News | May 14, 2019

Warrior Women: 3,000 Years in the Fight

By Mary Raum Joint Force Quarterly 93

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Dr. Mary Raum is a Professor and Swanee Hunt Academic Chair in Women Peace and Security at the U.S. Naval War College.

Sergeant Brooke Grether, U.S. Army Reserve military police Soldier and gunnery crew truck commander with 603rd MP Company, out of Belton, Missouri, poses for portrait after finishing gunnery lane at Fort Riley, Kansas, May 18, 2018 (U.S. Army Reserve/Michel Sauret)
Sergeant Brooke Grether, U.S. Army Reserve military police Soldier and gunnery crew truck commander with 603rd MP Company, out of Belton, Missouri, poses for portrait after finishing gunnery lane at Fort Riley, Kansas, May 18, 2018 (U.S. Army Reserve/Michel Sauret)
Sergeant Brooke Grether, U.S. Army Reserve military police Soldier and gunnery crew truck commander with 603rd MP Company, out of Belton, Missouri, poses for portrait after finishing gunnery lane at Fort Riley, Kansas, May 18, 2018 (U.S. Army Reserve/Michel Sauret)
Sergeant Brooke Grether, U.S. Army Reserve military police Soldier and gunnery crew truck commander with 603rd MP Company, out of Belton, Missouri, poses for portrait after finishing gunnery lane at Fort Riley, Kansas, May 18, 2018 (U.S. Army Reserve/Michel Sauret)
Sergeant Brooke Grether, U.S. Army Reserve military police Soldier and gunnery crew truck commander with 603rd MP Company, out of Belton, Missouri, poses for portrait after finishing gunnery lane at Fort Riley, Kansas, May 18, 2018 (U.S. Army Reserve/Michel Sauret)
Photo By: Master Sgt. Michel Sauret
VIRIN: 190514-D-BD104-001

They fought like devils, far better than the men.

— Georges Clémenceau, Mayor,
18th Arrondissement, referring to women of the Paris Commune, during France’s republican uprising, 1871

Three stories: blood, guts, and hand-to-hand combat.

Story 1: 40 AD. Four decades after the birth of Christ, the Vietnamese Tru’ng Sisters rise to lead their people after successfully thwarting a Chinese attempt to dominate their country.1 Coming from a society where both sexes work, practice law, and serve as judges, they are encouraged by their families to study the principles of the martial arts. As resistance and freedom fighters, they capture and decapitate their Chinese prisoners and reclaim 65 city fortifications. Both sisters are experts in knife fighting and ride into the fray atop two white elephants in full battle armor, their ornately carved breastplates signaling their status as nobility. The sight of the monolithic beasts and the two women wielding handheld weapons instills fear in their enemies and breaks their ranks. While in command, Tru’ng Tac and Tru’ng Nhi school and place in positional authority many generals, 36 of whom are women. Numbers differ, but their troops, composed of peasants and aristocracy, range in size of from 20,000 to 80,000 combatants. The Tru’ng Sisters are regarded as national heroines of Vietnam, with many temples, schools, and streets dedicated to them, and there is a yearly holiday that commemorates their deaths.

Female tank instructors of School of Infantry Professions conducted drill with Nagmachon tanks and armed hummers, January 1, 2013 (Israel Defense
Forces/Zev Marmorstein)
Female tank instructors of School of Infantry Professions conducted drill with Nagmachon tanks and armed hummers, January 1, 2013 (Israel Defense Forces/Zev Marmorstein)
Female tank instructors of School of Infantry Professions conducted drill with Nagmachon tanks and armed hummers, January 1, 2013 (Israel Defense
Forces/Zev Marmorstein)
Female tank instructors of School of Infantry Professions conducted drill with Nagmachon tanks and armed hummers, January 1, 2013 (Israel Defense Forces/Zev Marmorstein)
Female tank instructors of School of Infantry Professions conducted drill with Nagmachon tanks and armed hummers, January 1, 2013 (Israel Defense Forces/Zev Marmorstein)
Photo By: Zev Marmorstein
VIRIN: 190514-D-BD104-002

Story 2: 60 AD. In 54 AD, after Emperor Nero comes to power, he begins to energize the flagging effort of his predecessor, Claudius, to control Briton by sending troops to the Welsh border country to subdue one of the last strongholds against Roman rule. Tacitus, a Roman senator and historian, pens in his Annals, Book XIV, all the known details of the campaign under the subheading “Romans and the Druids at Mona Island.” He portrays the fear of his soldiers when they set sight upon a Celtic Iceni female leader, “causing their limbs to be paralyzed.”2 Statesman and historian Cassius Dio also writes about the invasion with the Druids: “a terrible disaster occurred in Britain. Two cities were sacked, eighty thousand of the Romans and their allies perished, and the island was lost to Rome. Moreover, all this ruin was brought upon the Romans by a woman, a fact which caused them the greatest shame.”3

The point that a female commander is at the helm of the defense of Mona is not peculiar to Britons at the time; there is no division between a person’s sex and his or her rise to the role of military commander. Celtic women hold high status in the ancient world for the liberties and social positions they claim. Compared to their counterparts in Greek, Roman, and other ancient societies, they are allowed many freedoms and protections under the law.

Boudicca, the female ruler of the Iceni tribes to which these ancient documents refer, fights the Romans after she is captured, flogged, and beaten. The invaders tie her two daughters to wooden stakes, and she is forced to watch as the legion of heavy infantry gang-rape them. Cassius Dio, in his description of her, stated, “she is tall with flaming red hair, terrifying to look at with a fierce gaze and a harsh, powerful voice . . . grasp[ing] a long spear to strike dead all those who set eyes on her.”4 With an arrogant tone, he added, “this woman possessed greater intelligence than is usually found in the female sex.”5 Boudicca is excellent with a sword and gifted in hand to hand combat, but her trademark is her ability to maneuver a two-horse chariot. In acknowledgment of the brutal treatment of her daughters by the invaders, she rides into what is modern-day Colchester and sacks the city. Returning the vengeance applied to her daughters, she is particularly intent on killing the Roman women and impales all of them on outsize gibbets, or suspends their corpses from trees, cutting off the upper fronts of their bodies and sewing the severed fragments to their mouths. Before turning the community into a pile of smoldering ash, the Iceni Queen makes a fiery speech in which she affirms Celtic women as embodiment and soul of the lands from which they arise. Her expert tribal guerrilla tactics are no match over time, however, against the highly organized and outsized enemy forces, but she has a definitive impact on turning the enemy soldiers away from her people.

Today, the Iceni Queen is well known throughout the United Kingdom. During the reign of Queen Victoria, a likeness of Boudicca and her two daughters was commissioned and cast in bronze by the royal family and Parliament’s engineer and sculptor, Thomas Thornycroft. The statue sits on a plinth beside the Victoria Embankment next to Westminster Bridge and the House of Parliament in downtown London. This line from William Cowper’s Boadicea, An Ode, is inscribed on the side of the artwork, “Regions Caesar never knew, thy posterity shall sway.”6

Story 3: 17th Century. The troops are a ferocious sight, advancing silently from the African bush, barefoot, wielding clubs and knives. They walk through acacia, a low-growing dense plant with white, spiny hooked razor-sharp thorns. Each undergoes the same exhaustive drills to become insensitive to fighting and impervious to pain. One methodology to harden them to battle is to have all recruits heave bound prisoners of war into an angry crowd and watch unmoving, as the captives are torn apart. Most lethal of the warriors are the Reapers, armed with 3-foot-long straight razors so they can slice the enemy in two. An artistic rendering of one of the troops shows a standing fighter with a musket, club, dagger, and an enemy’s severed head, blood dripping to the ground. These fighting elite are women in the service of the African King of Dahomey. Within their realm, they are held in high esteem and valued as warriors. Two accounts exist regarding their roots. The first is that they formed sometime in the early 1600s, as gbeto, meaning “big game hunter.” Malian society, where the gbeto live, is considered progressive for the time due to their valuing education and exchanging scholars with China, Europe, and the Middle East. Other histories describe the women as serving as armed palace guards, later forming into the Black Sparta combat troops of King Gezo, in the region of modern-day Benin in West Africa.7 Female generals oversee their ranks, and they serve 40 continuous years as a significant part of Gezo’s military forces.

These stories are only three of thousands of accounts of women combatants that exist in historical archives of war. It has not been until the last two decades that such exploits are appearing as important additions to the timeline of conflict. One of the reasons for the missing factual knowledge and understanding about these women is that their experiences have been purposely written out of the chronology of historical records.8 A 2012 opinion piece by Bettany Hughes, an English historian, author, and broadcaster who specializes in classical studies, asserts that not only have women’s exploits been deleted, but also their wisdom and insights about religion, codes, hadiths, texts, and statecraft.9 Hughes discloses that women may only occupy a mere 0.5 percent of about 3,500 years of recorded history.10 At Stanford University, extensive work by one of the world’s leading scholars and researchers of female antiquities, Adrienne Mayor, writes in The Amazons that there is conclusive evidence today that many tales of women warriors thought to be fictional are facts.11 Support for her studies exists in data derived from recent archeological digs. Fifty ancient burial mounds near the town of Pokrovka, Russia, close to the Kazakhstan border, are yielding women’s skeletons alongside their weapons. Such excavations are adding to the credibility of the Greek historian Herodotus’ accounts that depict numerous instances of female fighters. At other archeological sites from ancient Eurasia, up to 40 percent of military graves being upturned contain the bones and weapons of horsewomen who fought alongside men. Lying with them are arrows, swords, daggers, armor, shields, spears, and sling stones.12

Women Combatants: A Global Review of Their Exploits

Geographically, from the North American continent, eastward to the nations of Asia, and across many eras, women show they are talented and ruthless as combatants and leaders in war. There is no question; they are physically and psychologically able to thrive in battle situations. In the 1800s in North America, Buffalo Calf Road Woman (also known as Brave Woman) of the Northern Cheyenne fights with her husband at the Battle of Little Big Horn. In 2005, breaking a century of silence among tribal elders about discussing George Armstrong Custer, she is publicly credited as the warrior who strikes the blow that knocks the cavalry commander off his horse.13 Running Eagle of the Piegan Tribe of the Blackfoot Nation participates in several successful raids and war parties. In a battle with the Flathead, she is explicitly targeted by the enemy after field intelligence confirms there is a strong woman warrior among her people. The enemy singles her out for killing before they enter battle, clubbing her from behind astride her warhorse. Dahteste, a Choconen Apache warrior woman, is a successful raider and compatriot to Geronimo serving as a translator and mediator during the U.S. Cavalry negotiation for his tribe’s surrender. Lozen, born into the Chihenne Band, is considered a strategic genius in planning and orchestrating battles. She is so effective in her ability to predictably determine the enemy’s movements that her nation claims she is born with shaman powers. Vittorio, her brother and the Chief of the Warm Springs band of the Tchihendeh division of the central Apaches, talks about her in respectful tones, stating, “She is my right hand. She is a shield to her people . . . as strong as a man, braver than most, and cunning in strategy.”14

The Southern Hemisphere has the fewest recorded examples of women warriors, but there are some illustrations worth noting. During the great age of maritime exploration of the early 1500s, there are eyewitness accounts by navigators that see female warriors on the tributaries of the great rivers on the South American continent. Explorer and conquistador Francisco de Orellana relates that during his traverse of the entire length of the Amazon, he encounters warrior women skilled in the use of bordunas. Depicted as tall, with muscular physiques and well trained, the women are lethal additions to fights due to their aptitude in the use of the bow and arrow. Other European expedition histories describe women skilled in martial arts and ground combat inhabiting the Andes.15

On the continent of Africa, Dahomey women are not the only female warriors. Greek histories report seeing Libyan female troops wearing red leather armor and carrying shields. There are many warrior queens among the Hausa in the region of Niger and Nupe, who practice for and fight savage battles with their enemies. Both groups are primarily Muslim. Yaa Asantewaa, queen mother of Ejisu in the Ashanti Empire—now part of modern-day Ghana, prepares, equips, and leads the War of the Golden Stool in 1900. It is the final battle in the Anglo-Ashanti struggle with British colonialists.

Numerous illustrations of women fighters exist in the history of the geographic regions of south, eastern, and central Europe. While many of the stories depict land battles, there are also women who show excellent aptitudes for fighting at sea. A research team from Western Australia recently uncovered remnants of Viking shield-maidens, or skjaldmaer, along with their battle swords. They are believed to have accompanied male Vikings in their invasions of England. During the Greco-Persian wars, Artemisia I of Caria commands a contribution of five ships under the Persian King Xerxes at the naval battle of Artemisium. As the campaign progresses, and it becomes evident she will fall into Greek hands, she decides to raise the colors of the enemy on her vessel’s mast to confuse the Greeks into thinking she is a friend. In the writing of the second-century Macedonian author Polyaneus, Xerxes acknowledges Artemisia’s excelling in the face of death and awards her a war prize of a complete suit of Greek armor. One detractor, Thessalus, a son of Greek physician Hippocrates, calls her cunning ploys those of “merely a cowardly pirate.” After the Battle of Artemisium, she receives the formal title of Grand Admiral and Commander in Chief of the Persian Navy. In honor of her heroics, her profile is imprinted on fifth-century coins.16

In the Persian Empire, during the sixth century BCE, women are valued for their contributions as rulers, they oversee legislative court and run official ministries, and they hold positions of military might. During the 30-year reign of Cyrus the Great, Pantea Arteshbod stood out as commander of the Persian Immortal Army, which roles are akin to today’s special operations forces. The Immortals are referenced in Herodotus’ writings as a professional corps consisting of some heavy infantry at a size of up to 10,000 troops.17 Her society considers Pantea as a sensitive and caring military commander.

In Asian chronologies, there are more examples of female fighters than in any other part of the world. One of the most widely documented is the Japanese onna-bugeisha, who are part of the noble warrior caste that fights alongside the samurai. Each intensively exercises in the use of the ko-naginata, a pole weapon blade for battering, stabbing, or hooking an opponent. All are taught tantojutsu, a series of knife fighting systems. Instruction regimens focus on the use of the kaiken, an 8- to 10-inch-long dagger used for indoor, close quarter combat.18 The onna-bugeisha’s ko-naginata is purposefully formed to be slightly smaller than the o-naginata for men, to compensate for women’s differing average height and body strength.

Knowing about this history is important because it demonstrates a broad demographic and geographic representation of women in war. It shows they effectively fight and lead in jungles, deserts, steppes, at sea, and in riverine regions. They are physically and emotionally able to compete and do well across an expansive set of scenarios including hand-to-hand combat, camouflage, and tracking, and in using the lethal weapons systems of their times.

The Excommunication of Women from War

Why and how women have been deleted or ostracized from taking on combat roles is believed to be linked to the rise of the patriarchal societies of Greece and Rome. English scholar and classicist Mary Beard, in her New York Times best-selling book Women and Power, argues that the strong patrilineal Roman culture is what obliterated the speech and power of women.19 Demeaning female populations in this period is the norm. Philosophers, politicians, and artists from the era show a common bond in their negativity toward women. Soldier and mercenary Xenophon believes that “men can better endure physically adverse conditions. Women are much more fearful, and hence more protective of possessions, while men are more courageous.”20 Demosthenes, an Athenian general during the Peloponnesian War, sees women as having three roles: “men keep hetaerae (mistresses) for the sake of pleasure, female slaves for daily care, and wives to give legitimate children and be guardians of households.”21 From Greek dramatist Meander comes the line “a man who teaches a woman to write should know that he is providing poison to an asp.”22 Ancient Greek Hipponax disparages women in his poetry: “There are two days on which a woman is most pleasing—when someone marries her and when he carries out her dead body.”23 Euripides’ classical tragedies often have women describing themselves in a negative light. From his plays come the lines “I am only a woman, a thing which the world hates” and “we are a curse to man.”24

Not all is negative from the period. There are some who take a nontraditional line and advocate for women, but this is not a common occurrence. Student records of Plato’s teachings show he believes women should learn the crafts of musical and physical training, as well as military preparation, and that men and women should employ themselves in fighting enemies the same way.25 Aristotle, Plato’s student, has an entirely different viewpoint, asserting that women are naturally inferior to men, physically, spiritually, and intellectually.26

Beard makes a compelling argument that there is a direct line between the silencing and invisibility of women in the cultures of the ancients to the current and continuing problems with some of the patriarchy of today. Understanding this historical deletion of women’s roles is helpful to start to see that the current gender landscape is not an accident and that today’s ideas about women are inextricably linked to what she terms “historical, cultural DNA.”27 Extensive research behind Women and Power shows that within the history of equality there is a basic rule of thumb: “in tracing the persistence of female disempowerment, Beard argues that we inherited a deep cultural preoccupation” with it and that the “more a culture oppresses women, or oppresses anyone, the more absorbed they become with keeping the disempowerment rather than moving beyond it.”28

In 2017, the World Economic Forum (WEF) estimated that the likelihood for global gender parity in economics and civil and legislative rights would not occur any time soon, with research showing that reaching a modest level of equality is at least 170 years away.29 Not only is an extended timeframe involved, but reaching new stages of reduction in disparities are also taking longer to advance. Labeled by the WEF as the “creeping delay,” the excessive lapse of time for change is a result of our human nature to automatically try to find selective arguments to resist moving toward equitabilities. Loss and grievance theory from the field of social dynamics aids in explaining why the disproportionate interval plagues change for women desiring to enter a career in combat arms. Reaching a majority acceptance entails a change in sociocultural, not physical, DNA.

