Melissa Harris-Perry | December 01, 2012
>>> welcome back. i'm melissa harris-perry. from the 1980s , the ad campaign and marketing slow gamggan for the marines. we are looking for a few good men. the sword being forged out of raw steel into a beautiful instrument like the manly marine that ends up possessing it. we are looking for a few, good, tough men, just men. well, in april of this year, we learned that the united states marine corps school that produces infantry combat officers will enroll its first-ever female students this year. women that had previously been limited to logistics, citizens maintenance and engagement. it was partially because the idea that logistics doesn't have a combat role doesn't survive first contact with reality anymore. that's the truth despite the pentagon's ban on women serving in most combat units. they have been in combat already, especially in afghanistan , not just because of what the marines did in april or what the pentagon did in february when it opened 1400 combat related positions unavailable to female troops. that easing and bending sounds like progress. glass ceilings only ease and bend so far. more than 238,000 other military positions, mostly in the army and marine corps remain off limits to women . this week, new action was taken to change that. with the help of the aclu and the service women 's action network, four service women , one of whom is my guest, filed a federal lawsuit against defense secretary , leon panetta , arguing that any pentagon ban against women in combat roles is unconstitutional. statistics say more than 1,000 women have been killed in the line of duty in iraq and afghanistan . many lacked combat training , having to learn on the fly. which leaves us with the question. why can't we have a few good women too at the taubl are two people that are asking the very question. one of them is one of the plaintiffs, captain zoe badel and anu bagwati. thanks so much for being here. zoe, why this case and why now?
>> i've been serving for four years and did two tours in afghanistan and led a program where i had a team of female marines that supported the infantry units, lived with them, worked with them, patrolled with them every day. whether they came in contact with the enemy, so did my marines. i took care of my marines. i would assume the organization would take care of us. after ten years, these rules haven't changed. they are not reflecting the reality on the ground. i think it is time we changed that.
>> i think that's not a small point. women started having this conversation. often the first thing that will happen is the same kind of conversation that women happened in police units and fire fighting units. they say, well, you just physically are incapable of these things. this is a protective measure to keep you from them. the fact that you are for all intents and purposes already in combat.
>> that's absolutely right.
>> and have been for ten years. i think the evidence shows that women are doing this and they are succeeding at the jobs. we certainly want to see a fair policy where we are not trying to lower standards. if we want to have a chance to compete, to achieve the same standards, the men are currently the only ones able to compete for it right now.
>> this feels at this point no one is asking for a change in standards but the very basis of your eye denity should not keep you from having a job. once identity should never be more important than one's capacity.
>> this is a classic case of sex discrimination . there is no proof women cannot do the jobs they want to do. we are talking about qualified wm women . we are not talking about anyone that does not pass the requirements of a school or training facility.
>> there is no efforts to change or modify what the military thinks are the relevant characteristics for combat.
>> absolutely. those 238,000 positions you are talking about, if the exclusion policy were to go away probably, 238,000 women volunteers would not volunteer for those positions but there would be many that did and do want to try for the roles and joined specifically to serve their country in combat. they are being denied that opportunity.
>> one of the truth about this sort of long set of wars we have been in, this is a different 1%. very few americans are handling all of the -- bearing all the costs of the war for the 99% who know and experience very little of military life. many of my viewers may not understand that when you don't have the ability to go into combat officially, there are certain professional aspects that you are shut out of. walk us through that a little bit. what is the professional track, the part of being a soldier or being a marine that you are shut out of if you can't officially be in combat?
>> absolutely. there are a couple different areas. first of all, it is sort of the recognition of what you are doing. it's a unit, an organization that's job is to fight. everything else is there to support that. if you were serving in positions that were closer to that fighting or the units that do that fighting, you are going to be closer to the unit's mission and closer to the organization's mission and more competitive and better qualified. women are currently denied those positions. additionally, it is a question of training. we are already there. we are already doing it. my marines, we did a three-month predeployment training package. we certainly spent some of that time learning how to patrol, refreshing our shooting kills, that sort of thing. the units we were supporting had done their entire careers focused on these skills. they are going to be better prepared. that's a question of safety as well.
>> there are consequence on the veterans side as well. women that deploy to iraq and afghanistan that are not believed to have been attached to these combat arms units aren't getting the health care and benefits they need. when women are reintegrating back into society, they are not getting the support, the mental health care or the compensation.
>> the assumption is they haven't seen combat.
>> maybe they were communication specialists or a member of a female team attached to an infantry. they are not getting the same credit or recognition. the brass ceiling in the military world, as opposed to the gas ceiling prevents women from accessing more assignments. the most prestigious assignments are tied to combat arms . there is no question about it.
>> the military is a out.
>> let me ask you this. does don't ask don't tell make any room for this. does ending don't ask don't tell and recognizing that on the question of gay identity this is no longer relevant for fighting, does this also help women who can say, okay, listen, if we're going to get rid of don't ask, don't tell, this is also a time to get rid of gender discrimination in combat.
>> it is the first step. it does not automatically lead to a more welcoming environment for women in the military . gay men are benefiting more from it than lesbians who want to be in direct round combat.
>> we are going to stay right here and add a couple more voices into the conversation. this struggle for women in the military goes all the way back to the continental army . just who was robert shirless. i'll tell you when we come back. [