get an education … be somebody” BS. The reality is that war is about killing people to get what you want while they are trying to kill you.

Juan D.
J. Carlo D7 years ago

While everybody here is worried about "women's equality" nobody considers the cultural and societal cost of this unnatural practice. WAR IS UNNATURAL for men!

ANYBODY who sees soldiering as a means to be ALL THAT THEY CAN BE deserve to be pitied. They are obviously brainwashed and "trying" to be something they are not. A bad ass hero...

May be we should only send women to war. Wouldn't it be great to also have lots of women serial killers? Would that please all you feminist bigots?? You would send your own daughters to die just to "feel" the same as men. BUT YOU ARE NOT! AND YOU WILL NEVER BE!