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Military Gender Discrimination

Updated on September 25, 2013
Females in Combat
Females in Combat | Source

Equal Protection and Gender Discrimination

Virginia Military Institute (VMI) is the only higher learning institution that is an exclusively all male military school. After several hundred women applied to the school and were turned down because of their gender, the United States sued Virginia on the bases that VMI was unconstitutional in its stance of only admitting males. The 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause guarantees equal rights to all persons and an all male school would violate that right. When brought to the District Court, VMI’s admissions policy was upheld and found constitutional. On appeal to the Fourth Circuit Court, the verdict was reversed saying that it was unconstitutional. Therefore, Virginia opened an all female institution called Virginia Women’s Institute for Leadership (VWIL). The Fourth Circuit Court ruled that this was a good compromise since both institutions offered comparable educational benefits. Eventually the issue was brought to the Supreme Court who ruled 7-1 that VWIL was not equal to VMI and therefore still violated the 14th Amendment Equal Protection Clause. VWIL did not offer the same training, classes, financial opportunities, and alumni reputation and connections. Therefore, the Supreme Court ruled that it did not provide the same opportunities as VMI and failed to meet the requirements that the Equal Protection Claus required (United States v. Virginia 2012).

Justice Ginsburg wrote the opinion for this case, which stated that the other higher learning institutions were not comparable to VMI and that the Equal Protection Clause says that Virginia cannot exclusively reserve certain educational opportunities to just men (New York Times 1996). Since the mission of VMI was to produce citizen-soldiers, it allowed only men to enroll in order to prepare for leadership either as a civilian or in the military. The uniqueness of this school was that they used pervasive training not found anywhere else and therefore, women were not given the same opportunity as men (New York Times 1996). Ginsburg went on to say that the VWIL school for women also violated the 14th Amendment because it did not rise up to the same prestige and standards that the VMI school did and therefore still not giving women equal opportunity (New York Times 1996).

Women in Combat Units

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On the other hand, Justice Scalia dissented. He based his dissent on the basis of tradition and original intent. Since military schools for years and years and years had been male-only based and never challenged, it would be unconstitutional to now all of a sudden say that an all male military institution was unconstitutional because it did not offer the supposedly unique educational opportunities to women (New York Times 1996). He goes on to say that by calling an all male institution unconstitutional because it does not allow women is taking the age out of the Constitution because when it was written it didn’t take a side in the educational debate (New York Times 1996).

In another issue that is similar to the above case is a recent case where two female Army officers sued the U.S. Department of defense and the Army because women are banned from serving in combat roles although they are thrown into combat situation in Iraq and Afghanistan (Sampson 2012). The women claim that they are in more danger this way because they have no training and that it is unconstitutional to not allow women to be assigned to combat units when they are fighting in combat situations with no training alongside combat units that have had training (Sampson 2012). The officers go on to say that the policies for not allowing women into certain combat units and also some other positions prevents them from advancing career-wise, restricts their present and future earnings, lessens their opportunities to advance and receive future retirement benefits (Sampson 2012).

I would side with Justice Ginsburg only because of the recent issue that arose this year that I mentioned in the above paragraph. I am not a feminist and do believe that women are not compatible to men in some areas because we were made differently, but I do believe that if you are going to put women in the same predicament as a man yet not give them the same training so that they can succeed, then that is unconstitutional. In some areas, our Constitution is broad and is left to interpretation. Although I agree with Justice Scalia in trying to keep with the original intent of the Constitution, I also think that common sense should be used especially when the Constitution isn’t specific. I am all for all female or all male schools, but when it comes to our military and fighting which puts lives at risk, admissions should not be based on gender but on capability and assignment. If we are going to put women in combat situations but forbid them from getting the training that men get, that is a violation of the 14th Amendment Equal Protection Clause because we are not protecting our women but rather putting them more so in harms way. The 14th Amendment states that we cannot “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property” (Davis 2008 p. 423). Without giving women the same military combat training as men, I think we are depriving them of life when we send them out to combat. If we are going to allow our women to be in the military and be deployed to fight just like our men, it is unconstitutional to not give them the same training as we give our men.


(October 20, 2010). “United States v. Virginia.” U.S. Supreme Court Media Oyez IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. Retrieved from

(June 27, 1996). The Supreme Court; Excerpts from high court’s ruling against the male-only policy of V.M.I. The New York Times. Retrieved from

Davis, S. (2008). Corwin and Peltason’s Understanding the Constitution (17th ed.). Belmont: Thomason Higher Education.

Sampson, Z. (2012, May 25). 2 female army officers sue to reverse combat ban. Associated Press. Retrieved from

Job Openings in Combat Units for Women


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    • profile image

      Howard Schneider 4 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      My belief is that women should be allowed in combat if they fulfill the criteria to do so. You are correct that if they do fulfill it, then they should receive the proper training and the 14th amendment applies. Excellent and interesting Hub, Ambercita04.

    • Darkproxy profile image

      Darkproxy 4 years ago from Ohio

      when 75% of women in the USMC stop getting pregnant to avoid combat then you can cry about discrimination

    • MasculistFeminist profile image

      Ryan 5 years ago from Australia

      If a person demonstrates that they have the physical and mental capacity to serve on the frontline, then they should be allowed to do it. Sure men are considerably stronger and fitter than women on average. However there are still plenty of women who meet the requirements to serve directly in combat. If they meet the requirements then what is the problem?

      Both men and women should be eligible for the draft and have the liberty to fight on the frontline. Anything less is sexist. As things stand, (even with the changes that have recently happened) men's lives are treated as more disposable and women's freedom is restricted. This is wrong and society needs to evolve.

    • ib radmasters profile image

      ib radmasters 5 years ago from Southern California


      The fourteenth is an Amendment, and it is not based on the original constitution. It was added as part of the Civil Rights that were pertaining to the blacks. How far do you stretch it?

      Women come into the military with higher ranks than do men. That is unequal and discriminatory. People making more money are in a higher tax rate bracket, that is also discriminatory and unequal. Where is the 14th Amendment applied in those situations?

      And once again, why should the supreme law of the land be made by having a simple majority of the Supreme Court make those decisions.

      When four Supreme Court Justices dissent on a case, shouldn't that tell you that the decision is not that good. The job of the Supreme Court is to stay out of the way until it is absolutely necessary that they act for the good of the country. How is a simple majority of the justices providing a better decision, than just leaving the status quo?

    • ambercita04 profile image

      Amber 5 years ago from Winter Park

      The 14th Amendment may have been created to protect emancipated blacs, but don't you think that it is written broadly in order to protect others from being treated unfairly? I think so. I think you would side with Justice Scaila more than the other Justices because he sees the Constitution as being read from original intent rather than seeing it written broadly to fit in as times change.

    • ib radmasters profile image

      ib radmasters 5 years ago from Southern California

      The 14th Amendment was created to protect the emancipated blacks from being still treated as slaves by the democratic South. Even though the South lost the Civil War they didn't recognize the emancipation of the blacks.

      The Supreme Court is a bad joke, as is its ability to make constitutional laws based on a 5-4 decision. A mere majority wouldn't pass a constitutional amendment, but Supreme Court decisions are de facto constitutional amendments.

      Same sex preference for example is no more a constitutional right than is a smoker has a constitutional right to pollute the air of non smokers. Yet, the Supreme Court has not done the legal thing of protecting the rights of non smokers.

      There are more men in the workplace that have been mistreated than women. Yet, they have no grounds to legally complain.

    • ambercita04 profile image

      Amber 5 years ago from Winter Park

      Why do you think using the 14th Amendment is ridiculous when this is what the Supreme Court is using to decide this matter?

    • ib radmasters profile image

      ib radmasters 5 years ago from Southern California

      The genders are different and to use the fourteenth amendment for your purposes are ridiculous.

    • Theophanes profile image

      Theophanes 5 years ago from New England

      Eh, 1996 is recent enough to still have one of those "what?" moments.

    • ambercita04 profile image

      Amber 5 years ago from Winter Park

      VMI lawsuit happened in 1996. It wasn't recent. The recent issue is with the two female officers who can't get into combat units because they are female.

    • Theophanes profile image

      Theophanes 5 years ago from New England

      Seriously? VMI is arguing the "separate but equal" idea? When has that ever worked? Just wow... had no idea this was going on, though I do think our military needs a kick in the ass as far as a lot of the attitudes it has against the women serving for it. This is only one of those issues. Surely women are not worth less than men when they are serving their country. They're doing their job and should be allotted the same benefits and opportunities as their male comrades, be it in career advancement, training, or education. Shame on those who work to keep those silly women out of important roles.