Equal Outcomes and Equal Opportunity Are Not the Same Things

As part of Defense Department surveys meant to determine the feasibility and effectiveness associated with opening full combat roles to women in the armed forces, in recent years some of the services have experimentally enrolled females into traditional all-male schools on a voluntary basis. Three years ago, the Marine Corps opened its grueling Infantry Officer Course (IOC) to females for the first time; similarly, the Army solicited female volunteers for its vaunted Ranger School as well. To date, no woman has successfully completed and graduated either school.

On its face, this seems to suggest that servicewomen simply cannot meet the tough physical (or perhaps other) standards that the respective schools require (in addition to other supporting findings). Some debate also surrounds what exactly the relatively low numbers of volunteer turnout means, with respect to actual demand (at least within the ranks) for such opportunities. But this latter point is one left for discussion at another time.

To be fair, both schools experience relatively high attrition rates overall. The Marines’ IOC historically realizes a 25% attrition rate; the Army’s Ranger School has seen an attrition of 52% in recent years. Additionally, female attrition may be misleadingly skewed in light of the aforementioned scarcity of volunteers. Also, given how long men have been eligible to attend these courses, coupled with the relative static nature of the standards in question, it is reasonable to assume that women have not experienced the same degree of preparation opportunity as their male counterparts to successfully participate in these courses. All that said, however, it is very unlikely that such disproportionate outcomes will significantly change going forward, regardless of the levels of preparation afforded either men or women. The fact of the matter is that the courses in question are very difficult physically, and men and women are naturally, biologically unequal (which is just another way of saying different) across the aggregate populations with respect to physical capabilities and performance.

Ultimately, the real question here – despite these measurable and demonstrable physical differences – is whether or not equality of opportunity is being satisfied. I believe it is in this specific context. There is no way to affect equal outcomes without treating people unequally in the face of these specific factors. Either all standards must be lowered across-the-board to allow greater numbers of women to pass (and consequently result in greater numbers of men to pass as well, thereby maintaining a similar equal opportunity with a proportionally unequal outcome), or, the standards must be enforced differently (i.e., unequally) for men and women in such a calculated way as to achieve a roughly equal outcome (for example, an attrition rate of 50% for both sexes).

Despite this inherent contextual relationship between opportunity and outcomes, and as predicted, certain special interest sectors of American society view equal outcomes as being the same as equal opportunity – a foolish conclusion at best. Already, calls mount to lower physical combat standards for women in response to these experimental results. To be sure, it is one thing to determine that certain “standards… are no longer relevant in today’s battlefield.” On its face, if all standards were lowered (or raised) equally with no special regard to the sexes, then a concept of equal opportunity is still supported. The consequences of altering such standards on combat performance, mission accomplishment, and leadership effectiveness are real and should be factored into any policy review, but are also separate considerations from the simple question of equal opportunity. If such standards are lowered (or raised) unequally to facilitate certain predetermined political desires for gender integration or so-called “gender norming,” then the very opposite of equal opportunity has taken place.

In the end, women (or indeed, anyone) can never practicably hope for full acceptance, respect, or perceived equality in any organization if they are not meeting the same standards as their contemporaries in the said organization. This is the perhaps harsh, but nonetheless undeniable, reality that so many egalitarians fail to recognize as they do more damage than good in pursuit of their ill-conceived social engineering goals.

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