Women to serve in US submarines in 2011

US submarine service has been considered elite service and open only to men.  In the fall of 2011, that will change.  CNN says:

The change in policy was recommended by the top naval officer, Adm. Gary Roughead; the secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus; and Gates. No Navy leaders opposed the plan, officials said.

Women on submarines and gays openly serving in the military raise some of the same issues, particularly those concerned with sexual attraction among people living together in tight quarters.   While no Navy leaders objected, it’s likely some of the officers off camera did.  “No, it’s impossible,” I heard someone who used to serve on submarines say recently.  “If you have to  pass  someone in a corridor of a submarine, you are going to be really rubbing against one another.  You just can’t have this going on with men and women.”

Imagine a hall before a conference room where that was necessary!   Privacy is another concern and CNN tells us:

The Navy will implement the policy change by assigning three female officers to eight different crews of guided-missile attack and ballistic-missile submarines. … Smaller, fast-attack submarines are considered to be too small to accommodate the necessary infrastructure change in living quarters that is possible on the larger subs, Navy officials explained.

Perhaps the corridors are wider.

18 thoughts on “Women to serve in US submarines in 2011

  1. Oh, man. If boobie rubbing is a problem, then why don’t they just have gender segregated subs–women serve with women and men serve with men? Or do they think that women are all so hormonal the boobie rubbing might turn them all gay? :-P

  2. I’m really curious what the general opinion is here, on women serving on subs.

    I have no issue with it. My experience is that women in minority numbers in military duty, are generally plenty tough enough to handle it. There will of course be issues, but what situation is there with people packed in like sardines, that doesn’t have issues?

  3. It might be interesting to see if some powerhouse of a woman ever breaks into the SEALs someday. That’s some brutal training for anybody, though–male or female.

    (I admit it. I watch the SEALs training on the military channel because I find it erotic. But let’s not objectify young men either ;-))

  4. I think it’s great that they’re going to allow women more opportunities within the armed forces, but given military culture and the attitudes toward/treatment of women who are serving in the military, it does worry me a bit. *Not* that I think women shouldn’t be allowed to serve on submarines, it’s just that given how poorly military rape is currently addressed, I wonder what will happen.

  5. Kathryn has a very good point. I also worry a bit about pregnancy, although I suppose deployments are usually only six months, so recall for deliver won’t be an issue as much as the lack of prenatal care… I think an all female sub makes more sense than a mixed sub, although I suppose that to train people, for now mixed subs are the only way to do it.

  6. Carl, it will be interesting to see, when women do get sufficiently trained and have some years in that branch, whether they will be given ships to command.

    I think that subs have at least one doctor on board, and while he (surely) won’t be trained to treat pregnancies, he’d be able to do a lot of basic stuff about blood pressure and so on.

    I wonder if anyone is surprised at the interest the military has had in the sexual behavior of their officers and enlisted people. I’m wondering whether a tradition of an all-male service has ended up foregrounding issues of sex and sexuality. And then there’s the tension between that and the professional appearance that has to be displayed.

    And of course there are other all-male or mostly all-male organizations where the same question could be raised.

    So, for example, if guys in submarines are sitting around commenting on what they’d feel like doing to women they have to scrunch up against on a submarine, what’s going on in other male fields? Might there be clues in thinking about this that would explain the following extraordinary behavior:

    [Austrian] Father Krenn, who became a bishop in 1987, also had a reputation for being a loose cannon. In 2004, he had to retire early after dismissing the discovery at his seminary of a large cache of child pornography and images of young priests having sex as “boyish pranks.”

    from: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/27/world/europe/27vienna.html?pagewanted=2

  7. That’s an interesting point, JJ. I always assumed that the priesthood turned pedophile because they’re not allowed to get off at all.

    Am I interpreting this properly? That rape as power&coercion, be it against a woman or a child (and sometimes men–I can think of a recent war where male rape was used as a form of torture) might be more a product of mobocracy in close quarters than disrespect from one person or another directed at the victim(s)?

  8. It seems to me it’s a balancing act. On the one hand, if a female personnel can meet the qualifications and standards required to perform the duty, whether it be subs or SEALS, then the fact of her gender should be a moot point if the value of equality is meant to be substantially upheld.

