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Female Marine Pullup Failure Doesn’t Mean Women Aren’t Strong

But it should give pause to those who insist that men and women are fully interchangeable. And we should stop pretending that they’re right.

The Associated Press reports:

Beginning this week, all female Marines were supposed to be able to do at least three pullups on their annual physical fitness test and eight for a perfect score. Men have the same minimum requirement but need 20 for a perfect score. The previous minimum standard for women was a timed flexed-arm hang. The new requirement was tested on female recruits at Parris Island last year but only 45 percent of women could do even three.

Now, some might say that this proves women aren’t strong. Hogwash. Women are very strong. To give just one important example, more than 100 million women give birth each and every year. It is an impressive feat of strength. Women also nurse their babies, which is fraught with problems ranging from mastitis to thrush. Women display physical strength in many ways, from athletic prowess to working jobs requiring them to be on their feet all day.

And it doesn’t prove that men are physically superior in every way. To give just one unimportant example, some large percentage of men have such a hard time dealing with the common cold that fantastic comedy sketches are written about it. (“For God’s sake, woman, he’s a man, he’s got a man cold!”)

But to state the obvious, by which I mean I’m about to say something extremely controversial, the average female is not as strong in the upper-body region as the average man. (Again: Please don’t demand I be written out of polite society for noting this truth that was universally acknowledged until roughly 15 minutes ago.) Even at my Crossfit gym, which is full of freakishly strong humans of both sexes, the men routinely outperform the women. And one of the things I love about my gym is that everyone is simply encouraged to do their work to the best of their ability.

So the problem with the fact that most female Marine recruits aren’t meeting even the minimum requirement for upper-body strength isn’t that women aren’t strong. In fact, the problem is not even that men and women have different physical strengths.

The problem is that we are all supposed to pretend that men and women are identical. It doesn’t help men, women, children or the institutions they inhabit to pretend natural differences don’t exist. And here, it’s actually dangerous. We may have forgotten in our rush to drone warfare what actual combat entails. It’s grueling and requires tremendous physical and mental strength and discipline.

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos wants training officials to “continue to gather data and ensure that female Marines are provided with the best opportunity to succeed,” according to a statement from the Marines. The Associated Press then goes on to characterize the truth that “pullups require the muscular strength necessary to perform common military tasks such as scaling a wall, climbing up a rope or lifting and carrying heavy munitions” simply as a “belief” held by the Marine Corps. I wonder where they got that crazy idea. I mean, I can’t scale a wall or climb a rope but I’ve noticed that everyone at my gym who can do these things can also do a pullup. Or 20 pullups. One can read these statements and the backtracking on pullup requirements as a precursor to watering down the skills required to be effective in a Marine combat situation. The story states that if the military decides to keep some positions closed to women, they must explain why.

Success for women should not mean being viewed, contrary to reality, as interchangeable with men in all things. Men and women are both strong but strong in very different ways, both of which contribute mightily to human flourishing.

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