Freshman Rep. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), a former Army infantry officer in Iraq and Afghanistan, said on Tuesday that military women should not serve in front-line combat roles because their "nature" makes them unfit for the task.
"To have women serving in infantry, though, could impair the mission-essential tasks of those units," Cotton said on Laura Ingraham's radio show, according to ThinkProgress. "And that’s been proven in study after study, it’s nature, upper body strength, and physical movements, and speed, and endurance, and so forth."
Women are currently prohibited from becoming infantry troops. While their opportunities for assuming various combat roles have officially expanded in the wake of a recent change in Pentagon policy, the Defense Department is still figuring out how to handle a clamor from those -- including in Congress -- who argue that the ban on women serving as front-line fighters handicaps their ability for promotion.
According to the Associated Press, some branches of the military have taken small steps toward considering an increased involvement of women on the front lines. Last year, the Marines asked women to go through its grueling infantry officer training. Two women responded, and both failed to complete the course. Around 25 percent of male Marines fail as well. The AP also reports that recent interviews with female soldiers showed they had little interest in serving in the infantry.
But advocates for expanded roles for women in the military argue that just because many women don't want to serve in the infantry, and others may fail physical tests -- alongside their male counterparts -- doesn't mean the current exclusive policy should remain institutionalized. A number of U.S. allies have already allowed capable soldiers to serve in front-line positions, regardless of gender.
Cotton isn't the only politician to express his belief that women and men should not be seen as equal on the battlefield. Last year, then-GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum drew criticism when he expressed broader skepticism about women in combat roles. Going further than Cotton -- who at least acknowledged that many women had performed well in non-infantry combat roles -- Santorum questioned a Pentagon order opening up more positions for women on the front lines, saying that their presence could elicit "emotions" that would create "compromising situations" for combat units.