For a shift to occur, the current idealized and privileged spaces men and women hold in the military will need to undergo modification. In socio-science terms, such adjustment requires a reducing of holding onto what is called “severe internal grievances.”30 Grievances are defined as “real or imagined wrongs or other causes for complaint or protest to the status quo.”31 Two primary grievance groups exist in the combat exclusion issue. Those who support women’s rights to bear arms are defined as “liberalist,” meaning they are open to new behavior or opinions and are willing to discard traditional values and replace them with new ones. Those who would prefer women not be allowed this role take on a “conservativist” approach, meaning their preference is to hold to historical attitudes and values that women should not be combatants. One excellent example of loss and grievance compounding change and an excessive period passing before a new paradigm emerges is with the near century of effort it took to achieve the women’s right to vote in the United States and United Kingdom.32

Ideas and Their Application

From 1900–2015, examples of legislatively blocking, rescinding, and reinvigorating the roles of women in the military are numerous. It is not until after World War I, when the women of the all-female medical units prove to be highly successful, that the men overseeing their activities support their formal entry into the forces. Most of the women involved in promoting their value to the military are already hardened to rejection because nearly all of them have labored as suffragists and suffragettes to gain voting rights.33 Their success in front- and rear-line hospital work leads to the passage of the Army Reorganization Act, which allows female medical professionals to attain status as officers and receive a relative rank to that of their male counterparts. However, limitations are put in place to allow only for promotion within the four lowest officer ranks of lieutenant to major without full rights and privileges, or equal pay. Women will not be considered for substantial, formal leadership responsibilities, and female enlisted Army Soldiers get capped at 2 percent of total enlisted brackets. Officer slots are limited to 10 percent, and rank restrictions exist for female participants for 50 years. The removal of these limitations does not occur until the Vietnam War in 1967.

Any changes related to the military woman after 1967 parallel the passage of national legislation of the Equal Pay Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, prohibiting discrimination, the evolution of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the lifting of the ban on women practicing law, and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Up until 1975, pregnancy resulted in immediate dismissal from the Armed Forces. One rare example of support from inside the military for women’s inclusion is when Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Elmo Zumwalt writes and distributes Z-gram #116, “Equal Rights and Opportunities for Women in the Navy,” in August of 1972.34 Some new ideas he proposes are the opening of all enlisted rates to women, the support of the goal of assigning women to ships at sea, the opening of civil engineering and chaplaincy roles to women, and an assignment of technical qualified unrestricted line women to restricted line billets. In follow-on decades, women are allowed entry into the Service academies and to fly combat aircraft. Many of these modifications do not occur until both bodies of the legislative branch of the U.S. Government gain additional female officials who support the changes and branches of the Armed Services approach 10 percent total female population.35

Two primary arguments continue to plague the “women as fighters” issue: that women are considered a distraction to unit cohesion, and women are less able physically and mentally to perform combat roles. As recently as September of 2018, James Mattis is quoted as stating in a presentation to cadets at the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) that “the jury’s still out on women serving in combat. The United States needs to decide whether females in close-quarters combat are a military strength or weakness . . . remember our inclination is to have this open to all. But we cannot do something that militarily doesn’t make sense.”36 The defense given for these statements is that there is not enough data yet on full female inclusion.37 In an earlier interview, Mattis notes what infantrymen are like in battle: “They are cocky; they’re rambunctious. They’re necessarily macho. And it’s the most primitive; I would say even evil, environment. You can’t even explain it.”38 There is no awareness shown here of 3,000 years of women’s participation in events as deadly and horrific as the picture presented here of the culture of the 21st-century infantryman. The comments also ignore the numeric that there are over 9,000 U.S. military women who earned valor awards and combat action badges in the past two decades.39 Also disregarded is the current situation of women in the Army. At a Future of War Conference in Arizona in 2018, the Army’s Vice Chief of Staff, General James McConville, gave an overview where he stated:

We have women in every single infantry, armor and artillery battalion and every single brigade combat team in the Army. . . . The Army currently has 600 women in infantry and armor jobs. . . . Ten (now 12) women have graduated from Ranger School, which is our toughest school. We have a woman commanding a company in the 82nd Airborne Division, an infantry company.40

In 2018, the first female sapper tab was awarded, and currently, 22 women are serving as infantry and armor officers. Statements spoken to the cadets in Virginia, while deserving unqualified respect due to the level of highly decorated combat experience behind them, show the “conservativist” line of the women in combat argument, are an example of a deep cultural preoccupation with the status quo, and are a good representation of “loss and grievance” toward a scenario that no longer exists in the battle preparation crucible. A ban on women in combat was rescinded 6 years before the declarations made at VMI and are 4 years after Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter announced the decision to open all combat jobs to women.

Internationally, the move to delete combat exclusion policies begins almost 30 years ago. By 2018, more than a dozen industrialized nations allow women to serve in combat.41 During the late 1980s, Canada and Denmark passed total inclusion laws for women in the military. In Australia in 2011, the military began a 5-year plan that resulted in women serving as navy ordnance disposal divers; as airfield and ground defense guards; and as members of the infantry, artillery, and armored units. India’s air force is now composed of almost 9 percent female personnel, and several are serving as helicopter and fighter pilots. In 2018, India deployed its first all-female elite SWAT team with expertise in explosives, urban warfare, and deadly martial arts. Thirty-six commandos work in counterterrorism units and receive preparation by top global experts in weapons proficiencies and Krav Maga, which is a lethal martial arts program pioneered by Israeli special forces. In field maneuvers, the commandos are proving to be highly proficient in ambush and counter-ambush tactics, jungle, and urban operations. They can, stated an article in The Telegraph, “spring from deep sleep to action, fully armed, within a minute of an alarm.”42 Israel has long had compulsory mixed gender military service and represents an extensive modern history with integrated troops. A 2000 equality amendment to the Israeli Military Service law states that “the right of women to serve in any role in the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] is equal to the right of men.” The 33rd Caracal Combat Battalion, taking its name from a cat whose sexes appear the same, is now 70 percent female. Members were actively engaged in Al Aqsa Intifada, the Gaza Withdrawal, and the Israel-Lebanon War. Recruits use M16A1 and M4A1 assault rifles, grenade launchers, light antitank weapon rockets, light and heavy machine guns, and automatic grenade launchers. One female member in the battalion served as commander of a sniper platoon.

In general, earlier societies that accepted female warriors did not plague the women with negativity about their inclusion, nor did they impede their talents. Instead, the military ensured women could succeed as warriors. Those developing weapons for women built hardware for success and did not burden them with the idea that they should “fight like a man.” Training scenarios were put in place that worked to their strengths. Operationally, women were positioned in situations where they could excel. Only in recent generations have women been excluded by using an excuse that they do not match, precisely, a numeric range in size, shape, and strength of a male contemporary.

Students with Infantry Training Battalion—part of first ITB company to include female Marines as part of ongoing research into opening combat-related
job fields to women—practice basic marksmanship techniques at Camp Geiger, North Carolina, September 26, 2013 (U.S. Marine Corps/Tyler L. Main)
Students with Infantry Training Battalion—part of first ITB company to include female Marines as part of ongoing research into opening combat-related job fields to women—practice basic marksmanship techniques at Camp Geiger, North Carolina, September 26, 2013 (U.S. Marine Corps/Tyler L. Main)
Students with Infantry Training Battalion—part of first ITB company to include female Marines as part of ongoing research into opening combat-related
job fields to women—practice basic marksmanship techniques at Camp Geiger, North Carolina, September 26, 2013 (U.S. Marine Corps/Tyler L. Main)
Students with Infantry Training Battalion—part of first ITB company to include female Marines as part of ongoing research into opening combat-related job fields to women—practice basic marksmanship techniques at Camp Geiger, North Carolina, September 26, 2013 (U.S. Marine Corps/Tyler L. Main)
Students with Infantry Training Battalion—part of first ITB company to include female Marines as part of ongoing research into opening combat-related job fields to women—practice basic marksmanship techniques at Camp Geiger, North Carolina, September 26, 2013 (U.S. Marine Corps/Tyler L. Main)
Photo By: Tyler L. Main
VIRIN: 190514-D-BD104-003

Conclusion: Leading, Legislating, and Learning

There continues to be a preoccupation with keeping alive the grievance between the liberalist and conservativist sociological points of view that women cannot and should not fight. Three spheres need to be addressed to offset this problematical state of affairs: leadership understanding, legislation, and education.

Military leaders should consider learning about historical examples of female combatants to affect their own and other’s attitudes regarding the myth that women have not been in combat. Over the past 20 years, there has been a vast improvement in the availability of such information, and it should be mined. Including historical and modern stories in instructional scenarios and informal discussions with troops will aid in shifting the negative cultural DNA about women in combat that continues to exist. Those women experiencing a career in combat arms need to write or tell their stories so that the abysmal 0.5 percent of their written and oral input into the history of war can increase.

In the world of politics, legislators who support gender-related military equitabilities or work with lawmakers who are opposed to transformation also need to become and remain knowledgable about why and how past societies disempower female populations. The more examples available in their repertoires of successful and failed scenarios, the abler the policymakers become in their ability to fend off the “creeping delays” that occur due to backward movement from repeating past errors. Educators in war colleges and military Service schools who develop curricula and lectures for security sector professionals would benefit their student populations through formally instigating study units that discuss social aspects and historical examples of women in war. Demographics in war college and Service school classrooms have changed markedly since 2000, and the more mixed gendered the military becomes in the field, the more it is essential for those being schooled in professional military education to develop their awareness about women and war. Pantea Arteshbod, Artemisia, Boudicca, the Tru’ng Sisters, Yaa Asantewaa, and Lozen should be as well-known as their male counterparts. JFQ


1 Nghia M. Vo and Nguyen Ngoc Bich, The Trung Sisters Revisited (Saigon, Vietnam: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, March 18, 2015).

2 Joshua J. Mark, “Tacitus on Boudicca’s Revolt,” Ancient History Encyclopedia, January 18, 2012, available at <>.

3 Cassius Dio, Roman History (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987). Changes occurring in the 1960s and 1970s parallel the larger, two-decades-long timeframe that has become known as “second-wave feminism.”

4 Ibid.

5 “Boudica (Boudicca),” in Encyclopaedia Romana, ed. James Grout, available at <>.

6 William Cowper, Boadicea: An Ode (1782), Eighteenth-Century Poetry Archive, February 2019, available at <>.

7 Stanley B. Alpern, Amazons of Black Sparta: The Women Warriors of Dahomey (New York: New York University Press, 2011). Also see Frederick Forbes, Dahomey and the Dahomans: Being the Journals of Two Missions to the King of Dahomey, and Residence at His Capital, in the Year 1849 to 1850 (London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1851).

8 Mary Beard et al., “‘Big Books by Blokes about Battles’: Why Is History Still Written Mainly by Men?” The Guardian, February 6, 2016. Chloe Angyal, “Men Write History, but Women Live It, HUFF Post Opinion, March 28, 2018, available at <>. Helen Lewis, “From Cynisca to the Pages of the TLS, If We Write Women Out of History, We Only Get Half the Story,” New Statesman America, November 10, 2015. Alison Flood, “Popular History Writing Remains a Male Preserve, Publishing Study Finds,” The Guardian, January 11, 2016.

9 Maya Salam, “In Her Words: Where Women Rule the Headlines,” New York Times, January 4, 2019, available at <>.

10 Bettany Hughes, “Why Were Women Written Out of History?” English Heritage blog, February 29, 2016, available at <>.

11 Adrienne Mayor, The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women Across the Ancient World (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016).

12 See, for examples, Holly Norton, “How the Female Viking Warrior Was Written Out of History,” The Guardian, September 15, 2017; Michael Greshko, “Famous Viking Warrior Was a Woman, DNA Shows,” National Geographic, September 12, 2017, available at <>; Simon Worrall, “Amazon Warriors Did Indeed Fight and Die Like Men,” National Geographic, October 28, 2014, available at <>; and Jeannine Davis-Kimball, “Warrior Women of Eurasia,” Archeology 50, no. 1 (January–February 1997), available at <>.

13 Martin J. Kidston, “Northern Cheyenne Break Vow of Silence,” Helena Independent Record, June 28, 2005.

14 See “Lozen: An Intelligent and Brave Apache Warrior Woman,” Ancient Origins, May 14, 2016, available at <>; Carolyn Niethammer, Daughters of the Earth: The Lives and Legends of American Indian Women (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1977); and James Axtell, ed., The Indian People of Eastern America: A Documentary History of the Sexes (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981). See also Peter Aleshire, Warrior Woman: The Story of Lozen, Apache Warrior and Shaman (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2015).

