Ah, they’re great. Those arguments that everyone launches into with great vim and enthusiasm, until you realise you all pretty much agree with each other anyway. Then there’s that awkward period of standing around reeking of stale endorphins, like you’ve just had impulsive s-x with your compartment-mate on the last night of the Trans-Siberian railway, only to run into a 12-hour delay for trackworks just outside Moscow.

Which is exactly where we find ourselves on the issue of women being allowed to go and shoot people. Essentially, we’ve managed to make amendments to military protocol to state that if someone is good enough to do something, then they should be able to do it. Fireworks will ensue at 12.

The government agrees, the opposition agrees, the government and the opposition agree with each other, and the military was apparently so stunned by the preceding accord — something akin to seeing two Mechwarriors giving each other a back massage — that it agrees too. And after several impassioned and unnecessary justifications from all parties to no one in particular, we’re trying to discreetly pick up the used condoms from the floor while making small talk about what kind of books the others like.

The only party still nursing some tumescence in the corner is the Australian Defence Association. This is a) some sort of think tank, not an official part of the Defence Force, and b) a body that ranks behind the Australian Deer Association, Australian Dental Association and Australian Defence Basketball Association in Google search suggestions.

ADA sage Neil James says that women will suffer disproportionate casualties as soldiers, and that vapid, flighty feminists will have blood on their hands far beyond their usual Gaia-mother, natural-birth, placenta-milkshake experience. He can’t really explain why women would have disproportionate casualties if they had to pass the same tests, reach the same standards, and undertake the same training as men.

And it’s this last part that makes our breakthrough the mother of all moot decisions.

Yes, women will be theoretically free to fight on the front line. But comparatively few are likely to actually apply, and very few of those are likely to meet the physical and psychological standards required to make them into effective killers.

As my best friend — an infantryman — likes to point out, we can’t forget that this is essentially what soldiers are trained to do. In calling for the enlightenment of defence forces, he says, we have to acknowledge that their occupation is at its core a barbarous one.

The unlikelihood of women serving is only exacerbated as we move up the calibre of unit, from paratroopers to commandos to the Special Air Service, each entry course more stringent as you go. A small percentage of applicants even complete the SAS course, most of whom are then discounted by interview. These are trained soldiers with years of experience.

None of which means that if a woman is capable of the required standard, she shouldn’t be allowed to take the role. Replace the word “woman” with the word “person” and the basis for opposition evaporates. Funny, that.

The same arguments are used for and against women participating in men’s sport. When James Podsiadly ran clean through Scott Selwood at the AFL game at the MCG last Saturday, you could feel the vibrations from my seat in the lower deck of the Ponsford Stand. The crowd gasped, but was also delighted — all part of the spectacle.

It is reasonable to note that if Scott Selwood had happened to be a lady (doing lady things) then the J-Pod might have felt some compulsion to hold back on the bruising hit, or that he might have looked like a bit of a bastard if he didn’t.

That, though, is a matter of changing our perceptions of what is appropriate, and perceptions have always proved remarkably plastic if the direction is applied. If women know and accept the physical nature of the contest, then they should be allowed to try withstanding it. If they can withstand it, why on earth shouldn’t they play?

As a sports writer, I would love to see the day when the first female AFL player strides down the wing at the G at the top level of the sport. The stars of women’s versions of our games are sequestered in competitions that get no exposure, no audience, little support. Opening the top level to female players — regardless of how unlikely you thought their emergence — would give them something to aspire to. Eventually, some would come along to surprise us.

Admittedly, directing mortar fire in the Ghan is less of a spectator sport, though I’m hopeful something can be worked out with American cable in the next few years. There’s a lot of wasted talent out there, playing to audiences of hill shrubs and cold desert sand.

But it ends at the same idea. If someone is good enough to do a job, then it’s more than a little counter-intuitive to suggest that they shouldn’t. And if the government and the opposition can’t find a way to argue about it, it doesn’t leave much chance for the rest of us.

*Geoff Lemon is the editor of Going Down Swinging. He tweets at @geofflemon and blogs at Heathen Scripture.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey