“American Sniper” grossed over $200 million during its first ten days in theaters, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The movie portrays the narrative of Chris Kyle, U.S. Navy SEAL and the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history. Moviegoers give the movie remarkable reviews because heroic tales captivate people. They rave about how much they admire the American Soldier, how much they appreciate the American Soldier and leave theaters with a newfound respect for the family of the American Soldier. Despite the spectacular reviews, there is one aspect that no one could possibly praise in this movie: diversity. During the movie, Kyle can be seen in battle with his fellow military members; but there are no female snipers in the film.
In the past, women were not allowed to engage in military combat and sniping is a combat position. Individuals in favor of this policy claim it serves to protect women, which is important, they argue, because society needs women to have children. However, it is nonsensical to believe that women could repopulate the earth, if need arose, without men. Thus, it seems men should also be protected, but individuals have to make sense of their sexist no-women-in-combat logic somehow.
The military is becoming more gender-neutral. Sadly, this hype is a glimmer of false hope. Although women are finally allowed to take tests required to be promoted into combat-oriented positions, after passing the numerous tests and jumping the many hurdles – figuratively and literally – women are still not able to advance the way men are in the military. It seems to be a glass-ceiling situation because the number of women who pass the tests is far greater than those who are actually able to advance to be snipers. This is a problem, and it does not stem from women being weaker than men; women are required to pass the same tests men are. The lack of diversity portrayed in “American Sniper” is striking, but it is not misrepresentative of the U.S. sniper population. Despite the push for more gender-neutrality in the military, the numbers for female snipers remain extremely disproportionate compared to those of men: the U.S. has only nine female snipers.
Why are military women so underrepresented as snipers? This unfortunate statistic can be explained by a (not-so)-simple case of institutionalized discrimination. Essentially, although women are formally allowed to be in combat, there are other factors preventing them from advancing into combat positions. For example, during Combat Endurance Tests, women who could not complete the course their first time were dismissed. In contrast, men who were unsuccessful their first time were given another attempt. Along with institutional discrimination, there is additional cultural discrimination perpetrated by military men. According to the Washington Post, one in six male Marines reported that they would probably leave the service if they had to serve alongside a woman in combat units. This startling statistic proves that sexism and male-dominance prevail in our society to the extreme extent that many military men would refuse to serve if it meant serving by a woman. Furthermore, it implies it is disgraceful that women be given the same right to serve their country as men. When women are so inferior to men that they cannot even serve alongside one another toward a common goal as important as defending the country, we have a major problem as a society.
It is time for sex discrimination, of all types and against all sexes, to stop. People are people, and everyone deserves to have the opportunity to live his or her dream, regardless of sex. When women are able to pass required combat tests, they should be allowed to partake in combat – just as men are. It’s a simple concept, really. Anu Bhagwati, executive director of the Service Women’s Action Network, argues that “in the history of the United States, every marginalized population only gained respect and real citizenship – not just in the sense of the vote, but of one’s peers – through military service . . . Otherwise you’re not considered 100 percent American. You’re just not.” The absence of women participating in sniping affects society in many more profound ways than the military itself. These limitations have implications that extend beyond physical warzones; limitations perpetuate the cycle of discrimination and serve as ammunition for a war against women.