    However, such equality must be understood in the context of predominantly male-on-female assault within the US military. According to the ’09 report from SAPR, the ratio of (reported) sexual assaults to military personnel is about 2:1, which is somewhat higher than the national figure (1.5:1). That represents a legitimate concern for the safety and well-being of qualified personnel; but the fact of their gender doesn’t.

  9. Xena, really I hadn’t a complete thesis of any sort. I was supposing discourse about one’s desires might lend them legitimacy. So I thought of the bishop who dismissed a hoard of child porno as due to “boyish pranks,” might indicate a background legitimizing discourse. And really that’s as far as I had gotten.

    Kathryn and Karaka have raised the issue of how poorly rape in the military is dealt with. There really do seem to be definite parallels with the priesthood and with academia in this case.

  10. I don’t know much about the psychology of rape, but it seems plausible that in an institution with any sort of hegemony (e.g. gender hegemony in the military) there might be a culture of disregard or disrespect for the non-dominant group, just in virtue of the fact that their interests are unlikely to be of central concern for the group as a whole. I don’t think gender hegemony would necessarily cause rape, but I think it could enable those who might rape anyway, but under ordinary circumstances would deterred by social pressure not to.

  11. One of the reasons why the Navy is integrating subs is because of the brainpower it was losing by excluding women. Our military is an elite force is because it is always adapting and looking for ways to improve. And today women are earning 60% of the college degrees. So, in order for the Navy to fill those positions with the “best and brightest” they really had no choice but to allow women onboard the subs.

    “One reason the Navy seeks to integrate women on submarines is that they make up a growing percentage of college graduates, including engineers. “There is a vast pool of talent that we are neglecting in our recruiting efforts,” a senior official said.”” (from Wash. Post article below)


    This situation is similar to when women were first allowed to be fighter pilots years ago. Allowing women to fill fighter pilot positions has increased the level of competition for those positions. It’s no longer a job that is open to “men only” anymore. So, it’s safe to say that women now filling positions as fighter pilots has improved the pilot program…otherwise, those positions would have been filled by lesser qualified men.

    In my opinion, allowing women to fill those positions only makes our military better.

  12. Yeah–about 50% of technical degrees are now being earned by female students, which changes the pool of qualified candidates significantly. And though the policy is only being altered for officer personnel for the time being, it’s very likely it will change for enlisted personnel as well if the policy change proves successful (as it surely will).

  13. Don and K: Wow! I’m struck by how things are changing! A lot of people have worked on a large number of things over many years to make the changes possible. It’s been done bird by bird.

  14. jj,

    I too am struck by the rapid changes. I realize alot of people have worked on a large number of things to make the changes possible, but I think that the education level of women today compared to that of men that is the major factor in the changes. Just by reading the numbers from the article below it is interesting to see how women are leaving men far behind at every level of higher education.


    “In fact, a gender education gap, in which women are far outpacing men in terms of educational achievement, has been quietly growing in America over the past few decades. In 2009, for instance, women will earn more degrees in higher education than men in every possible category, from associate level to Ph.D.s, according to the U.S. Department of Education. When it comes to master’s-level education, for instance, U.S. women earn 159 degrees for every 100 awarded to men.” (from the article above)

    Wow. With women now earning 58% of all college degrees annually things are obviously going to change. It’s no wonder why the Navy changed it policy to put women on subs. Like Karaka stated, “the pool of qualified candidates changed significantly.” At this rate women are going to greatly increase their presence in the officer ranks since those positions require college degrees. While women will increasingly fill the officer/leadership positions in the near future, I think that the enlisted ranks will remain dominated by men since college degrees are not required at those levels.

    Anyway, it is good news for women and the Navy and miltary. But for men, it’s not going to be easy competing against women for job positions from here on out. I really think the U.S. has turned a corner. In my opinion the quote in the above article is very accurate…

    “Women really have become the dominant gender,” said Guy Garcia, author of “The Decline of Men.” “What concerns me is that guys are rapidly falling behind. Women are becoming better educated than men, earning more than men, and, generally speaking, not needing men at all. Meanwhile, as a group, men are losing their way.” “The United States may have officially entered the age of woman.”

  15. Interesting thoughts, Don, but I’d like to know where Guy Garcia got his statistics from – I don’t think it’s true that women are earning more than men in the US.

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