15 Buddy Levy, River of Darkness: Francisco Orellana’s Legendary Voyage of Death and Discovery Down the Amazon (New York: Bantam, 2011).

16 See Polyaenus, Stratagems, 8.53.5; also see Jone Johnson Lewis, “Biography of Artemisia I, Warrior Queen of Halicarnassus,” ThoughtCo, February 14, 2019, available at <>.

17 Herodotus, “The Battle of Thermopylae,” in The Histories, 7.22, available at <>.

18 Steven Turnbull, Samurai Women 1184–1877, Warrior, book 151 (Oxford, United Kingdom: Osprey Publishing, 2010).

19 Mary Beard, Women and Power: A Manifesto (New York: Liveright, 2017).

20 Stewart Irvin Oost, “Xenophon’s Attitude Toward Women,” The Classical World 71, no. 4 (1977), 225–236.

21 Complete Works of Demosthenes, Delphi Ancient Classics Book 56 (Hastings, East Sussex: Delphi Classics, November 28, 2015).

22 James C. Thompson, “What Athenian Men Said about Women,” Women in the Ancient World blog, July 2010, available at <>. See also Andromache, speaking in Euripides, Andromache, ca. 428–425 BCE.

23 Ibid.

24 Ibid. See also Phaedra, speaking in Euripides, Hippolytus, 428 BCE.

25 Annica Collette, “Women and Misogyny in Ancient Greek Philosophy,” in Women in Antiquity: An Online Resource for the Study of Women in the Ancient World, November 27, 2018, available at <>.

26 Aristotle, The History of Animals, ed. Jonathan Barnes (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984).

27 Kate Tuttle, “Tracing the Roots of Misogyny to Ancient Greece and Rome with Mary Beard,” Los Angeles Times, December 28, 2017, available at <>; see also Beard, Women and Power.

28 Ibid.

29 World Economic Forum (WEF), The Global Gender Gap Report 2017 (Geneva: WEF, 2017), available at <>.

30 Gerry Larsson et al., “Daily Uplifts and Coping as a Buffer Against Everyday Hassles: Relationship with Stress Reactions over Time in Military Personnel,” Scandinavian Psychologist 4, no. 13 (2017), available at <>.

31 Ibid. See also The Global Gender Gap Report 2017.

32 Emmeline Sylvia Pankhurst, My Own Story (London: Eveleigh Nash, 1914). Helen Pankhurst, Deeds, Not Words: The Story of Women’s Rights, Then and Now (London: Scepter, 2018). Emmeline Sylvia Pankhurst, The Suffragette Movement: An Intimate Account of Persons and Ideals (London: Longman, 1931). Elizabeth Crawford, The Women’s Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide 1866–1928 (London: University College London, 1999).

33 These ideas are copyrighted in the working paper, Mary Raum, “Suffragism, Women in Military Nursing and Medicine,” in From Eight Hours to Four Years: Female POW’s Civil War to Vietnam, forthcoming. The suffragists believed in peaceful campaigning, whereas the suffragettes believed in direct action (violence and militancy). The suffragists were nationally organized; the suffragettes were a smaller organization with 2,000 members at its peak in 1914. The suffragists allowed men to join their efforts; the suffragettes did not.

34 Admiral E.R. Zumwalt, Jr., “Equal Rights and Opportunities for Women,” Z-gram #116, August 7, 1972, Naval History and Heritage Command, available at <>.

35 J. Xie et al., “Social Consensus Through the Influence of Committed Minorities,” Physical Review E 84, no. 1 (July 2011). Data now show that once 10 percent of a population is committed to an idea, it is inevitable that it will eventually become the prevailing opinion of the entire group. The key is to remain committed.

36 Tara Copp, “Mattis Defends Remarks on Women in Infantry, Military Times, with video, 0:42, September 26, 2018, available at <>.

37 Ibid.

38 Ibid.

39 Richard Sisk, “Women in Combat: Silver Stars, Combat Action Badges and Casualties,”, August 31, 2015, available at <>.

40 Matthew Cox, “Twelve Female Soldiers Have Now Graduated Army Ranger School,, April 9, 2018, available at <>.

41 Information in this section is taken from Gretel C. Kovach, “Wide Range of Policies for Women in Combat Jobs,” San Diego Union Tribune, February 14, 2015.

42 Saptarshi Ray, “New All-Female SWAT Team to Protect Indian Prime Minister after Intensive Training in Martial Arts,” Telegraph (London), August 11, 2018.