Initial entry (or basic) training in the military is an extraordinary experience that imposes extreme demands and stress on new recruits. In this context, mixed-sex training can and does create serious problems affecting military readiness and morale. These include sexual harassment and misconduct, double standards, and concern about unequal or unfair treatment.

Single-sex basic training, on the other hand, provides distinct advantages over mixed-sex training. Single-sex basic training

  • can be extremely effective in challenging young men and young women to exert their individual best efforts to achieve.

  • would generate equal or better results than mixed-sex training in producing well qualified military personnel.

  • would permit trainers to address specific areas for improved performance of each sex.

  • would reduce or avoid the incidence of specific problems associated with mixed-sex training.

Despite the demonstrable advantages of single-sex basic training, both military and civilian leaders in the Pentagon appear unwilling even to consider adopting it, in any way, shape or form. It is up to the U.S. Congress to demand that these leaders put the interests of national defense and the well-being of military recruits and personnel above their own personal prejudices and career interests.

As a result of recent reports of sexual misconduct in the military, congressional leaders have called for separation of male and female recruits in initial entry basic training in all services. Currently only the Marine Corps employs single-sex basic training. Representative Roscoe Bartlett, together with numerous co-sponsors, has submitted a bill (H.R. 1559) to require all branches of the military to provide single-sex basic training. Both civilian and military leaders have indicated they prefer mixed-sex training to continue.

Mixed-sex training was reinstated in the early 1990s after having been tried and discontinued in the early 1980s. The reason for cancelling the previous mixed-sex experiment was that it was ineffective. Female recruits suffered excessive physical injuries, and male recruits were not physically challenged when competing with women.

Numerous studies have documented physical differences between men and women in the military. The Presidential Commission on Women in the Military (1992) reviewed a large compilation of studies and data on the subject. The Presidential Commission learned that, on average, men as a group are larger, stronger, faster and have higher levels of endurance than women. In addition, women as a group have less muscle and bone mass and more fat mass than men, and women possess substantially less upper torso strength than men, as well as significantly reduced aerobic capacity. Injuries to women typically associated with basic training (such as stress fractures) reflect these differences.

The military services have addressed physical differences between men and women in several ways: Reduced standards for both sexes; separate standards for men and women; and “gender-normed” standards, under which scores and requirements are adjusted (essentially, graded on a curve) to avoid unacceptable failure rates by women. These adjusted standards apply not only for purposes of basic training but also in determining later qualifications and assignments.

Predictably, permitting double standards in the military has led to morale problems, evidenced by complaints, attrition, withdrawals and “sexual harassment.” The military services define “sexual harassment” to include any comments critical of military policies establishing dual standards for men and women. Military personnel are literally prohibited from expressing private, personal opinions about the fact that men and women are subject to different requirements. A General Accounting Office (GAO) study on sexual harassment at the military academies, released in June 1992, revealed that the vast majority of complaints about “sexual harassment” actually referred to comments about double standards for men and women.

Nonetheless the military services have also experienced an apparent increase in sexual misconduct, illustrated by recent scandals widely reported in the media. Even those who believe women should be thoroughly integrated in the military admit that fundamental policy changes are necessary if men and women are to work in close and constant proximity as military service requires. Gender-integration proponents recommend stronger enforcement of discipline, expanded “human relations training,” and even changing the culture of the military. Skeptics say the wiser course is to acknowledge the power of human nature but not compromise the essential mission of the military-to fight and win wars in defense of our country.

The arguments in favor of mixed-sex training are flawed and do not support the military’s current policies against single-sex training. Notions that “we must train the same way we fight” and “we can’t turn the clock back” are nothing but empty slogans. We must train and fight effectively, and make decisions based on the needs of the military, not individuals or interest groups. There is no proven advantage to mixed-sex training. Recent studies evaluating the performance of mixed-sex programs suffer from methodological problems and bias, but even the most favorable reports reveal that, at best, mixed-sex programs produce results about equal with single-sex programs.

Actual experience shows that mixed-sex training raises serious problems relating to sex and sex differences. The key distinction between single-sex and mixed-sex programs is the presence or absence of the opposite sex. Marine Corps personnel say that single-sex training improves performance because it eliminates the distraction of the opposite sex, allowing recruits to concentrate on the all-consuming task of transforming themselves from civilians to Marines. Single-sex training also reduces the opportunities for sexual misconduct to take place, particularly if (as the Bartlett bill provides) drill instructors are of the same sex as trainees.

With well-designed programs, single-sex training can actually improve recruits’ physical performance and adaptation to the military. Male recruits, for example, might thrive under more adversative-style discipline, while female recruits could benefit from special exercises to increase their physical strength and endurance. The most distasteful criticism of single-sex training is that “respect will not be accorded to all-female training programs.” There is utterly no basis for such a comment. If the program sets high standards and pursues them with integrity, it will be respected. What is truly unworthy of respect is the foolish pretense that women and men are the same and sex doesn’t matter.

Another foolish pretense that should not be dignified with respect is the idea that military personnel? generally support the “gender” policies promoted by their leaders. We at the Independent Women’s Forum hear continually from military men and women, officers and enlisted, who urge us to speak out for them, because they cannot express their own views publicly. Gender-integration proponents have used highly publicized cases (for example, that of Navy Lieutenant Commander Ken Carkhuff) to send a chilling message to all military personnel: To appear in opposition to any aspect of gender integration is to forfeit your military career.

The great majority of men and women who serve in uniform are quite willing to sacrifice their personal wishes in order to serve the needs of the national defense. Precisely because of their loyalty and sense of duty they cannot speak out against gender-integration policies. Nevertheless they observe that these policies often have the effect of subordinating the interests of national defense to the interests of individuals and groups demanding “opportunity.”

Loyal military personnel need leadership. Unfortunately, leadership in matters of “gender” is not to be found in today’s Pentagon; it must come from the Congress and the American people.