Is Army right to consider lowering ACFT standards to be "fair to both genders?"
- The Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT) is a physical fitness test for the Army that includes repetition maximum deadlifts, standing power throws, hand release push-ups, and three other requirements.
- A score of at least 360 points is required to pass out of 600. According to the Pentagon, 65% of women were failing relative to only 10% of men.
- A new rubric is being proposed; instead of using the same rubric for men and women, the Army is contemplating “separate percentile bands for men and women that would be gender-blind.”
- The Army’s first female infantry officer, Captain Kristen Griest, rejected the change saying, it “not only would undermine their credibility, but also place those women, their teammates and the mission at risk.” She also stated her hope for the “elimination” of a gender-based test because they “reinforce the false notion that women are categorically incapable of performing the same job as men.”
- In 1973 after the draft ended, 2% of the military were women, and by 2018, that number jumped to 16%. For the Army specifically, that percentage was about 15% women.
As noted on Military.com, 'Physical fitness is an outdated measure of readiness for the majority of Army jobs.' Many jobs in the Army don't require the highest levels of fitness. In light of that fact, as Jennifer Steinhauer wrote for Yahoo! News, 'expertise and intellectual preparation' have come to serve roles that are equally important. Military.com also points out that even with specific training, there was a gender discrepancy in the ability to perform a 'leg tuck' exercise, which placed 'an excess burden on women to train specifically for this exercise, rather than being evaluated for overall physical fitness.' Army Capt. Sara Ingrao explains that 'Women are expected to weigh less than men, but need to gain quite a bit of muscle weight' for such training.
The Military.com article also mentions that 'recruitment and retention' have become problems for the military and that there is a 'need to broaden the recruiting pool' to find recruits who can 'meet the increasingly technical realities of war.' In 2018, the Army fell short of its goal of 80,000 new recruits, reaching about 91% of that number. The retention aspect should perhaps be highlighted, as concerns around this issue seem to have more to do with advancement than recruitment itself. The way the test is run now means that 'female soldiers may not progress on par with male soldiers,' causing them to 'self-select out of service.' It seems foolish to allow what appears to be an issue with a single exercise to keep people of any gender from serving in jobs for which they are perfectly qualified.
The Army should abandon the idea of lowering its fitness standards to 'be fair to both genders.' Instead of lowering the bar to ensure equal fitness outcomes for males and females, the Army should just acknowledge that men and women are different, with distinct physical capabilities (women have more than six times the failure rate of men on the Army's fitness test). Rather than try to engineer some new, phony inferior standard, the Army should instead identify a competitive standard of fitness excellence unique to each sex – something that only 25% can achieve, for example.
Serving in the Army isn't for everyone; the Army doesn't exist to make its recruits feel good about themselves. Soldiers and members of the Army air corps have physically demanding jobs to do. Their ability to perform their duties can have life-or-death consequences for themselves and their fellow GIs and affect the Army's ability to carry out its mission. We can't afford to take that kind of a risk as a feel-good measure for prospective recruits.
The Army's current quandary is an example of gender neutrality run amok. It's simply not practical or possible to level the playing field for men and women in all endeavors (this is why we don't see female linemen in the NFL). Similarly, you won't find a man filling the lead ballerina role in 'Swan Lake.' We shouldn't try to safeguard everyone from being offended by lowering the barriers to entry for critical occupations like the Army. To expect less than the best endangers the lives of everyone else serving our country.