Monday, 06 January 2014 10:15

Military Gender Issue Reignites as 45 Percent of Female Marines Fail Pull-up Test

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A brief announcement on the U.S. Marine Corps' social networking site was enough to set off another round in the gender wars: "Corps postpones pull-ups for women & female Marines."

The reason was simple: Despite being given more than a year’s warning that pull-ups would be the only option for testing females’ upper body strength in the Corps’ Physical Fitness Test (PFT) starting January 1, only 45 percent of those tested at Paris Island, South Carolina, met the bare minimum of three. In the wisdom of the Marine Corps, this was the minimum “muscular strength required to perform common military tasks such a scaling a wall, climbing up a rope or lifting and carrying heavy munitions.”

The delay is for an undetermined period of time because its implementation ran “the risk of losing recruits and hurting retention of women already in the service,” according to the Associated Press.

This is part of the plan of gradually install females into combat positions in the U.S. armed forces, starting in 2016. Said Marine Corps Commandant General James Amos, the Corps wants to “continue to gather data and ensure that female Marines are provided with the best opportunity to succeed.” In the interim, they may continue to opt out of the pull-up requirement in favor of the much less demanding “flexed-arm hang” which requires only that the soldier to hang with her chin above the bar for a minimum of 15 seconds.

This isn't the first time that females have been unable to complete tasks assigned to males in the Corps. In September, 15 female and 266 male Marines took the Corps’ grueling two-month infantry course, carrying 85-pound packs and rifles and engaging in various obstacle courses while at the same time learning how to shoot, launch grenades, conduct patrols, and avoid IEDs (roadside bombs). Of the men, 221 made it through the course, while just three women finished. Earlier 20 female Marines attempted to complete the even more difficult officers’ training course, and none passed.

Differences in gender have been reflected in PFTs for years. At present a perfect score for a male requires 20 pull-ups, 100 crunches in less than two minutes, and a three-mile run in 18 minutes or less. For a female a perfect score requires only the flexed arm hang for 70 seconds, 100 crunches, and a 21-minute three-mile run.

The only way “equality” on the PFTs can be achieved will be to lower the bar for women, according to James Joyner, writing for Outside the Beltway:

It’s pretty clear that very few women are cut out for the infantry. Thus far, in tests conducted with the most highly motivated and physically fit women the Marine Corps can find, zero women have made it through [the] infantry officer training and only a handful have made it through the enlisted course….

We’re never going to be able to produce female grunts in large [numbers] without lowering standards.

This was confirmed in a statement by Captain Maureen Krebs, acting as a spokeswoman for the Marine commandant: "The commandant has no intent to introduce a standard that would negatively affect the current status of female Marines or their ability to continue serving in the Marine Corps."

The founder of the Center for Military Readiness, Elaine Donnelly, said that some allowances can be made for female Marines serving behind the lines, but they cannot be made for those intending to serve at the front:

Gender-specific allowances to improve fitness can be justified in basic and entry-level exercises. [But] they are not acceptable in training for infantry combat, where lives and missions depend upon individual strength, endurance, team cohesion and trust for survival….

Thirty years of studies and reports … have confirmed that in the close combat environment, women do not have the equal opportunity to survive, or to help fellow soldiers survive.

The Marine Corps no doubt will find a way to soften the requirements while keeping them “equal.” According to Donnelly, one may soon expect to read about how new “gender-neutral” standards will include fitness testing standards that are measured using “gender-normed” scores: a distinction intending to hide the difference. 

Fitness experts think that the real difference in performance is because of genetic makeup and that training approaches may only help close the gap a little. As Richard Liegy noted wryly in the Washington Post: "Putting physiology, social policy, behavioral theory and military doctrine aside, it appears that for reasons known only to the Maker, men and women are different."

Is it too much to ask that such a revelation inform the commandant and his superiors who at present think there should be no difference between genders, and that any apparent difference can be erased by changing the numbers?


A graduate of Cornell University and a former investment advisor, Bob is a regular contributor to The New American magazine and blogs frequently at, primarily on economics and politics. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

1 comment

  • Comment Link Old Mullet Monday, 06 January 2014 23:27 posted by Old Mullet

    When a male wants to join a "physically challenging" group, he (9 of 10 times) will exercise to his max before trying out. This applies to sports, contests, jobs, and careers. Many women have the same fortitude so why should some be allowed to be any different. It is a fact (ask any physical trainer) that most women can exceed the basic standards for military entry. They can also (some must "study") exceed most practical skill exams. Why then are the men supposed to accept less serious individuals as part of a group who MUST be able to protect each other physically and mentally? Most of the basic indoctrination is to find out who can "cut it" under physical and mental stress in life and death situations. WHY is that too much to be expected by those touting a desire to be treated "equally"? After all of the above has been resolved, what about the natural differences in hormonal and biological concerns? Women have been blessed with the ability to birth children. This is a wondrous thing but it does have it's "drawbacks" in certain areas. The natural physical and mental (chemical) changes required of their bodies makes them (obviously) different than men. Some of those very differences hinder rather than encourage optimum service in areas of combat. Those who have a way to stop those long term natural changes/differences should have no problem to meet or even exceed standards. Severe environments, extended exposure to certain combat elements of war, potential torture methods, and other differences preclude action in the most common of military duties. Sure there are many areas where men and women can, and do, have tasks and duties in common. Unfortunately, where is the discrimination in one sex having the majority of the violent tasks and the other having the majority of the environment controlled tasks? This equal but different positioning has worked well for centuries and it has been understood as not being discrimination but the best use of resources to get the job done. When does separation of task performance cease to be discriminatory? Therein lies the truth of fairness for all. Having "set asides" and "handicaps" allowing same job descriptions but lesser commitment on one group than another becomes the reverse discrimination of the deadly form.

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